Grassroots bid to suspend ASTI action demands special convention

Leadership has criticised move and urged teachers to respect previous ballot

Secondary-school action: ASTI teachers “are questioning our campaign of passive resistance due to the pain it is inflicting on members”, according to Noel Buckley, a Tipperary-based teacher. Photograph: Don MacMonagle

Secondary-school action: ASTI teachers “are questioning our campaign of passive resistance due to the pain it is inflicting on members”, according to Noel Buckley, a Tipperary-based teacher. Photograph: Don MacMonagle

 

A grassroots faction of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland wants the union to hold a special convention to discuss a possible suspension of its campaign of industrial action.

This follows the handing over of a petition of more than 1,000 signatures to the union’s head office on Wednesday, calling for the issue to be urgently debated. Under the union’s rules 800 members’ signatures must trigger a special convention within six weeks.

The union’s leadership was criticised by some members during its annual convention last month; one member described it as the “North Korea of the trade-union movement”.

The ASTI is the only public-sector union to reject the Lansdowne Road agreement, which has triggered financial losses for members and delayed access to contracts for new teachers. Suspending industrial action would restore increments and other payments to ASTI members, along with faster access to contracts.

On Wednesday afternoon Noel Buckley, a Tipperary-based teacher, and Brendan Broderick, a former president of the union, handed over a petition of 1,141 signatures. Mr Buckley said the number of members who had signed it within a week showed the depth of concern about the union’s strategy.

“They are questioning our campaign of passive resistance due to the pain it is inflicting on members,” he said. “There is a lot of anger in schools. Teachers who are due CIDs” – contracts of indefinite duration – “are not getting them, and many people have had their increments frozen.”

Mr Buckley said he expected the union to respect the wishes of members and hold a special convention to debate the pros and cons of suspending industrial action before the end of the school year.

The petition sparked a critical response from the ASTI president, Ed Byrne, who said last week that the petition had not been approved by union officers. That it had not been sent to all members “calls into question its democratic nature”, he said. Mr Byrne has urged members to “respect the mandate” of the ballot, and said a move to revisit the vote could have implications for any future ballots.

The issues are likely to be discussed by the ASTI’s standing committee and by its 180-member central executive committee. They are due to meet this week, against a backdrop of internal tension and falling membership. Sources say that more than 500 members have left the union this year. There are reports that significant numbers have joined the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, although trade-union rules ban this during industrial disputes.

Mr Byrne has said that claims the union was “haemorrhaging” members are overstated. He said figures released in December showed that its membership had risen to more than 18,000.