Ask Brian: I don’t know which teachers’ union I should join. Does it matter?

Benefits differ in specific details, which could be significant over a lifetime

Members of the TUI and the ASTI picketing during a recent strike. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Members of the TUI and the ASTI picketing during a recent strike. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

I am in my first year of teaching and have not yet joined either of the teachers’ unions represented in my school. Most younger teachers are in the TUI but the ASTI represents most teachers over 30 on the staff. Does it matter which union I join?

You do not indicate in your question whether you are teaching in a community comprehensive or voluntary secondary school. The joint-union situation has always been a feature of the community comprehensive sector, but is a much more recent phenomenon in voluntary secondary schools.

Many younger teachers reacted angrily to austerity-era salary cuts targeted at new entrants by not joining either union. Now that the financial crisis has passed, all three teachers’ unions are currently negotiating to have the common basic pay scales restored.

The ASTI’s campaign in 2016/17 to “repudiate” the terms of the Lansdowne Road agreement ended up triggering pay freezes or losses for many members. As a result, many younger teachers had a financial incentive to join the TUI.

There is no longer any such financial incentive as both unions are now covered by the successor agreement .

Figures recently released by the Department of Education confirm that 1,281 teachers joined the TUI in community comprehensive and voluntary secondary schools, while just 90 teachers joined the ASTI between January and June 2017, during the height of the dispute.

The decisions taken by those teachers have created the transformed landscape you now find yourself in, if you are working in a voluntary secondary school.

As reported recently in The Irish Times, the ASTI has taken a case to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions claiming the TUI knowingly recruited existing members of the ASTI during an industrial dispute; this is rejected by the TUI.

If successful, the ASTI could be entitled to have these members forcibly returned, or be financially compensated by the TUI for their loss. Ictu has, to date, not ruled on this matter.

Choice

This does not affect you as a newly-qualified teacher. You have the choice of joining either union as no industrial dispute is currently taking place.

If you are teaching in a voluntary secondary school, you should be aware that technically the TUI at national level does not represent these teachers in national pay agreements – but as these negotiations take place collectively around the one table, that does not matter. Both the ASTI and TUI represent their members individually at school level in the case of individual disputes.

The two unions outline a range of services and benefits on their websites which apply to their members. They are similar in many ways but differ in specific details, which could be significant over a lifetime.

Both unions also provide salary protection schemes through Cornmarket, but both schemes are distinct contracts. Might I suggest you explore the benefits of membership of both unions prior to making your decision?

With both unions now jointly represented in more than 300 second-level schools, the logic of creating one teachers’ union, to represent all second-level teachers, cannot be far off. The current and ongoing strength of the negotiating position, and the benefits attached to membership of the INTO at primary level indicates the wisdom of moving to one union at second level.