In proceedings that have not been made public until now, two members of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) claim that they suffered indirect age discrimination by being put on lower salary scales than longer-serving colleagues.
The approach is being taken entirely separately from the industrial relations measures being upgraded after this week’s decision by all three teacher union conferences to ballot members on possible strikes.
They will seek support from their combined 65,000-plus members if upcoming talks on newer entrants’ pay are not concluded by early May.
The INTO is representing Claire Keegan and Thomas Horgan in the equality case, which was referred by the Labour Court at the end of February to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
The two primary teachers were in their early 20s when they began teaching and their case is that they are victims of indirect age discrimination.
Both claimants qualified to teach in 2011, meaning they are on the lower scales introduced that year for new entrants to the profession.
They each currently stand to earn €100,000 less over their careers than a comparator teacher who entered the profession in 2010 or earlier.
The cases were initiated separately with the now-disbanded Equality Tribunal ether side of Christmas 2011, but a ruling in 2016 went against the union.
The decision on the two cases was appealed by the INTO to the Labour Court and a number of hearings were held last year.
The Labour Court has asked the ECJ for a preliminary ruling, which is likely to assess the cases in the context of EU equality directives.
The headings under which the matters are being referred, according to the ECJ website, are social policy and the principles, objectives, and tasks of the EU treaties.
While the Government side can argue that someone of any age can qualify to teach, the case claims the policy is indirect discrimination. This means that, while something does not explicitly discriminate on grounds, in practice it does so.
INTO deputy general secretary Noel Ward said the union rejects pay inequality for new entrants, not just because it is unfair and divisive, but because it believes it is unlawful.
He said age is what distinguishes teachers in schools around the country on new entrant pay rates from their colleagues.
“Less pay for new entrants equals less pay for younger teachers. We look forward to our submission to that court where we will show, with the Department of Education’s own figures, that 75% of new entrant teachers in 2011 were 25 years of age or under,” he said.
He said the public servants most disadvantaged, and disproportionately disadvantaged, in the 2011 cuts were young teachers.
“What we are working and hoping for is that the courts will call pay inequality what it is — unlawful age discrimination,” said Mr Ward.
As well as the joint campaign ratified by delegates at three union conferences this week, which is likely to see balloting in September rather than this side of the summer, teachers are expected to make the equal pay an issue in the election that could follow next October’s budget.
If the matter is not resolved satisfactorily, union leaders are asking members to tell candidates and parties they will not support them in a general election if they do not state their support for ending pay inequality.