A merger of the two second level teachers’ unions has been discussed at senior levels of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) and the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI).
While many in the trade union sector say a single voice and united front for the post-primary sector makes strategic sense, tensions have flared between the unions in recent years.
However, it is understood that merger proposals were first floated last May as part of talks between the unions over how funds from the public sector pay deal could be used to benefit their members.
The TUI and ASTI declined to comment on Thursday on the basis that the “sectoral bargaining process is still ongoing”.
A proposal to create a single union – similar to the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) at primary level – was first floated by senior TUI officials in the context of discussions over sectoral bargaining in the current pay deal.
This gives unions the flexibility to use a fund equivalent to 1 per cent of basic pay to resolve outstanding pay-related issues.
While the two unions agreed to use the bulk of the funding to restore the so-called HDip allowances to thousands of second level teachers hired since 2012, they have differed on how the remaining pot of almost €8 million should be spent.
The ASTI is seeking to restore increments frozen for members when the union was involved in industrial action in 2016-17 over a number of issues including the need to work additional “Croke Park” hours under the then public pay deal.
Incremental pay rises for thousands of ASTI members were paused during this period of industrial action under the government’s financial emergency legislation and have not been fully restored. Union sources say the full restoration of these increments would be worth thousands to those members affected by it.
It is understood that the TUI proposed to agree to the use of remaining funds in the sectoral bargaining process for this purpose if the ASTI agreed to a merger or amalgamation of the two unions.
The belief in TUI circles is that while its members would not benefit immediately, all members would benefit in the longer-term as part of a stronger union.
“We would all stand to gain,” a TUI source said.
An ASTI source said the proposal is still being examined. “We’re not jumping for joy about it, but it hasn’t been ruled out either.”
According to Industrial Relations News, if agreement cannot be reached, the funds would be distributed as a one third of a percentage point pay rise for all second level teachers, regardless of union membership.
Traditionally, the ASTI represented the interests of teachers in voluntary secondary schools – mostly run by religious orders – while the TUI represented teachers in vocational, community and comprehensive schools.
The lines between the two have blurred significantly over the years, especially since the 2017 dispute when significant numbers of members in voluntary secondary schools switched unions.
Senior TUI members claim they are in a sector which is growing faster due to the expansion of community schools, typically run by State-backed education and training boards. The ASTI claims, for its part, that its membership is also growing and it has numbers in sectors where it was traditionally underrepresented.