Hundreds of schools to close for day as ASTI talks make no progress

Government prepares to remove teachers from payroll if dispute is not resolved

 ASTI delegates arrive at the Department of Education on Wednesday. From left: general secretary Kieran Christie,  president Ed Byrne,   Máire G Ní Chiarba and vice-president Ger Curtin. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

ASTI delegates arrive at the Department of Education on Wednesday. From left: general secretary Kieran Christie, president Ed Byrne, Máire G Ní Chiarba and vice-president Ger Curtin. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

More than 500 secondary schools will be closed on Thursday after last-ditch talks with the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) ended on Wednesday evening without agreement.

School management bodies estimate that a total of 507 out of 735 secondary schools in the Republic will be closed. Some 228 are due to remain open.

The vast majority of schools that face closure today are voluntary secondary schools, typically owned or run by religious bodies. All bar one of the 375 voluntary schools will close.

The majority of community and comprehensive schools – which are typically dual-union schools – are also due to shut. Some 91 out of 95 will be closed.

Schools run by Education and Training Boards are the least likely to close, on the basis that most are staffed by members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI). Of these 265 schools, a total of 43 will shut.

The Department of Education has upped the ante in the dispute, meanwhile, by instructing school managers to remove ASTI teachers from their payrolls over the coming weeks if the dispute is not resolved.

This is a response to the union’s directive to members to cease providing supervision and substitution duties from Monday, November 7th, which could mean the closure of hundreds of schools indefinitely.

The prospect of teachers not being paid for an extended period of time is likely to place significant pressure on the union to reach a deal.

The department’s circular issued on Wednesday afternoon effectively stated that all ASTI teachers will not be paid once school returns following midterm if the union is still in dispute.

Although teachers are available to teach, the department maintains that they should not be paid because they are not available for their “full range of duties”, such as supervision and substation cover. It says teachers who wish to remain on the payroll must confirm their availability for all duties by signing declaration forms, as reported in The Irish Times earlier this week.

ASTI president Ed Byrne said the circular, issued while the leadership was in talks with the department, was a “provocative act”; he insisted the union’s members were available for all paid work.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has defended the move on the basis of a long-standing rule that teachers should not be paid if schools close as a result of industrial action.

‘Almost static’

There was little sign of any advance in talks between the ASTI and the department on Wednesday, meanwhile, with the union stating that progress had been “almost static”. Both sides agreed that talks should continue and agreed to re-establish contact on Friday, with a view to agreeing a series of further meetings next week.

The ASTI is seeking a timetable for pay restoration for new-entrant teachers, who are on lower pay rates than their more experienced colleagues.

As a result of the lack of progress, Mr Byrne said the union was left with no option but to press ahead with its one-day strike,

In a statement, Mr Bruton said he was disappointed in ASTI’s decision, which will close schools “unnecessarily”. He said there was a deal on offer to the union, which would see pay increases of 15 per cent and 22 per cent for new-entrant teachers, with further benefits in terms of working conditions.

He said it would not be equal or fair to conclude sectoral deals with particular groups of public servants to the exclusion of others.

“To do so would also mean that we do not have the money left in the public purse to provide increases in social welfare payments for vulnerable groups, tax reductions for people at work, or investments in improvements in public services that people rely on, such as the extra 2,500 posts in schools which was announced in the recent budget,” Mr Bruton said.