One of the country’s largest teaching unions has warned that plans to hire more than 1,000 extra teachers for secondary schools will not be achieved unless the issue of pay parity within the profession is addressed.
The Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland has called on the Government to commit to the restoration of equal pay for individuals who had taken up teaching posts after 2010 if it was serious about recruiting and retaining 1,080 additional secondary teachers.
The hiring of extra teachers is regarded as a key feature in allowing the safe reopening of schools which have been closed since March by enabling social distancing measures and bolstering student wellbeing services.
The new ASTI president, Ann Piggott, said the State had experienced a serious shortage of second-level teachers in recent years which she attributed mainly to pay inequality and precarious teaching contracts.
A two-tier system of pay has existed in the profession since the controversial decision to impose a 10 per cent pay cut on new entrants after January 2011 which applied across all points of the incremental salary scale, although the pay gap was narrowed following an agreement in September 2018.
“A significant number of teachers have been subjected to pay discrimination for up to a decade,” Ms Piggott said.
The ASTI, which represents 17,500 secondary school teachers, has called on the new Minister for Education, Norma Foley, to take all necessary steps to ensure recently qualified second-level teachers are encouraged to teach and take up positions in Irish schools for the coming school year.
“Steps must include a commitment to implementing equal pay for equal work for post-2010 teachers. There must also be an emphasis on offering secure teaching contracts with full-time hours,” Ms Piggott said.
“Finally, new arrangements must be implemented so that all teachers can have appropriate teaching experience abroad recognised in Ireland.”
Earlier this year, the Department of Education estimated that the cost of resolving outstanding issues of concern for teachers would cost about €398 million over the next five years.
The ASTI president said the focus of the coming school year must be on maintaining the safety and wellbeing of students and their teachers.
Ms Piggott said there was no doubt that schools and teachers faced enormous challenges in the months ahead with school management facing an immense task in reconfiguring school buildings and timetables to ensure maximum protection for pupils and teaching staff.
A senior ASTI source said the union believed the Government would find it difficult to reach its target for recruiting new teachers if it did not resolve the pay issue.
The source noted that there was already a shortage of teachers in many areas including languages, home economics, mathematics and other Stem subjects.
A spokesman for the Department of Education said the matter of new entrant pay was a cross-sectoral issue which was not confined to the education sector alone.
“The Government supports the gradual, negotiated repeal of the FEMPI [financial emergency] legislation having due regard to the priority to improve public services and in recognition of the essential role played by public servants,” the spokesman said.
He said the Minister was fully aware of the outstanding issues of concern for the teacher unions which would be given “full consideration”.
The spokesman added the department was working with the Teaching Council on various measures to enhance the supply of teaching staff including a targeted campaign to get teachers currently registered but not actively working to take up posts in secondary schools.
The department pointed out that the starting salary of a new teacher from October 1, 2020 will be €36,953 compared to €30,702 in 2012.