Public sector unions were today urged to remain united and not fall victim to internal rancour and distrust over proposed public-sector pay and reform.
As members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) prepared to vote on the controversial pay agreement, general secretary John White warned unions faced difficult choices amid divisive right-wing tactics.
Splits on the reform deal have already surfaced within the teaching unions with the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) to encourage its members to agree to the package, while the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) is to call for its rank-and-file to reject it.
Mr White predicted ASTI members would vote to throw out the pay and reform deal.
However, he warned: “Attempts to divide unions from one another can only weaken the role of unions in representing an alternative vision for our society in this horrendous recession. Attacking solidarity is attacking the very essence of trade unionism.
“Public sector trade unions are faced with very difficult choices over the coming three to four weeks. Whatever the decisions taken by the members of the various unions, it is vital that the trade union movement remains united.
“We have enough external enemies without having internal rancour and distrust.”
Mr White called on members to rise above what he termed the right wing commentary which is designed to attack the trade union movement.
“Those with an anti-union agenda will attempt to ’make big’ any hint of difference among union members and we must keep this to the forefront of our minds in all our deliberations over the coming weeks,” Mr White said.
“The climate within which the Asti and other unions are operating is a climate of unrestrained attempts by the right wing to diminish the power of unions to represent their members.”
Members of INTO will be encouraged to agree to the package after a close vote at its annual conference yesterday.
By a majority of just four, delegates in Galway opted to support their executive’s call to ballot members with a recommendation for acceptance.
Meanwhile TUI has decided to urge the 15,000 staff it represents to reject the pay and reform deal, brokered last week in Croke Park after a fortnight of intense talks.
TUI chiefs at the annual conference in Ennis, Co Clare, vowed yesterday to conduct a vigorous campaign to see the package rejected.
ASTI president Joe Moran told delegates at the union’s conference in Galway the fall-out from the banking and economic crisis had created the most challenging environment yet for education.
The senior union official said that despite the need to invest in education to boost the economy, it was vital the debate was not driven by the needs of big business alone.
Mr Moran said the skills and demands required of teachers were more demanding now than ever before and warned attempts to get more out of staff will lead to a fall-off in extra-curricular activities.
“The skills and competencies required from teachers today are different and much more demanding than ever before,” he said.
“Attempts to extract more on a contractual basis will surely lead to a drop off in extra-curricular activities as has recently happened in the United Kingdom.”