‘We’re here to teach and we’re unable to teach because of the minister’s decision not to pay the money owed’

Teachers outside St Aloysius' College in Cork yesterday. Picture: Dan Linehan

In the morning sun near Cork city centre, staff of St Aloysius’ College lined the footpath along the school wall as the gates were closed throughout yesterday.

Miriam O’Donovan, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) steward at the all-girls’ secondary school, said each of the union’s 23 members was at the school gate for whatever period they were timetabled to have a class of students.

And the finger of blame was being firmly pointed at Education Minister Richard Bruton and the Government.

“We’re presenting for work as usual. We’re here to teach and we’re unable to teach because of the minister’s decision not to pay the money owed,” said Ms O’Donovan.

“The minister has known since the beginning of July that this was coming because the Haddington Road Agreement came to an end then, and our union leaders notified the minister of that. If the minister can’t put arrangements in place between July and November, we don’t know how long it’s going to take him,” she said.

While this was the first day of closure at this and more than 370 other ASTI-staffed religious-owned secondary schools, there is a prospect of staff remaining outside for days or weeks owing to their refusal to do supervision and substitution work.

Asked about the concerns this may cause for students and parents, Ms O’Donovan said the blame was not with teachers but with their paymasters. “For any parents who have concerns, they should make their grievances known to the minister, because he and the Government are preventing us from teaching. I would assure parents that we are committed to teaching their children. We’re outside here for now but we want to be inside school,” said the ASTI steward.

ASTI members who have not told their school boards they were available for supervision and substitution duties will lose a day’s pay for each day their school is closed because of the industrial action. A second one-day strike today, on the issue of equal pay for teachers hired since 2011, will result in the loss of a further day’s pay, adding to the personal costs.

“Teachers have the same demands on them as anyone else. People have mortgages and all the calls on their finances that anybody would have,” Ms O’Donovan said.

On the closures yesterday likely to continue unless the dispute is resolved, she said ASTI members feel very strongly about the money linked to supervision and substitution being paid to other teachers but not being given to them. “The minister is muddying the waters with constant references to Croke Park hours and Lansdowne Road. This is about supervision and substitution, and this is all it’s about,” she said.

“Under Haddington Road, we agreed to wait for payment. We haven’t been paid for that work since we started back in late August, and we have done it out of goodwill. But our goodwill only stretches so far.”

Q&A

Why were teachers outside school gates or sitting in otherwise empty schools yesterday?

Their union, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) issued a directive to stop doing supervision and substitution (S&S) work on foot of a ballot in which around 80% of those who voted said they should do so.

Why have they stopped doing this work?

The ASTI says its members will no longer do work for which they will not be paid, while others are. This relates to a salary increase of €796 given to non-ASTI teachers from September, with the same amount due again next year, under terms of the Haddington Road Agreement (HRA).

Why are ASTI members not receiving it?

The Department of Education used financial emergency laws to stop this increase and other pay restoration because ASTI told members to stop working additional “Croke Park hours from this school year. The union says the requirement to do these hours ended with the lapse of the HRA this summer. The department insists there is a continuing requirement on all teachers to do them under the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA), but the ASTI rejected the LRA last year.

What’s the tie-in with S&S?

The two extra €796 payments were promised under the HRA in 2013, after which teachers previously paid for S&S work no longer receive a related allowance. The total of the extra payments equates to an amount paid up to then for the work — except to a minority of second-level teachers who took a pay cut for opting out of S&S. The ASTI says its members will not do work unpaid, while counterparts in other unions are paid for it.

So what schools have closed over this?

Over 370 voluntary secondary schools, where most or all teachers are ASTI members, need to find supervisor cover for all lunch breaks and periods before and after school with outside cover. The Department of Education asked the union to allow ASTI members who are principals or hold other management roles to roster and manage temporary supervisors. But the union says principals do not want to be stuck in the middle, and that there was enough notice time for contingency plans to be made. Most schools with a mix of ASTI and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) community colleges run by education and training boards (ETBs), or community and comprehensive schools — have got adequate cover from non-ASTI staff. Many of the 30 to 40 which were closed yesterday may be able to open later this week when temporary supervisors are Garda-vetted.

— Niall Murray

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