Education Minister Richard Bruton has declined to say what penalties, if any, teachers will face should they strike over the lower-pay structure for post-2011 recruits.
On Tuesday, Mr Bruton warned the public service pay deal had provisions that allowed the imposition of pay freezes and other penalties if industrial action in breach of that agreement were to take place.
However, at the Teachers’ Union of Ireland Congress yesterday, Mr Bruton would not be drawn on the penalties the Government would impose in such a scenario.
The TUI Congress was the third teachers’ union Mr Bruton has addressed this week. It, along with the ASTI and INTO, backed a motion calling for industrial action in the autumn unless talks aimed at removing pay inequality for teachers hired since 2011 are resolved by early next month.
“Obviously, we hope that unions would be fully involved in the collective agreement, but if unions decide to step outside the agreement, that creates a different situation. I’m not going to speculate on what that might involve, or whether they will make such a decision,” said Mr Bruton after he addressed delegates.
“Obviously, we would prefer not to have this threat of industrial action when we’re entering into discussions of this nature, but I’m not going to tell unions how they should organise their affairs.
“From the Government’s point of view, we are entering into this process in good faith. We recognise that it is not just an issue for a particular sector, teachers, it is an issue right across the whole public service, 270 grades.
"It has not insignificant cost, €200m of taxpayers’ money would have to be found to resolve this, in the calculation that Paschal Donohoe has done.”
The threat of pay freezes drew an angry response from TUI president Joanne Irwin, who described the Government’s inclusion of the measures in the pay agreement as “spiteful, vindictive, and unjustifiable”.
“We understand that if we take strike action, we will lose pay, but what you and your government have done is legislate to ensure that if we take action, not only will we lose pay, but our members would suffer further and savage punishment, completely unrelated to the democratically mandated industrial action that they may have chosen to undertake,” she said.
The three-day TUI Congress concludes in Wexford today.