ASTI open to mediation in dispute with Government

Hundreds of secondary schools set to stay shut for the week in row over supervision duties

ASTI on the picket line outside Monkstown Park College in Dublin.  Photograph: Eric Luke.

ASTI on the picket line outside Monkstown Park College in Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke.

 

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) has said it is open to the idea of a third-party mediator stepping in to help resolve its dispute which has shut hundreds of secondary schools.

More than 500 of the State’s 736 secondary schools are closed today as a result of a strike by the union over pay levels for new entrants. More than 250,000 students have been affected.

Hundreds of these schools look set to remain closed for the remainder of this week on health and safety grounds due to a separate dispute linked to the union’s withdrawal of supervision and substitution duties.

The ASTI’s president Ed Byrne said on Tuesday the union would consider a body such as the Workplace Relations Commission intervening if it felt there were grounds to resolve its stand-off with Government.

“We have said we’re not against such a thing. We would certainly consider it. No one else has made that offer to us or to the other side as far as I know,” he said.

“Maybe someone with an outside view can see glaring things that we have been so close to that we can’t see where progress can be made.”

He was speaking after Taoiseach Enda Kenny called for an end to the dispute and noted it was an important semester for second-level examination students.

“It does not do anybody any good and it discriminates and does down the pupils in Leaving Cert classes in particular,” he told the Dáil.

He said the issue of the extra hour’s supervision could be resolved quickly and that pay for new entrants would increase by 15 per cent between August 2016 and January 2018.

Both the ASTI and the Department of Education say there are sill significant gaps between both sides despite a week of almost daily talks.

Intervention

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has said the matter for third-party intervention is for outside bodies and his focus remains on discussions with teachers. He said there was a very substantial offer on the table but also “a substantial gap between the sides” as there were some very important principles involved.

Tuesday’s strike is second of seven separate strike days due to be held between now and December over the issue of pay levels for new entrants. The remaining strike days are due to be held on Wednesday, November 16th; Thursday, 24th November; Tuesday, 29th November; and Tuesday 6th December and 7th December.

These strike days are, in effect, overshadowed by the union’s withdrawal of supervision and substitution duties which has closed upwards of 400 schools indefinitely on health and safety grounds.

The head of the National Parents’ Council for post-primary students today criticised the ASTI for using students as “pawns” in its industrial dispute.

‘Quiet fury’

Paul Mooney, the council’s president, said there was “quiet fury” among many parents and the scale of the ASTI’s dispute was disproportionate to the issues at hand.

The ASTI, however, says teachers will work to ensure their children catch up with their studies and will not lose out as a result of its action.

The Department of Education, meanwhile, is preparing to withhold pay from thousands of ASTI members in schools which have been closed due to strike days and the withdrawal of supervision and substitution duties.

Mr Bruton has defended the measure on the basis that teachers should not be paid in cases where schools are closing as a result of individuals refusing to fulfil their contractual duties.

The ASTI has dismissed suggestions of widespread resignations from the union due to lost earnings.

Mr Byrne said its last membership count showed the union had more than 17,500, in excess of the numbers it recorded in December 2015.

“I don’t think there has been any mass resignations or mass joining - so I think it’s still much the same,” he said. “People are always safer inside a union. It is made up of the people who were balloted. The vast majority of members voted. The vast majority of members decided on this line of action.

“ I don’t see why they would abandon their own stance and leave the union because they made that stance…,” he said