Teachers’ conferences: pay and conditions top the agenda

Unions under pressure to dismantle two-tier pay gap and achieve full pay restoration

The Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland have suffered after reputiating the Lansdowne Road agreement, while the Teachers’ Union of Ireland and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation have benefited from pay increments. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

The Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland have suffered after reputiating the Lansdowne Road agreement, while the Teachers’ Union of Ireland and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation have benefited from pay increments. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

 

After eight years of austerity, it’s payback time as far as the teacher unions are concerned. Pay and conditions top the agenda as members of the three trade unions that span primary and secondary level prepare to assemble.

But the Department of Education will have a limited pot of extra money, and extra funding on pay will mean less funds available for reducing class sizes, boosting supports for disadvantaged schools or other worthy causes at the top of the conference agendas.

The past year has shown how easily frustration over these issues can spiral into industrial unrest.

Hundreds of secondary schools closed for several days due to industrial action involving the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) last autumn, causing chaos for students and parents, and pay losses for teachers.

The teachers’ conferences come just weeks before the Public Service Pay Commission is due to produce its report. Its recommendations will then form the basis for talks between unions and the Government on a successor to the Lansdowne Road public service agreement.

Two-tier pay gap

Expectations are growing within the unions that they can dismantle the two-tier pay gap that still exists between new entrants and their more established colleagues. They are under pressure from younger members to make pay parity a basic demand of any future pay deal.

The unions will also seek pay restoration for all teachers who experienced reductions in income over recent years as a result of the pension levy and pay cuts imposed under Government financial emergency legislation.

Will unions be happy to toe the collective bargaining line in public sector pay talks?

The chances of this being delivered, however, are another matter given the knock-on implications for the wider public sector.

A big question is: will unions be happy to toe the collective bargaining line in public sector pay talks later this year, or could there be a go-it-alone strategy?

Members of the ASTI are currently suffering from their decision to do the latter. Its decision last year to cease working additional “Croke Park” hours – in protest over the Government’s delays in tackling the two-tier pay gap – led to the union’s “repudiation” of the Lansdowne Road pay deal.

Financial penalties

This, in turn, resulted in the Government imposing financial penalties, which has created a pay gap between its members and those in the other second-level union, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI).

TUI members have received an €800 increase for carrying out substitution and supervision duties as well as their annual increment, which can be worth up to €2,000 in some cases.

Thousands of members of the ASTI have been denied incremental pay rises

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), which has abided by the terms of the Lansdowne Road deal, is also receiving pay increments.

Thousands of members of the ASTI, by contrast, have been denied incremental pay rises and the supervision and substitution payment.

That is just part of the picture. Recently appointed teachers who are in the TUI and the INTO are also benefiting from a deal which, according to the department, goes about 75 per cent of the way towards reversing pay cuts imposed on new entrants recruited after 2012. Similarly, the two unions have earlier permanency for those on fixed-term contracts as well as new arrangements for securing additional hours for part-timers.

Bullying behaviour

The ASTI – excluded from these benefits due to its decision to opt out of Lansdowne Road – insists it is the victim of bullying behaviour by the department, which seems perfectly happy to make an example of the union.

Its conference is likely to be dominated by the fallout from its unsuccessful campaign of industrial action last year and on how it will approach the coming pay commission report and subsequent talks with the Government.

The union is also likely to have to consider whether it will be bound by the aggregate position of all the public service unions to a new agreement.

The Government would like have all three teachers’ unions back under the umbrella of a new collective agreement. By the end of this week, it will have a clearer idea of the price of any such deal.

Teachers’ conferences: what’s on the agenda

Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO)

Pay equality and pay restoration: The union will debate a motion demanding full reversal of pay cuts for all teachers and the re-establishment of pay equality for new entrants.

Teacher shortages: Many schools have difficulties finding substitute teachers to cover absences. It will debate calls for nationwide supply panels to be set up, and to ballot for industrial action if there is not progress by next year.

Pensions: It will debate motions rejecting a “race to the bottom” on pension policy. Motions to be debated will call for the phasing out of the pension levy and the introduction of a “second tier universal pension system”.

Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI)

Pay and financial emergency legislation: The union will debate plans to vigorously oppose any future national pay agreement that does not guarantee equal pay, provide an end date for pay restoration and terminate financial emergency legislation.

Science education: The union argues that schools need lab assistants in order to provide a “first-class science education” for students. If teachers are to place a greater emphasis on active learning and carry out more experiences, it says, a minimum of one person per second-level school is needed.

Middle-management posts: Posts of responsibility have not been filled since 2009. Teachers argue that this is impacting on student wellbeing as they cannot carry out pastoral care duties. A motion will seek full restoration of these posts to pre-moratorium levels.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI)

Pay equality and restoration: The union will demand pay equality for new and recent entrants to the profession, focusing initially on the restoration of the higher diploma allowance for teachers hired since February 2012; it wants pay restoration for longer-serving teachers.

Third-level funding: It says funding for institutes of technology is at crisis levels and will call for a 1 per cent levy to be applied to corporate profits to generate a dedicated fund for higher education.

Cuts to student services: A failure to fill posts of responsibility – such as year head – and the ongoing restrictions on guidance counselling provision in schools are making it difficult to support students, the union says.

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