The possibility of a strike ballot by 70,000 teachers to push for restoration of pay equality remains a possibility ahead of next month’s budget.
With barely a month to go before Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe finalises his 2019 spending plans, unions have complained about the slow progress on reaching a pay deal between public service workers and the Government to put to their members.
At their respective conferences in April, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, and Teachers’ Union of Ireland passed identical motions mandating ballots for industrial action up to and including strikes if a deal was not reached to put all teachers on the same pay as those who started in the job before 2011.
It was expected at Easter that a vote would take place when schools return from summer holidays, but discussions have been slower than expected.
They began in April between the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and all public sector unions on the differential pay for entrants to the public service from 2011.
A report from Mr Donohoe in March estimated the annual cost of one measure to move them closer to their colleagues’ pay would cost around €200m a year, €59m of it to change salary scales of the more than 16,000 teachers who entered the profession after 2010.
The continued hiring of teachers for several years while public sector recruitment restrictions were in place in other area makes it a major issue for the teacher unions.
While some of the gap has been closed, teacher unions say changes to allowances and other pay elements leave lower-paid teachers disproportionately worse off than other public servants relative to longer-serving colleagues.
It is expected that talks will continue in the coming weeks but they have focused on issues across the public service to date, rather than separate sectoral discussions around, for example, health or education staff.
The presidents of the three teacher unions met this week and yesterday issued a joint statement denouncing the delay in reaching a deal in the ongoing talks.
They said that whatever emerges from the talks will be put to ballots of their members. They also reaffirmed the commitment to a campaign of industrial action in the event of continuing failure by the Government to resolve the unequal pay issue.
It is unlikely, even if a deal were reached between the Government and public service unions in the next week, that any ballot would be finalised before a budget in the second week of October.
There could be time, should talks be concluded later this month, for unions to issue ballot papers before budget day with recommendations from their respective executive committees on whether to back industrial action.