Government to consider sanctions for striking teachers

Home-help staff may stage separate strike a day before election to push for pay restoration

The Department of Public Expenditure has said it will consider “in due course” whether thousands of teachers who are scheduled to go on strike next month will face financial penalties.

About 19,000 members of the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) are to stage a one-day stoppage on February 4th, which is likely to lead to the closure of hundreds of second-level schools.

The Government in 2016 imposed financial penalties on members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) after they were considered to have "repudiated" the public service agreement then in place by taking industrial action. Members of the ASTI lost out on about €15million in payments such as increments and other benefits as a result.

The amounts lost varied depending where an individual teacher stood on the pay scale and the date on which their increment was originally paid. Union sources said €1,000 in losses could be at the low end of the scale and it could be €2,000 or more in some cases.

However, when nurses who were members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) went on strike a year ago, the Government decided not to impose similar financial penalties.

Asked if members of the TUI would face financial penalties as were imposed on ASTI teachers following their strike in 2016, the department said: “On the issue of sanctions, such matters will be given appropriate consideration in due course.”

The planned strike is in protest at continuation of the controversial two-tier pay system in place for teachers recruited since 2011. The dispute is aimed at making what the union described as “ pay discrimination” a key political issue in the general election campaign. At least half of the country’s 700-plus secondary schools are likely to be affected by the planned strike.

About 260 schools under the wing of Education and Training Boards would almost certainly close should the strike proceed. The sector’s umbrella body, Education and Training Boards Ireland, is due to meet on Monday to discuss the scale of school closures.

In addition, a majority of the almost 100 community and comprehensive schools are also likely to close as are significant numbers of the 380 voluntary secondary schools.

While staff in this latter category of schools are mostly represented by the ASTI , it is likely the union will direct its members not to provide cover for striking TUI members. This, say sources, would force school managers to shut many schools on health and safety grounds, even where only a relatively small number of staff are TUI members.

Why might home-help staff strike?

A spokesman for the school management body that represents voluntary secondary schools, the joint managerial body, confirmed it expects disruption but said it was difficult at this stage to say on what scale.

Separately, Siptu has warned that up to 500 home-help staff working in community and disability services in Dublin may go on strike the day before the general election.

The dispute centres on restoration of pay in organisations providing health and social care services that receive State grant aid (known technically as section 39 bodies) which was cut following the economic crash.

Siptu is starting a ballot of these workers on Monday and will stage a one-day stoppage on February 7th if the vote is carried. Talks on the issue are scheduled to take place at the Workplace Relations Commission at the end of the month.