Limited industrial action has potential to escalate
Quinn has been careful not to inflame row
The ASTI has instructed members not to take part in meetings, including parent-teacher meetings, scheduled for outside of school hours
The industrial action by members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) that began yesterday is expected to have only a limited immediate impact on schools, students and parents. It has the potential to escalate into something far more significant, however.
The ASTI has instructed members not to take part in meetings, including parent-teacher meetings, scheduled for outside of school hours. Members have also been banned from taking on additional middle-management duties without pay and from co-operating with training for the introduction of planned reforms to the Junior Cert.
For the moment schools can defer parent-teacher meetings and other staff meetings to avoid having to cut into tuition time for students. This cannot continue indefinitely, however.
The Coalition has thus far adopted a low-key stance on the ASTI action. It has insisted there the deal will not be renegotiated, fearing that any concession to the ASTI could lead to the Haddington Road agreement unravelling, as other groups would almost certainly seek changes.
Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has warned ASTI members that if they remain outside the deal they will lose the protection it gave them from compulsory redundancy.
The Government has been anxious not to take any steps that could inflame the situation. For example, the Department of Education has not yet issued the circular that would trigger the non-pay measures to be implemented by second- level teachers who have backed the deal, even though nearly a fortnight has passed since the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) accepted the deal.
Other public service groups have had to implement unpalatable changes under Haddington Road, such as additional working hours from early July, and there may be rumblings if the Government continues to hold off in relation to teachers.
Until the circular is issued, TUI members will not receive their incremental pay increase – one of the benefits of agreeing to the deal. By issuing its circular the department would put the spotlight on supervision and substitution payments – a potentially explosive area.
Under the Haddington Road deal TUI members have to carry out supervision and substitution duties and will lose their existing €1,700 annual payment for these.
ASTI members, because they rejected the deal, will continue to receive this money. The Minister has indicated he is examining this situation.
The ASTI has warned that unilateral abolition of these payments could lead to teachers withdrawing from such duties – an action that has closed schools in the past.
The ASTI yesterday called for talks with the Government. It remains to be seen what any talks would be about, however. The Government appears clear Haddington Road is non-negotiable. The teachers say their concerns are broader and include more general education cuts and workload increases.