Staff at teacher union complain about alleged cyberbullying

Complaint includes failure of ASTI to tackle allegation of sexual impropriety

The spectacle of infighting at the 18,000-member ASTI further exposes divisions within it, in particular between full-time staff and elected officers. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

The spectacle of infighting at the 18,000-member ASTI further exposes divisions within it, in particular between full-time staff and elected officers. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Officials at the State’s main second-level teachers’ union have lodged a formal complaint against their union over the alleged mistreatment of staff, including cyberbullying, and a failure to tackle serious allegations, including of sexual impropriety.

The complaint by ASTI staff to the Workplace Relations Commission alleges that the union failed to protect staff members by not adequately dealing with a range of grievances.

The complaint alleges that the union’s employer body failed to follow agreed procedures to deal with grievances made by staff members, despite a duty of care to its employees.

In a statement on Tuesday, an ASTI spokeswoman declined to comment on the allegations.

The spectacle of infighting at the 18,000-member union further exposes divisions within it, in particular between full-time staff and elected officers.

It is also damaging for the union, which is still grappling with recrimination over its rejected ballot for junior cycle reform.

Only a third of members opted to vote in the ballot. In contrast, its sister union, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, remained united and voted in favour of the reforms.

Pay deal rejection

According to some union sources, the ASTI’s rejection of the Lansdowne Road pay deal also leaves it in a potentially vulnerable position which could result in further strikes and members forfeiting pay increments.

This latest setback for the union has echoes of a damaging dispute in 2002 in which senior staff members took complaints to the Labour Court, alleging they were victims of a smear campaign.

In this fresh complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission, the majority of the 25-member ASTI staff say a range of their grievances and damaging allegations were never dealt with properly by the union.

These staff members are represented by Siptu and the National Union of Journalists.

Officer group

The ASTI ’s employer body is technically the union’s 23-member standing committee. Employer functions have, however, been devolved to a five-member officer group, which includes the union president and general secretary.

The ASTI’s standing committee is due to meet next week to discuss a range of issues facing the union. These include how to respond to junior cycle reforms, which are due to roll out in schools in spring.

The issue of damaging allegations arose in 2014, when then general secretary Pat King alleged he was the victim of cyberbullying and death threats on a website run by a left-wing faction of the union.

The group, called Fightback (formerly ASTI Fightback), distanced itself from the allegations and insisted it did not support any personal attacks.

Mark Walshe, a founding member of Fightback as well as a member of the union’s standing committee, said any personalised comments on its website were removed as soon as they were brought to its attention.

“The website is an open forum,” he said. “We have repeatedly warned contributors not to refer to anyone by their name or role. We reject any suggestion that we are setting out to personally attack anyone.”