Prospect of further schools strike over two-tier pay system

Row over salary structure that sees teachers recruited since 2011 receive less is threatening to boil over into full dispute

Students and parents are facing the prospect of industrial action by teachers. Photograph:  David Sleator/The Irish Times

Students and parents are facing the prospect of industrial action by teachers. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

Eighteen months after schools were last closed as a result of strike action, students and parents are again facing the prospect of industrial action by teachers.

The long-simmering row over the two-tier pay structure in schools - which sees teachers recruited since 2011 receive less than more long-serving colleagues - is threatening to boil over into a full dispute that could again cause disruption in the classroom.

Members of the second-level teaching union ASTI and primary teachers inthe INTO will on Tuesday debate a new strategy that would effectively give the Government until May to conclude a talks process they say must have the capacity to achieve a resolution of aspects of pay inequality.

This phraseology could be important as a recent Government report that maintained ending the two-tier pay system would cost about€200 million excluded, for example, separate cuts to allowances imposed on public service staff - such as the abolition of the €1,236 HDip payment for teachers - which have also contributed to the pay gap between those appointed before and after 2011.

The row over equality may also be about to widen beyond a call for pay parity.

The ASTI is to consider a separate motion seeking similar pension arrangements between more recent and long -serving second level teachers.

If the unions adopt the proposed new strategy for achieving pay parity, it will ramp up pressure on the Government to address the issue in the near future, particularly if there is a concerted campaign emcommpassing all teaching unions.

However, the new strategy does not mean there is an immediate threat of school closures due to strikes.

First, the current process will play out until May. If it was unsuccessful in dealing with the issue, any industrial action would be unlikely to take place until the autumn.

The ASTI and the INTO would have to ballot members for a mandate to take industrial action.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), which may also consider calls for a similar pay equality strategy at its conference, already has such a strike mandate that it has not employed so far.

The TUI might also have to refresh its mandate if new proposals emerge from the talks with the Government.

Before embarking on industrial action, teachers would also have to consider the potential consequences.

The ASTI strike action in the autumn of 2016 - which it conducted on its own - proved futile and achieved none of its goals.

On the other hand , the union’ s members lost out financially as the Government invoked emergency legislation to freeze the payment of increments and to withhold money promised for undertaking supervision and substitution duties.

The ASTI also saw about 1,200 members leave the organisation.

The three main teaching unions - INTO, ASTI and TUI - have rejected the new national public service pay deal that was negotiated last year.

However, because the accord was accepted by the majority of affiliates of the public service committee ofthe Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the teaching organisations are considered to be “covered” by the deal, and their members recived the first increases under its provisions in January .

However, any industrial action would more than likely be seen by the Government as a form of “repudiation” of the agreement, and this could lead to further financial penalties being applied.

Public service pay legislation introduced last autumn allows the Government to delay pay restoration by nine months, to freeze the payment of increments and to exclude from the reductions in pension levy contributions those who are “not covered” by the new accord.

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