The potential for disruptive strike action across the primary and secondary sectors has increased significantly with the two of largest teaching unions now opposed to Government proposals for addressing the pay gap for new entrants.
The 18,500 members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland voted by 53% to 47% to reject the proposals aimed at restoring pay for those who joined the public service after 2011. There was a 58% turnout in the ASTI vote.
While the Teachers’ Union of Ireland decided in a 53%-47% vote last month to accept the deal, the largest union in the sector, the Irish National Teachers Organisation voted by 53% to 47% to reject the proposal with its general secretary, Sheila Nunan, saying what was on offer “failed to signal an end to pay inequality”.
After her members’ result was announced yesterday, ASTI president Breda Lynch said the teachers it represents are firmly committed to achieving equal pay for their lower paid colleagues.
“ASTI members remain steadfast in their determination to achieve justice for their lower paid colleagues — that is, equal pay for equal work,” she said. “In 2016, the ASTI took strike action over the discriminatory pay of post-2010 teachers.
“In taking industrial action, ASTI members lost pay and were further penalised under Fempi legislation.
“However, their action put unequal pay firmly on the agenda, making it an issue the Government could no longer ignore. Despite this, this latest proposal from the Government represents insufficient progress and does not achieve equal pay.
“We will continue to pursue the full restoration of pay for our lower paid colleagues.”
The union said its executive will meet shortly to consider the outcome of its ballot. However, while strikes may still be some weeks away, they are a distinct possibility.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation has already planned a further ballot, this time for industrial action, in the coming weeks.
Hanging over the unions’ heads is the fact that if they engage in industrial action, they could lose out on all of the entitlements which come with the deal. Even while rejecting its terms though, they will still benefit from its entitlements if they do not take the action.
The terms of the pay deal hammered out between public service worker representatives and the Government at the end of the summer would increase the pay of more than 60,000 public servants hired since 2011 who have been on lower pay than their longer-serving colleagues. The average increase would be in the region of €3,000.
At last April’s ASTI conference, Siobhan Peters, a Tipperary branch delegate and member of the union’s standing committee who joined the teaching profession in 2011, said she earns €5,000 less than a 2010 colleague and is five points behind him on the pay scale.
At the same conference her fellow delegate Mark Walshe, of the Dublin North East branch, said the pay gap between pre-2011 and post-2011 graduates was 50% to 70% for secondary school teachers in the first 13 years and 30% to 50% for the first 13 years in a primary teacher’s career.
Commenting on the outcome of the ASTI ballot, Labour’s education spokesperson, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, called on Education Minister Joe McHugh to act now to avoid “industrial chaos”.
“I am calling on the minister to proactively re-engage with the unions to find a new deal for teachers. Two of the three major teaching unions have now rejected this deal. It is obvious that what is on offer is not satisfactory to the majority of teachers in Ireland. Clearly, the issue of pay equality remains a vital point of principle for teachers.”