ASTI criticised as ‘North Korea’ of trade union movement

Teachers’ union maintains campaign for equal pay despite backlash from some members

Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) delegates have voted to maintain the union’s campaign for equal pay despite criticism from some members who described it as the “North Korea” of the trade union movement.

A large majority of members voted in favour of a motion calling on the union to “vigorously oppose” any future pay agreement that does not guarantee equal pay, provide an end-date for pay restoration and terminate financial emergency legislation.

However, amid stormy scenes several members who opposed the motion argued that it would tie the union’s hand, isolate it further and worsen the pay and conditions of members.

Richard Terry, a member of the Fermoy branch in Co Cork, said the ASTI have been "left out in the cold" and are losing out on hundreds of euro a month, while other unions have secured vital gains for new entrants.

Waterford branch member Fintan O'Mahony said that while the aim of securing equal pay was laudable, the union's strategy of seeking a sectoral deal for teachers was naive and leading to the loss of hundreds of members.

"We are suffering from delusions of our own grandeur . . . The ASTI has become the North Korea of the trade union movement," he said.

He added up to 650 union young members had left the union in recent months because they want to secure access to permanent contracts and access pay restoration, a measure denied to ASTI members.

Noel Hogan, a member of the Monaghan branch,who supported the motion, said it was time for a credible campaign, instead of a "zombie campaign", with members worried over redundancies and pay losses.

Arguing in favour of the motion, standing committee member Mark Walshe said the union was not isolated and argued that other teaching unions were likely to support its position.

Bernadine O’Sullivan, a former ASTI president, said the union was not depriving members of contracts or pay.

She said the Government’s financial emergency legislation needed to be repealed, especially in light of the country’s “phoenix economic recovery”.

Martin McMullen of the Donegal northwest branch said the Government’s tactics and threats were frightening some teachers, but now was the time to hold firm.

The use of financial emergency measures were a “cynical ploy to divide and conquer the union and should be resisted”.