School closures loom after teachers vote against pay deal

Decision by ASTI may lead to pay cuts and school closures

The country’s biggest secondary teachers union has voted to cease working additional hours in a move which could trigger steep pay cuts and result in a wave school closures this autumn.

The 17,500-strong Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) has voted to withdraw from the Croke Park hours by 68.5 per cent to 31.5 per cent.

Teachers had been warned by the Department of Education that they risked losing up to €31,000 over the next four years if they voted to withdraw these additional hours.

Commenting on the ballot result, ASTI president Máire Ní Chiarba said teachers believe the Croke Park hours are unproductive and impact negatively on students’ education.

She said schools can continue to co-operate fully without the Croke Park hours.

“The Croke Park hours are highly prescriptive and unproductive. Teachers believe that these hours are among the least productive tasks undertaken in schools and that they do not improve teaching and learning.

“Schools can function normally without the Croke Park hours, just as they did prior to their introduction.”

She said the result - based on a ballot turnout of 76 per cent - was a strong statement from ASTI members to the Government that they are determined to reclaim their terms and conditions following years of cuts and reduced resources.

“What teachers are saying is that they want to be able to get on with their jobs, instead of having to waste time completing bureaucratic box-ticking exercises.

“The Croke Park hours divert teachers’ time away from core duties such as teaching, learning, and building relations with their students.”

In a statement noting the ballot outcome, the Department of Education said it was “concerned at the implications for individual teachers, and the implications for major disruption for students and schools from September if the ASTI proceeds with the proposed action”.

It added: “We regret that the ASTI has not as of yet accepted an invitation to meet with the department to discuss their issues of concern, however this invitation remains open.”

While the union says schools do not have to close as a result of withdrawing the Croke Park hours, the fallout of wider issues linked to pay agreement are likely to lead to industrial action.

By signalling its intent to withdraw the hours, the union will be considered by the Government to have repudiated a national agreement. This would trigger penalties contained under financial emergency legislation, including the non-payment of increments from July. In addition, the planned restoration of money for supervision and substitution duties from September will also be in doubt.

A warning by the Department of Education’s secretary general earlier this month about the consequences of rejecting the hours drew an angry response from the ASTI’s leadership.

It described the move as an unprecedented interference in the union’s democratic internal processes.

The 33 hours of non-teaching time are widely resented among union members, many of whom regard them as “detention for teachers”.

Delegates at the union’s annual convention last month voted in favour of balloting to ask member to withdraw the Croke Park hours.

The voting process itself was at the centre of controversy over claims that the union had opted not to put full information on all the possible implications of such a vote before its members.

The union, however, insisted rejected suggestions that it has not informed members about the consequences of ceasing to work the hours.

It said its 56 branches have been asked to hold information meetings in order to ensure members have access to “all the information they require in order to make an informed decision on this matter,” it said, in a statement released earlier this month.

“The ASTI is a vibrant trade union with members working in schools all over the country. The union is in continuous engagement with members through school, branch, regional and national structures. All decisions are made democratically through transparent and accountable structures and decision-making mechanisms.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent