'We will overturn the cuts no matter how long it takes'


LEFTFIELD:LAST WEEK, teachers took to the streets in their thousands to protest against further Government cuts to salaries and reductions in education funding and staffing in schools.

Attending the protest rally at Leinster House were hundreds of student teachers, most of whom believe that their best chance of finding a teaching job is on the other side of the globe. They were joined by newly qualified teachers, desperately looking for regular work here, angry at Government cuts to new entrant salaries and job opportunities.

By their side were more experienced teachers, protected by the Croke Park Agreement, whose salaries have been cut substantially albeit in not to the same extent as new entrant or future colleagues.

These teachers stood united in their view that the Government’s decision to once again cut the pay of newly qualified teachers is unfair and unwarranted. All these teachers see the Government’s move as discriminatory against a group of young teachers and student teachers. And it is the opinion of all teachers that if not rectified, it will cause long term damage to the education system.

Unsurprisingly, the solidarity of teachers is being challenged and attempts are being made to undermine it. Accusations are being bandied about that by protecting existing members through the Croke Park Agreement, future public service workers were sold out. An embellishment of this unfounded accusation is that the unions agreed to cuts in allowances for new entrants.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The unions were not part of the decision on allowances. In fact the unions were frozen out of this process and denied the chance to represent either existing or future members.

We are told Croke Park is the problem in that it protects serving public servants. It does not follow that because serving public servants are protected that new-entrant workers have to be discriminated against.

No agreement ever protected prospective workers. But the agreement is not really the problem.

The problem is the Government’s decision to reduce new-entrant pay.

The INTO’s unambiguous position is that we oppose these cuts, will campaign against them and will overturn them, no matter how long it takes.

We oppose the decision because it is an affront to the core trade union principle of equal pay for equal work. It is blatantly unfair and inequitable to pay teachers differently for doing the same work. We also recognise the long-term damage it will do to education. Diminishing employment opportunities and lower salaries send a clear signal to student teachers and newly qualified teachers that this country does not value this rich resource. There are clear signals that other countries do.

One placard at the protest laid the blame at the feet of the Minister for Education. It read “Quinn: Training teachers for Australian schools since 2010”. Yet there are lessons in hope from trade-union history. Most recently qualified teachers will not know the detail of the equality campaigns fought or supported by the unions in the past. Equal pay for men and women resulted from trade union campaigning. Fair taxation for married couples resulted from an INTO-backed campaign started back in the 1970s. The INTO and other teacher unions have challenged and overturned discrimination in the payment of allowances.

Throughout those campaigns there were people who believed the world would end if men and women were paid the same; people who argued that those inside the trade union tent were selling out those affected. Such voices are heard today supporting the unfair pay cut for young teachers and deliberately trying to apportion blame to the unions.

The unions are targeted because supporters of the cuts know that the only real opposition will come from the unions and the only hope of reversing the cuts lies in the unions.

Opposition begins when people identify an injustice, say no and resolve to overturn it. The fight back is underway.

SHEILA NUNANis the general secretary of the INTO

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