ASTI is being punished for being ‘principled’, says union president

Ed Byrne says it has ‘stood alone’ among teacher unions against injustice, and the unethical

The ASTI has ‘stood alone against injustice, inequity and the unethical,’ said union president Ed Byrne (right), with union’s general secretary  Kieran Christie. Photograph: Eric Luke

The ASTI has ‘stood alone against injustice, inequity and the unethical,’ said union president Ed Byrne (right), with union’s general secretary Kieran Christie. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Government threats to make surplus teachers redundant are an “act of vengeful malice”, the president of the country’s biggest secondary teachers’ union has warned.

Ed Byrne told delegates on the opening day of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland’s (ASTI) annual conference in Killarney that the union is being singled out for harsh treatment because of its principled stance across a range of issues.

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However, the Government has withdrawn this protection for members of the ASTI following its “repudiation” of the Lansdowne Road agreement.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 its ongoing dispute with Government.

Mr Byrne said the union has 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 with 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”.

“Any collective agreement underpinned by emergency legislation so many years on from the emergency is shameful and unworthy of being considered ethical,” Mr Byrne said.

The treatment of new entrants in particular was a cause for alarm , given that many are struggling with poor pay, poor job security and low morale.

Under the terms of financial emergency legislation, the length of time it takes for new entrants to secure permanent contacts has doubled from two to four years.

Mr Byrne said this was “nothing short of malice and vengeance, with no benefit accruing to the system.”

While the ASTI is outside the Lansdowne Road agreement, it says it expects to be involved in talks on a successor agreement.

The ASTI president said the union will demand that public service pay unions demand equal pay for equal work at these talks.

He also said the common basic pay scale - under which it takes a teacher about 25 years to reach the top level of pay - needs to be shortened.

“No other public servants wait so long to reach the top of their pay scale. I believe movement on this would certainly prove popular with the majority of members,” he said.

On the issue of junior cycle reform, he said the union would maintain its opposition to the changes.

He said reforms were constructed around methodologies which were “failing all over the world”.