Bruton accused of ‘blaming’ trade unions for two-tier pay gaps

Lower payscales for new entrant teachers set to dominate teachers’ conferences this week

Minister for Education Richard Bruton said last week that trade unions did not prioritise new entrant pay in recent talks over the public sector pay deal. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Education Richard Bruton said last week that trade unions did not prioritise new entrant pay in recent talks over the public sector pay deal. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has been accused of “blaming” trade unions for not prioritising the restoration of pay for new entrant teachers in recent public sector pay talks.

Lower pay scales for those who joined the public sector since 2011 is set to dominate teachers’ annual conferences this week.

In comments made before an Oireachtas education committee last week, Mr Bruton said the current public sector pay deal provided for significant pay restoration measures.

However, he added: “In the public service pay agreement, €900 million was provided for and that was negotiated with the trade unions.

“The trade unions didn’t prioritise new entrant pay for that €900 million . . I’m not blaming the unions, but that wasn’t prioritised in the settlement.”

The comment sparked an accusation from Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman, Thomas Byrne TD, that Mr Bruton was laying the blame for the gap in payscales with trade unions.

Pay equality

Fianna Fáil has called for a clear roadmap to achieve pay equality for public sector workers to be agreed by the Government as a matter or urgency.

Department of Education sources insisted on Sunday that Mr Bruton was speaking about the trade union movement as a whole.

Mr Bruton has pointed out that pay increases of 15- 22 per cent for newly qualified teachers agreed in 2016 have narrowed the gap gap by up to 75 per cent.

A newly qualified teacher straight out of college now has a starting salary of just under €36,000 a year.

In all, about 60,000 public service staff earn less than their colleagues, for the same work, as a result of salary reductions introduced for new appointees since 2011.

The cost of reversing this much-criticised two-tier pay system across the public sector is about €200 million, according to the report published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

On foot of this, the Government is set to commence negotiations with trade unions following the Easter conferences.

While most ministers have to date stopped short of firm pledges to end pay inequality, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar indicated for the first time in the Dáil last week that two-tier payscales should end.

Negotiations

He said the Minister for Public Expenditure planned to begin negotiations soon with the trade union movement “with a view to achieving pay equality for public servants over a number of years”.

He added: “It is not the kind of thing we can do either in one go or in one year, but we do want to enter negotiations with the trade unions in the next couple of weeks on a pathway to achieving that.”

All three teachers’ unions will this week hear motions calling for urgent action to end two-tier payscales.

There will also be calls for industrial action if a time-scale to end unequal pay is not agreed soon.

Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) president John Boyle is expected to say at the opening of its annual congress in Killarney on Monday that pay inequality is causing teacher shortages and risks damaging the education system.

The Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) will debate a motion at its annual conference in Cork on Tuesday calling for a ballot on industrial action in the absence of progress on the issues.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) already has a mandate for industrial action on the issue and will debate these issues at its gathering in Wexford this week.