Asti leadership crisis sparked warning over pay dispute

Union shows no signs of backing down but it’s unclear if teachers have stomach for fight

 

Pat King, outgoing general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), has been telling anyone who’ll listen within the union over the past six months that teachers are sleepwalking into a bitter and potentially disastrous dispute over the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) .

The fact that he has recorded his position in a confidential document to the ASTI’s most powerful decision-making committee highlights the scale of the leadership crisis in the union, and just how isolated a figure he has become.

King has experienced personal attacks from various quarters within the union, including the left-wing Fightback faction, for attempting to strike a deal over Junior Cycle reform and his perceived lack of militancy.

His decision to table the confidential document at the October 15th meeting of the standing committee is highly unusual, according to ASTI sources.

King is understood to have been anxious to put on record his advice out of concern for the membership, but also to protect his own personal reputation.

He warns that the ASTI could be embarking on a dispute that it had little chance of winning. “I am very concerned that in June 2015, when the standing committee decided to recommend rejection of LRA, there was virtually no discussion on either the possible implications of rejection or on strategies we would adopt in the months that follow a rejection,” he writes.

Admission

“This meant that on our website . . . and [in] other communications, the only arguments listed were arguments against the agreement. Members were not alerted to the range of issues that may well follow on from a rejection of the LRA.”

This leads to the extraordinary admission: “It is a fact that when members were voting, they did not know about or understand what is in Fempi”, the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill under which teachers could be penalised.

King’s advice was presented a day after ASTI members voted 74 per cent to 26 per cent to reject the LRA. Fewer than a third of members (31.5 per cent) voted in what the union admitted was a disappointing level of engagement.

The ASTI is unusual in allowing retired teachers, or “emeritus members”, to vote in such ballots.

King presented his advice ahead of a decision by the standing committee on whether the ASTI would be bound by the decision of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ public services committee to accept the LRA.

Dismissed

The Irish Times understands a senior member of the standing committee dismissed King’s document as “just an opinion” before it passed a motion stating it would not be bound by the Congress decision.

The union is also in dispute over the Junior Cycle reforms, which were narrowly rejected by the 38 per cent of ASTI members who bothered to vote.

King is being replaced next January by Kieran Christie, a teacher who is seen as more sympathetic to the ASTI’s militant wing.

Despite King’s advice, the union shows no signs of backing down. It’s unclear, however, whether teachers really have the stomach for the fight.

There may be doves within the next government who will extend an olive branch to the ASTI, but there’ll be hawks too who would like nothing more than to deliver a deep wound to this sometimes belligerent “education partner”.

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