Schools may close if teachers’ demands not met

ASTI chief warns closures loom in September in escalating dispute over pay and conditions

The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland said the union was prepared to hold two ballots for industrial action next month. Photographs: The Irish Times

The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland said the union was prepared to hold two ballots for industrial action next month. Photographs: The Irish Times

 

Hundreds of secondary schools could close next month unless demands to improve teachers’ pay and conditions are met, a teacher’s union has warned.

In an escalation of a long- running dispute, Ed Byrne, the new president of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI), said the union was prepared to hold two ballots for industrial action next month.

This move is in response to the Government’s decision to apply financial penalties on teachers who voted to stop working additional hours, as well as slow progress in restoring pay for newly-qualified teachers.

“If there is no resolution and no movement on these issues, I could foresee school closures as early as late September,” Mr Byrne said.

Strike days

He said the precise nature of any industrial action had yet to be agreed, though it is understood to be considering strike days and the withdrawal of supervision or substitution duties, which could shut down schools on health and safety grounds.

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The Irish Times understands secondary school management bodies representing about 500 voluntary and community schools are drawing up contingency plans to hire staff to help prevent schools closing in the event of such action.

Most secondary schools run by the Education and Training Boards – staffed mainly by members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) – will not be affected.

It is understood that these supervisors – who are to take the place of teachers during break times – would be paid about €20 an hour and would be Garda-vetted in compliance with child safety legislation.

Vetting is understood to take about three weeks, but could be fast-tracked, according to informed sources.

The boards of management of individual schools would be responsible for hiring supervisors, while the Department of Education is understood to be prepared to make funds available.

Talks

School management bodies, including the Joint Managerial Body and the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, met senior Department of Education officials recently to discuss emergency arrangements.

The ASTI is to meet the department for talks later this month on its issues of concern.

Mr Byrne said financial penalties meted out to ASTI members were one of a series of “acts of vengeance” by the Government against a union that had voted democratically to protect it members.

However, he said progress on restoring new entrants’ pay in advance of September would be a “confidence-building measure” and could provide the basis for further talks.