More than 500 schools shut as ASTI row rumbles on

Failure to end dispute over pay for new teachers could ‘derail’ State exams, FF warns

Archive: On 27th October almost 70% of secondary schools closed across the country as members of the ASTI held a strike in pursuit of equal pay for newly-qualified teachers. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

A further 100 secondary schools are set to close today as the dispute between the Government and a teachers’ union over pay for new entrants continues.

While just over 400 secondary schools closed indefinitely yesterday as a consequence of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland’s (ASTI) withdrawal of supervision duties, a further 100 schools are set to close today. More than 250,000 students will be affected.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne warned last night a failure to resolve the row could lead to the Leaving and Junior Cert exams being “derailed” for thousands of students.

“Junior and Leaving Certificate students cannot be allowed to be used as a bargaining chip in this dispute. Resolution can be found if all parties agree to sit down and engage in mature and open discussion,” he said.

The State Examinations Commission said it was keeping the overall position in relation to the impact of industrial action “under review”. It said it would be guided by common sense in responding to any situations that may emerge regarding the completion and submission dates for practical coursework in the certificate examinations over the coming period.

Today’s strike is the second of seven to be held between now and December over pay scales for new entrant teachers.

This is a separate action to its withdrawal of supervision and substitution duties.

Timetable

The union wants a timetable for the restoration of pay for new teachers who are on lower pay rates than colleagues hired before the economic crisis.

Mr Bruton has said that a deal remains on the table – which has been accepted by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation – which would narrow the pay gap by almost three quarters.

This deal, however, depends on the union agreeing to work an extra hour a week of school term – or 33 a year – under the Croke Park deal. The ASTI has rejected any such measure to date.

There is still no sign of any resolution to the dispute, though contacts between the ASTI and the Department of Education are set to continue over the coming days.

If anything, the distance between both sides seems wider then ever as both sides spent much of yesterday blaming each other for the scale of school closures.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton said he was “bewildered” at why the ASTI would decide to close schools at a vital time when there was a deal on the table.

“It beggars belief that the ASTI will close schools over 33 hours a year. They are trying to rewrite the entire approach to public service pay,” he said.

“If they agreed to work the extra hour per week, there would be substantial gains.”

However, the association’s general secretary, Kieran Christie, accused the Minister of reneging on an agreement to pay teachers for supervision and substitution duties, and told Mr Bruton “pay us to do the job and we’ll do it”.

Honour deal

He added: “We cut a deal with a previous minister. If you honour what was previously agreed, we will also honour it.”

Insisting the money was due despite the ASTI’s rejection of the Lansdowne Road deal, he said his members were prepared to be as flexible as they could but “pay restoration after 2018 is too far away”.

School management bodies have voiced growing concern over the impact closures are having on students, parents and teachers.

Eileen Salmon, general secretary of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, said the ASTI action was “putting huge pressures on our senior management teams, yet they are not involved in the discussions around ways of alleviating this pressure”.

The other school management bodies – the Joint Managerial Body and the Education and Training Boards – have also said the scale of the action was unfair to students and urged a speedy resolution.