Opposing Lansdowne Road deal could leave Asti isolated

Active opposition could cost teachers significant sums of money in lost increments

ASTI general secretary Pat King has  predicted the next government, with a four- or five-year mandate, would feel confident enough to face down second level teachers - a move which could see closures of schools next autumn in the wake of strikes or lockouts. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

ASTI general secretary Pat King has predicted the next government, with a four- or five-year mandate, would feel confident enough to face down second level teachers - a move which could see closures of schools next autumn in the wake of strikes or lockouts. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Last week, as expected, members of the ASTI, voted strongly - albeit on a low turnout - to reject the Lansdowne Road agreement on public service pay.

The union said the deal did not address key concerns such as significant pay cuts along with deteriorating conditions and additional demands which teachers had faced in recent years.

Shortly afterwards, its standing committee - essentially its core executive - voted that it would not be bound by the decision of the overall public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to back the accord.

However, it is now clear this came against a confidential warning by ASTI general secretary Pat King that active opposition to the deal could cost individual teachers significant sums of money in lost increments, and leave the union isolated and plunged into very serious industrial disputes.

He predicted the next government, with a four- or five-year mandate, would feel confident enough to face down second level teachers - a move which could see closures of schools next autumn in the wake of strikes or lockouts.

Industrial relations strategy

The Lansdowne Road agreement negotiated last May lies at the heart of the Government’s industrial relations strategy for the 300,000-strong public service.

King contended the Government would be most unlikely to make concessions to the ASTI that could lead to the unravelling of the whole deal, or undermine the other trade unions which supported it.

The Lansdowne Road deal provides for most public service staff to receive €2,000 in increased earnings between January 2016 and September 2017. The strong likelihood is that second level teachers will receive these payments, irrespective of their vote on the deal.

However, the same may not be the case in relation to separate plans to restore payments to teachers for carrying out supervision and substitution duties and with regard to future incremental pay rises.

Updated financial emergency legislation published in recent weeks would appear to give the Government power to withhold payment of €1,592 for supervision and substitution, which is due to be paid in two tranches from next September.

King said the Department of Public Expenditure had made it clear that part of the new legislation was “designed to specially target” these payments.

The new Bill also provides for members of unions that repudiated collective agreements such as Lansdowne Road to lose out on incremental rises as they move up the pay scale until July 2018.

Guarantees against redundancy

One of the main selling points over recent years for unions backing centralised deals with the Government - such as the Croke Park agreement and the subsequent Haddington Road accord - was that they contained guarantees against redundancies.

Technically, the Haddington Road deal runs until next June, although the Government argues that it has been superseded by Lansdowne Road.

King, however, said the Department of Public Expenditure had warned that “this protection from redundancy would go it we were outside of Lansdowne Road agreement”.

He said technically the union could argue that Haddington Road protected members against redundancy up to June 2016.

“However, beyond that there would be no such protection. That means that it is possible that the department could refuse to operate the redeployment scheme when it is due to commence operating in February/March 2016.”

He said “the ASTI would have to threaten strike action were any teacher to be threatened with redundancy in September 2016”.

King also said the Department of Public Expenditure maintained that if the ASTI opted out of Lansdowne Road, a commitment under the previous Haddington Road deal which gave teachers access to permanency after two years - rather than the four years that applied in other workplaces - “would cease to operate”.