Teacher conferences: Unions up for a battle on pay and conditions

The ASTI seems to be taking its cue from the famous Millwall football chant ‘No one likes us, we don’t care’

ASTI general secretary Pat King is due to retire at the end of the year, and a plan is afoot to appoint his successor through a plebiscite of members. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

ASTI general secretary Pat King is due to retire at the end of the year, and a plan is afoot to appoint his successor through a plebiscite of members. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

After six years of austerity, it’s payback time as far as the teacher unions are concerned. Pay and conditions top the agenda across the three trade unions that span primary and secondary level. The question is: will they be happy to toe the collective bargaining line in public sector pay talks later this year, or could there be a go-it-alone strategy?

Expectations are high among teachers that the worst of the salary cuts can be reversed. But the department of education will have a limited pot of extra money to play with, and putting more cash into teachers’ pockets will mean less funds available for reducing class sizes, boosting supports for special-needs education and all those other worthy causes on the clár of each congress.

The ASTI and TUI are to debate motions seeking the ending of the extra 33-43 working hours agreed as part of the Croke Park and Haddington Road deals. This would cause major problems for Government, as other public sector unions would demand similar treatment, reversing productivity arrangements that have yielded major payroll savings.

A further motion seeking the removal of the public-service pension levy is coming before the ASTI on Tuesday, while all three unions are seeking the restoration of allowances that were slashed in recent years and have hit new entrants hardest. The TUI will consider mounting a campaign of industrial action, including strike action, if “pay discrimination” is not addressed.

The department acknowledged last year that the moratorium on filling middle-management posts is creating “unsustainable” pressure on schools, and teachers look set to take a tougher stance. ASTI branch members are asking the union to issue a directive not to undertake posts of responsibility unless they are pensionable-remunerated, while INTO also wants to end ad hoc leadership posts.

Easter week is also an occasion for union leaders to talk up their achievements, and INTO president Sean McMahon can take some pleasure in influencing Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan to ditch the value-for-money report into small schools. It’s less clear what the other union presidents can boast about after a divisive campaign against junior cycle reforms that saw schools close for two days and a mish-mash of a plan now being implemented.

Teachers have arguably been left with the worst of both worlds thanks to the union’s foot-dragging strategy: a relatively high-stakes exam combined with a system of school-based assessment that is externally monitored. There is disquiet within sections of the profession about how the dispute has been handled. However, it will take a brave delegate to admit Ruairí Quinn’s 100 per cent school-based assessment model might have been the better option.

That said, there’s little chance of any change in official policy. Motions endorsing the stance of non-cooperation with the junior cycle reforms are due to be passed, and if anything the ASTI position may harden.

 

Power plays

As with every year, there will be a fair amount of jostling for positions of power, and in the ASTI there will be an added edge to this street

fight thanks to a planned debate on how to recruit the next general secretary. Pat King is due to retire at the end of the year, and a plan is afoot to appoint his successor through a plebiscite of members rather than the traditional “professional interview” recruitment process.

While this would be a break from the TUI, a similar ballot is used by the INTO to elect its general secretary. The contest is likened within the primary union to a gruelling Seanad election where candidates have to crisscross the country glad-handing branch members.

An ASTI plebiscite would likely be a far less mannerly affair, and potential nominees will be seeking to muscle their way into the frame this week. Whether it will be good for the union in the long run is open to debate. The post of general secretary usually acts as a sobering counterbalance to the popularly elected president, and, given the union’s mood, a hardliner would almost certainly be elected.

The move has further depressed department officials and other education stakeholders, which may be seen as a positive in Killarney. Increasingly, the ASTI seems to be taking its cue from Millwall’s famous chant “No one likes us, we don’t care”.

Significantly, however, the union hasn’t only alienated outsiders. It has turned down efforts from its own members to reform. A special conference last November to discuss making the union’s decision- making apparatus leaner, and younger, led to nothing. These had included a long-mooted plan to end the practice of retired teachers voting on policy.

ASTI retirees will be among the loudest voices at its congress this week, but one person who won’t be heard is the Minister. The union’s inability to decide whether or not to invite Jan O’Sullivan – leading to the default position that no invite was sent – would be funny if it was not representative of a deeper leadership void.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.