Way opens for talks on secondary teachers’ dispute

Haddington Road terms not for negotiation but union welcomes minister’s comments

Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn TD during the announcement of Budget 2014 at the Government Press Centre, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn TD during the announcement of Budget 2014 at the Government Press Centre, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Fri, Oct 18, 2013, 21:00

Martin Wall, Industry Correspondent and Dick Ahlstrom

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn has said he is willing to talk to the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) about education matters but not about terms and conditions under the Haddington Road agreement.

He said he wanted to explore the grounds for a settlement of the current dispute which has seen some second-level teachers withdraw from meetings, including parent/teacher meetings outside of school hours, as part of a campaign of industrial action.

The union welcomed the Minister’s comments and said it wanted to talk about issues which would not cost the State anything extra.

ASTI general secretary Pat King said the union was not seeking to amend the financial aspects of the Haddington Road agreement on public service pay and productivity.

He said there were some issues within the deal which the ASTI wanted to discuss as well as other matters in the broader education field.

Some informed sources suggested that the ASTI may wish to talk about issues surrounding conditions of employent in the Haddington Road agreement and the earlier Croke Park deal as distinct from the pay elements.

This could involve the additional hours which teachers were required to work under these accords.

Members of the ASTI embarked on industrial action several weeks ago after they voted to reject the Haddington Road agreement on public service pay and productivity.

In an interview with RTÉ Radio on Friday Mr Quinn said his officials could engage with the ASTI to determine the kind of things the union wanted to discuss. He suggested any talks could take place after the forthcoming mid-term break in schools at the end of the month.

However Mr Quinn maintained that while he would be “more than happy to explore possibilities in the space of education, he could not explore changes in terms of the (Haddington Road) agreement itself”.

Mr King said he welcomed the Minister’s comments. He said they represented “a window of opportunity” that had to be used to find a resolution to the current dispute.

Mr King said: “What we have in mind will not cost anything extra.”

He said the ASTI had never said it wanted to dismantle the Haddington Road agreement. He said the union would like to see talks about issues in the Haddington Road agreement as well as wider matters in the area of education.

The ASTI is the only union in the public service to reject the Haddington Road agreement.

In relation to provisions of Haddington Road, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland has said its members are being professionally demeaned by the way that schools’ management is using the 33 additional hours agreed to as part of the agreement.

There was growing frustration and professional slight “at the bureaucratic and coerced nature of the usage of the hours”, said the TUI’s president Gerard Craughwell.

In too many cases the way in which the hours are being used were regarded as “professionally demeaning” he said.

There was more an obsession ticking off these blocks of time than using them in support of education within the school.

The dispute has yet to cause any significant disruption in schools, although schools’ staff acknowledge they were “waking on eggs” for fear of increasing tensions.

ASTI was not aware of any major impact on schools, although the Joint Managerial Body that advises schools managements has recommended that schools should begin holding parent teacher meetings during the working day, a spokeswoman for the ASTI said.

Malahide Community School confirmed it would hold parent teacher meetings next Tuesday for its Leaving and Junior Cert students, and these would take place during school hours.

“As a result our students will not be required attend on that day,” according to the school.