Does teachers’ vote signal industrial strife for schools next autumn?

Analysis: INTO must decide whether to accept majority decision of union movement

In the wake of the rejection of the proposed new public service agreement by Irish National Teachers’ Organisation members, one of the first things the union will have to decide is whether it will accept any majority decision of the public service trade union movement overall to accept the agreement. File photograph: iStockPhoto

In the wake of the rejection of the proposed new public service agreement by Irish National Teachers’ Organisation members, one of the first things the union will have to decide is whether it will accept any majority decision of the public service trade union movement overall to accept the agreement. File photograph: iStockPhoto

 

The move by primary school teachers to reject the proposed new public service agreement will cause concern to the Government and could, in theory, increase the potential for further industrial trouble in the education sector from the autumn.

However, the fallout from the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) ballot result on Thursday could go in a number of different directions.

The result was not unexpected, given the union’s executive had recommended to members that they should reject the proposed deal, negotiated in the early summer.

The executive argued that the proposed agreement did not go far enough to tackle the controversial issue of teachers who were appointed after 2011 receiving lower pay than those in place prior to that date.

Benchmarking process

The INTO also cited an outstanding award dating back 11 years to the former public service benchmarking process as another ground for not endorsing the draft accord.

In the wake of the rejection of the deal by INTO members, one of the first things the union will have to decide is whether it will accept any majority decision of the public service trade union movement overall to accept the agreement.

The deal was negotiated by the public service committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Under existing rules, while public service unions vote individually on the accord, the final decision on ratification is based on an aggregate of all the ballot results.

Under the Congress rules, each affiliated union is given a weight depending on its size. This means if a group of larger unions such as Siptu and Impact back the deal, it is very likely to get across the line.

Last week the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants became the first union to formally back the deal in a ballot of members.

Refused to be bound

On occasion, unions which have in their own ballot rejected such deals encompassing the public service, have refused to be bound by the majority vote.

This was the case when the ASTI rejected the first Lansdowne Road agreement and embarked on its own campaign of industrial action, which it suspended only a number of weeks ago.

Other teaching unions such as the TUI and ASTI have recommended to their members that they should reject the proposed new public service agreements.

However, ballots of members of these unions will not be complete until the autumn, by which time the agreement may have well secured sufficient backing among other groups to allow it to be formally ratified by the public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu).

Firstly, the INTO will have to decide on whether it will accept the majority decision.

This is not expected to be decided until next month. It would also seem pragmatic for the INTO to wait and see how the other teaching unions vote on the proposals.

Grand alliance

Some activists campaigning against the deal have suggested a grand alliance of teaching unions could emerge to oppose the accord.

However, for this to happen, members of the ASTI and TUI would also have to reject the proposed accord.

On the other hand there is always the potential that the current proposals could be “tweaked” in some way to try to obtain support from the INTO and potentially other teaching unions.

Speaking at the biennial conference of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in Belfast last week, its general secretary Patricia King said she was committed to working with the public services committee on a process “to secure the eradication of the imposed inequalities within current pay structures particularly relating to new entrants, together with matters of recruitment and retention for certain sectors”.

However, any move to tweak the new entrant pay proposals could not just apply to teachers but would apply across the public service in general, where the two-tier system currently operates.

Expensive

Fully eliminating two-tier levels of pay in the public service would be expensive.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has maintained it would cost about €80 million in the education and training sector, while Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said it would cost €209 million a year to provide pay equality for all public service staff who were recruited since 2011 on lower pay scales.