Teacher unions to debate industrial action over members' place on vaccine rollout timetable

Move will not affect the planned reopening of schools on April 12th, according to unions

Some sources say any potential industrial action might be deferred until the new academic year, which begins in late August. File photograph: The Irish Times

Some sources say any potential industrial action might be deferred until the new academic year, which begins in late August. File photograph: The Irish Times

Your Web Browser may be out of date. If you are using Internet Explorer 9, 10 or 11 our Audio player will not work properly.
For a better experience use Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

All three teachers’ unions look set to debate emergency motions calling for industrial action this week unless their members are moved up the vaccination schedule.

The move will not affect planned reopening of schools on April 12th, according to the unions.

However, there is a possibility that a ballot in favour of industrial action could disrupt the current academic year at primary or the return to school in late August or September.

The issue is set to dominate the Easter conferences of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) and Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), which are taking place online this year.

They say there is anger and frustration over the “downgrading” of the teaching profession on the vaccination list and are calling for a parallel process to ensure they are prioritised for vaccination.

It follows the Government’s decision last week to introduce an age-based system for vaccinating the population instead of one that prioritises frontline professions.

Minister for Education Norma Foley is due to address the INTO’s annual congress on Tuesday. File photograph: The Irish Times
Minister for Education Norma Foley is due to address the INTO’s annual congress on Tuesday. File photograph: The Irish Times

Minister for Education Norma Foley is due to address the INTO’s annual congress on Tuesday followed by the TUI on Wednesday. She has not been invited to address the ASTI.

A spokesman for Ms Foley said it remained her position that the Covid-19 vaccination programme should be guided by public health experts and the decision to revise the approach had been done on this basis.

Privately, she expressed concern at the changes at a meeting of Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary party last week.

The Irish Times reported on Saturday that all three teacher unions were in contact over emergency motions and the potential of co-ordinating any potential industrial action.

The INTO is expected to take an emergency motion on Wednesday following Ms Foley’s address.

A spokesman said the wording of any motion will be influenced by the Minister’s comments.

“There’s an opportunity to set this right. If we are fobbed off, then all options are on the table,’ said one INTO source.

“The only viable time frame [for potential industrial action] is during the coming term. The sense of anger among members is very strong. We were given assurances in black and white over teachers being vaccinated earlier and now the rug has been pulled out from under us.”

Frustration and dismay

The TUI is also expected to debate an emergency motion on Wednesday, shortly before Ms Foley’s planned address.

“Our members are upset, frustrated and annoyed and they will have an opportunity to express that on the congress floor,” said TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie.

“We never wanted to jump ahead of any vulnerable members of the community. We just [want] to continue what was planned, which was prioritising essential, frontline workers,” he said.

“We can very easily slot into the planned age-based vaccination scheme in parallel and get teachers vaccinated as soon as possible.”

The ASTI is also likely to debate an emergency motion calling for industrial action if members are not vaccinated before the end of the current academic year.

Secondary union sources say there is reluctance to take action that could disrupt classes for Leaving Cert students, given the impact of school closures.

Many teachers are facilitating oral and music exams for their students at present and are due to commence the process of grading students for accredited grades in mid-May.

Some sources say any potential industrial action might be deferred until the new academic year, which begins in late August. The issue is also likely to be debated at the annual conference of Fórsa’s education division later this week. The union represents thousands of special needs assistants who work in close proximity with students at primary and second level.

Remote teaching

Meanwhile, a new survey shows more than 90 per cent of secondary teachers have noticed disengagement by some of their students as a result of the move to emergency remote teaching and learning.

The findings are contained in a poll of more than 1,000 Teachers’ Union of Ireland members at second level and in the further education and training sectors which was carried out in March.

The survey shows the vast majority of teachers (76 per cent ) believe emergency remote learning had a disproportionately negative effect on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, while a similar proportion believe additional supports are needed for 2021/22 to assist those students who have lost out most.

On a more positive note, most teachers (75 per cent) say student engagement with emergency remote learning was better in 2021 than in 2020.

Most also agree that preparation, provision and associated work involved in providing classes remotely took much more time than face-to-face delivery.

The long-standing issue of pay discrimination has also emerged as a concern given that recession-era pay cuts have not yet been fully restored.

A significant proportion (29 per cent) said they do not believe they will still be in the profession in 10 years time, or were not sure (20 per cent).

However, if pay discrimination was to be fully resolved, most (74 per cent) believe they will still be teachers in a decade’s time.

TUI president Martin Marjoram said while progress has been made in tackling pay inequality, there is still an 80,000 loss in career earnings, with the largest differences in salary in the early years of employment.

He said this has led to a “teacher recruitment and retention crisis” at second level that is making it increasingly difficult for schools to fill teaching vacancies.