Pay equality worth fighting for but ASTI strategy lacks clarity

‘The situation that looms after the midterm break fills me with trepidation’

Being on strike is never easy, but it is made easier this time because the cause of pay equality for our younger colleagues is a noble one.

Judging by the support we got from the public on the picket line, they also understand that the action we are taking for our most vulnerable teachers is justified.

Some of us have have been calling for movement on this issue for four or five years. I hope now that, at the very least, some timescale for restoring the cuts to newer teachers’ pay since 2011 can be achieved.

The ground has shifted since the other teacher unions negotiated a partial restoration and the question remains: can the ASTI achieve more through striking than the other teacher unions did at the negotiating table?


The strike is for a good cause, but a resolution on pay equality still seems very far off.

The lack of clarity around the strategy we in the ASTI are employing and the possibility of getting what we are asking for seem undermined by the strong position the Department of Education negotiators are in. More than 20 other public service unions have agreed to accept that the solution to their issues on pay equalisation, pay restoration and reform can be achieved within a pay agreement.

We have chosen to be outside that process, isolated from our sister unions and the wider trade union movement. The silence on the current ASTI position from other unions has been deafening and telling, as they wait to see if the floodgates open.

Pay equality

A year ago at ASTI standing committee we were made aware of the consequences of several paths we might take. It was explained that lockout, isolation and loss of salary could be among the results.

Deciding to fight a battle on pay equality while also withdrawing supervision and substitution is unnecessarily confusing. As the latter issue will close schools and take teachers off payroll, it has already superseded the pay equality issue in the minds of teachers and the public.

Closing schools indefinitely is unsustainable. I believe we have been outmanoeuvred thus far by the Department of Education which it seems needs only to sit back and wait for our position to become untenable.

The consequences of our decisions in ballots over the last six months have not been made clear enough to us. In the absence of information, emotion takes over.

It isn't hard to see why people would vote to withdraw from Croke Park hours or for pay equality or to stop doing supervision and substitution for free; they are all important principles to stand up for.

Emotional decisions

However, setting out a strategy to achieve those goals without making the situation worse is the minimum we should expect. It reminds me of Brexit: when people make emotional decisions based on incomplete information and give their leaders an impossible task, they end up down a cul-de-sac, isolated and traumatised.

The alternative route would be to have engaged with each issue separately. First, engage with the Department of Education on junior cycle reform (yet another elephant in the room); second, deal with the issues around Lansdowne Road in good time; and third provide post-2011 teachers with a timeline towards pay restoration.

Dealing with all these issues simultaneously makes a solution very difficult to find.

Being on the picket line made me proud to stand up for our colleagues on inferior pay scales. However, the situation that looms after the midterm break fills me with trepidation that the ASTI will gain little of value in the long run.

Fintan O’Mahony is a teacher and ASTI member at Scoil Mhuire Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary