ASTI and Minister blame each other for schools shut down
More than 200,000 students affected by pay dispute over ‘extra hour a week’
The scene Monday outside Colaiste Eoin, Stillorgan, Dublin, one of hundreds of schools shut down in the ASTI pay dispute. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and Minister for Education Richard Bruton have blamed one another for the indefinite closure of hundreds of secondary schools from today.
Mr Bruton said he is bewildered why the ASTI would decide to close schools at a vital time over one extra hour per week during teachers’ working year when there was a deal on the table.
“It beggars belief that the ASTI will close schools over 33 hours a year. They are trying to rewrite the entire approach to public service pay.
“If they agreed to work the extra hour per week there would be substantial gains,” he told RTÉ Radio.
In excess of 200,000 students will be affected by the indefinite closure of hundreds of secondary schools where ASTI teachers are employed.
Mr Bruton said that the other teachers’ unions - the TUI and INTO - had negotiated better deals for their members within the Lansdowne Road agreement.
But ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie accused the Minister of reneging on an agreement to pay teachers for supervision and substitution duties, and told Mr Bruton “pay us to do the job and we’ll do it.”
“We cut a deal with a previous minister. If you honour what was previously agreed, we will also honour it,” Mr Christie said.
Insisting the money was due despite the ASTI’s rejection of the Lansdowne Road deal, He said his members were prepared to be as flexible as they could but “pay restoration after 2018 is too far away”.
Mr Christie said a number of schools with ASTI principals and vice principals had remained open today and that many others could have remained open as adequate time had been given to put a contingency plan in place.
When asked how many schools were in that position, he said he was aware of eight, but said this was a “sketchy” figure.
As the school closures began, Professor Bill Roche, lecturer in industrial relations at UCD, said the Lansdowne road deal was now effectively “a dead letter”.
He said that one union after another was claiming that they were under pressure from members to try to win concessions that had been won by gardaí.
The current situation needed to be seriously addressed or there could be “chaos throughout the public service”, he added.
The disruption comes as tensions rise within Government over whether to accept in full a Labour Court recommendation to give special pay increases to gardaí.
A number of Ministers have declared they will resist any attempt to cut spending programmes agreed for next year in order to fund pay increases for gardaí over and above the Lansdowne Road Agreement.
The ASTI and the department are now bracing themselves for what is likely to be a bitter and protracted period of school closures.
The State Examinations Commission, meanwhile, says it is keeping the timing of the Leaving Cert and Junior Cert exams “under review” in case school closures extend over a long period.
“The commission will apply common sense in responding to any situations that may emerge,” said a spokesman.
The ASTI’s decision to withdraw from supervision and substitution duties from today will result in the closure of about 400 schools on health and safety grounds.