Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) president Joe Killeen has said his union will stand with its new members on securing pay equality, whether through “negotiation, court challenge or industrial action”.
“The INTO did not aid, and was not complicit, in the cutting of new entrant salaries,” Mr Killeen said at the opening of the INTO annual congress in Galway.
“We opposed the cutting of new entrant pay,” he reminded over 850 delegates and 200 guests, and said the cut for entrants from 2011 was “introduced unilaterally and without consultation by the Government as an austerity measure”.
“We secured equal pay for new entrants and those who qualified since 2015,” Mr Killeen said. “However, the fight goes on for all our members from the 2011 to 2014 cohorts.”
“If our history has taught us anything, and it should, it is that we are a union that delivers on our promises.
“Negotiations may take time, but our argument for equal pay for equal work will win out in the end,” he said.
“INTO will stand with our members until the blot of inequality is obliterated."
“Each and every one in this union, on this executive and indeed every official working for our union believes in pay equality. The notion that anyone who believes in trade unionism would feel differently, is wrong,” he said.
He paid special tribute to Mr Tomás Horgan and Ms Claire Keegan, who were employed after 2011 and who brought a claim before the Labour Court and the European Court of Justice in Luxemburg seeking redress on age discrimination grounds.
Earlier this year, the European Court of Justice ruled that two-tier pay scales for teachers in Ireland are not discriminatory on age grounds.
In its verdict published in mid-February, the ECJ said that the difference in treatment resulted from the date of recruitment and not the age of the new entrant.
“Although we did not have a good day at the European Courts, this case has yet to conclude formally,” Mr Killeen said.
Recalling the union’s campaign to lobby politicians, he said Ireland had “the best educational system in Europe and I’m not one bit shy in saying it”.
“We teach well, we work very hard,” he said.
On class sizes, Mr Killeen said that “now is the time to, once and for all, cap class sizes at 20 students ensuring teachers and schools and more importantly, children will never again be crowded out of Irish education.
“We will continue to campaign on class size until every child has the room to bloom and every teacher the room to teach and teach to the best of their capacity."
He called for a return to 2009 pupil/teacher ratio levels for smaller schools with teaching principals.
“Why would schools with a teaching principal and more than one class in each classroom have a higher pupil number per teacher than larger schools?” he said.
“It makes no sense unless our government values rural children less favourably than children being educated in an urban setting.”
Primary schools were also facing a “crisis” in funding, Mr Killeen said, and the union would be “stepping up its campaign” on this issue.
“One euro per pupil per day will not run a school and provide the standard of education we want to deliver,” he said.
“Budget 2019 only delivered a modest restoration of 5%. Where is the other 6% that was taken from our schools at the time we bailed out the bond-holders?”
Mr Killeen also urged that the review of the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) scheme must be completed and its recommendations acted upon.
“We are seeing at first hand the effects on the children of homelessness, the needs of the children in direct provision and those from homes where there is disquiet and real deprivation and poverty,” he said
“School is a refuge for so many of these children."
Mr Killeen recalled that the INTO had also pledged to support and introduce measures in support of LGBT+ members, and progress had been made with a poster circulated to all schools celebrating diversity.
He said the workload of school principals is also increasing, and school leaders are “overworked, underpaid and struggling under never-ending administrative work, schemes and initiatives”.
“There is a conveyer belt of initiatives emerging from the Department of Education and Skills and other State agencies.”
Mr Killeen said that as a teaching principal, he had seen at first hand “the level of work increasing, but the support lessening”.
“We need and have campaigned for one release day per week for our teaching principals,” he said, and the union had campaigned for the outstanding award for our principals and deputy principals to “finally be paid”.
The establishment of a forum on workload, initiated by the INTO and attended by the Minister for Education in 2018, “represents a significant step in addressing workload and initiative overload”, he added.
Mr Killeen said the INTO fully supported its colleagues in Fórsa on its campaign for respect and fair conditions for all school secretaries.
Referring to pensions, Mr Killeen said all three teacher unions had agreed this week to make common statements on the issue.
He said: “We will ensure that future negotiations on pay includes negotiations on our pension scheme, to both maintain parity for the standard scheme and seek the re-introduction for the Single Public Service Pension Scheme.”