ASTI threatens strike action if schools let teachers go

Union members could be first public servants to lose jobs since start of economic crash

ASTI members protesting outside the Dáil last summer. The union has pledged to immediately ballot its membership on industrial action if any of its members are made redundant. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

ASTI members protesting outside the Dáil last summer. The union has pledged to immediately ballot its membership on industrial action if any of its members are made redundant. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Teachers in dozens of schools look set to become the first public sector workers to be made redundant since the start of the economic crash due to their escalating dispute with the Government.

The Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) has pledged to immediately ballot its membership on industrial action if any of its members are made redundant.

This raises the prospect of potential disruption to tens of thousands of students preparing for their State exams in June.

Up to now teachers who have become surplus to requirements have been redeployed to other schools in need of teaching staff.

However, the Government has withdrawn this protection for ASTI members following its rejection of settlement proposals last month.

The Irish Times understands that 60 secondary schools have received letters notifying them of their surplus staff.

Given that the 18,000-strong union has members in most secondary schools, it is likely that its members will be among those surplus to requirements and face the prospect of compulsory redundancy.

Protections

Protections against compulsory redundancy for members of the public sector were introduced in 2010 under the Croke Park deal.

These protections were added into successor agreements, such as Haddington Road and Lansdowne Road.

While thousands of employees left the public sector on severance packages during the downturn, no public servant was made forcibly redundant.

A spokesman for Minister for Education Richard Bruton confirmed that 60 secondary schools had been identified as possible surplus schools for the 2017/18 school year.

The department expects to know the final position in relation to the number of surplus teachers by late March.

The level of surplus is likely to reduce in light of information gathered from affected schools, such as retirements, career breaks and job-sharing, and demographic trends.

However, if even a single member of the union is made redundant, it will spark a major dispute. “Under the Lansdowne Road agreement, the Government committed that compulsory redundancy would not apply to public servants,” a spokesman for Mr Bruton said.

“This protection is not available to staff who are outside the terms of that agreement. The Department of Education confirmed this position to ASTI prior to its recent ballot.”

ASTI president Ed Byrne has said the threat to make the union’s teachers redundant represents “an abuse of power”.

“The Department of Education is threatening to make ASTI members redundant in a situation where there is a perfectly functioning redeployment scheme and were there are jobs for teachers to be redeployed in to,” he said.

“Fempi [financial emergency measures in the public interest] legislation allows the Government set aside normal industrial relations practices and instead to coerce the ASTI for exercising its democratic right to reject a collective agreement.”

The union has said it will be “mindful” of the impact of any industrial action on exam students.

Other teachers’ unions that are not in dispute with the Government – the Teachers’ Union of Ireland and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation – continue to have access to the redeployment scheme.

Bitter

The dispute between the Government is set to grow increasingly bitter as the department follows through on its warnings to freeze ASTI members’ pay, as well as excluding the union’s schools from additional staff and middle-management promotional opportunities.

In another development, Mr Bruton is reviewing a policy change which is resulting in non-union members in voluntary secondary schools staffed mainly by the ASTI losing thousands of euro.

At present, teachers are not able to accept or reject collective pay agreements on an individual basis.

However, Mr Bruton said in a recent parliamentary question that he is “reviewing” this measure.

The move is significant in that a policy change would give a financial incentive for ASTI members to leave the union. For example, any of its teachers facing the threat of redundancy could avail of the protection of the redeployment scheme by leaving the union.