The decision by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) on Tuesday night to defer two of their industrial actions was widely welcomed by representatives of students, parents, and school boards yesterday.
It followed the acceptance by the Department of Education and the union’s 23-member standing committee of an invitation to conciliation talks.
ASTI’s 17,500 members have lost pay for two strikes at 500 schools in the past fortnight in pursuit of equal salaries for recently qualified teachers.
Most will also be docked because their schools closed to students on Monday when they refused to do supervision and substitution work. That industrial action relates to a separate row over withheld pay which the Department of Education said was for their refusal to deliver 33 extra hours a year, work the ASTI says teachers are no longer obliged to do.
The union’s row over junior cycle reforms has seen members on another industrial action for over two years, in issues which several weeks of talks have also failed to resolve.
Both sides agreed to an invitation from Teachers Conciliation Council (TCC) chairwoman Anna Perry.
But, in its statement on Tuesday night, the Department of Education said the talks would be about “matters of mutual concern relating to the ASTI’s industrial action that fall within the remit of the TCC”, leaving unclear which issues do and do not meet that description.
The TCC is composed of officials from the Departments of Education, and Public Expenditure and Reform, school management bodies, and each of the three main teacher unions. It meets regularly to mediate on matters about teachers’ pay and conditions.
But it is unclear if teacher salaries, normally a consideration for Government as part of wider public service pay policy, can be dealt with in this forum.
ASTI deputy general secretary Diarmaid de Paor said on Tuesday night, when news of the conciliation talks was just announced, that all the union’s issues would be on the table. But the union and the department were tight-lipped last night about which of the matters in dispute were being discussed.
“The talks, including the parameters of the talks, are confidential at this time,” said an ASTI spokesperson.
The Department of Education told the Irish Examiner that discussions have now begun.
“As the proceedings of the TCC are confidential, it would not be appropriate for the department to make any further comment at this time,” said a spokesperson.
While Ms Perry is director of conciliation services at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), the Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation — under which the commission operates — said she was not intervening in her WRC capacity.
As long as Ms Perry’s work with both sides continues, which the ASTI said could be until late November, the series of one-day strikes and withdrawal of members from supervision and substitution have been suspended.