ASTI criticised by own delegates for ‘zombie campaign’
Majority of delegates at conference oppose any deal that does not guarantee pay equality
Delegates at the ASTI conference: union president Ed Byrne said it had railed against injustice in an age of conformity and orthodoxy. Photograph: Don MacMonagle
Delegates from the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) have voted to maintain the union’s campaign for equal pay for teachers despite criticism from some members who described it as the “North Korea” of the trade union movement.
A large majority at the ASTI congress in Killarney 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.
Teachers recruited after the onset of the economic crisis are on a lower pay scale than their colleagues who got jobs prior to 2011.
Amid stormy scenes, several members who opposed the motion argued 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 ASTI members 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 recent entrants to the teaching profession.
‘Delusions of grandeur’
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.
Mr O’Mahony said up to 650 union members had left in recent months because they want to secure access to permanent contracts and access to pay restoration, a measure denied to ASTI members.
Noel Hogan, a member of the Monaghan branch, said it was time for a credible campaign, instead of a “zombie campaign” marked by 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 She said the Government’s financial emergency legislation needed to be repealed, especially in light of the country’s “phoenix economic recovery”.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 was a “cynical ploy to divide and conquer the union and should be resisted”, he said.
‘Abuse of power’
In a separate address to delegates, ASTI president Ed Byrne reaffirmed the union’s “principled” rejection of the Lansdowne Road pay deal.
Mr Byrne said the union had positioned itself as “outsiders” and railed against injustice in an age of conformity and orthodoxy.
“Our members saw injustice and mendacity and set their faces against them. We didn’t and don’t see ourselves as special, just principled,” he said.
While its sister union the Teachers’ Union of Ireland eventually signed up to Lansdowne Road, “like the sea stacks dotted along the west coast of Ireland, we once more stood alone against injustice, inequity and the unethical”. He said the use of financial emergency legislation to penalise its members was “an abuse of power”.
Mr Byrne also said that Government threats to make surplus teachers redundant were an “act of vengeful malice”.
Up to now, teachers who have become surplus to requirement have been redeployed to other schools in need of teaching staff. However, the Government has withdrawn this protection for members of the ASTI following its “repudiation” of the Lansdowne Road agreement.
This, in theory, could lead to compulsory redundancies among a small number of members.
In addition, ASTI members are losing thousands of euro in increments and allowances due to the union’s ongoing dispute with the Government.
Mr Byrne also criticised the media’s depiction of the union, with some biased reports resembling “fake news”, rather than balanced journalism.