Teachers’ dispute fact-check: Who’s right, who’s wrong?

Government and ASTI are at loggerheads over who is to blame for school closures

ASTI members on a picket in Dublin, Monday,  November 7th, 2016. Photograph: Colm O’Neil/PA Wire

ASTI members on a picket in Dublin, Monday, November 7th, 2016. Photograph: Colm O’Neil/PA Wire

 

“The Government has reneged on its commitment to pay teachers for supervision and substitution duties

- ASTI president Ed Byrne

The ASTI is correct that the Government promised payment for supervision and substitution cover last September - and that these sums have not yet been paid.

However, it is on shakier ground when it insists Ministers have “reneged” on the commitment.

Under a previous pay deal (Haddington Road), the Government pledged to pay two sums of just under €800 each to teachers for supervision and substitution duties in September 2016. There’s no doubt about this commitment.

However, the ASTI voted earlier this year to cease working additional hours under the Croke Park pay deal brokered in 2010.

The Government’s position is that these extra hours were a permanent obligation going forward, as has been the case with productivity measures in previous pay deals.

The ASTI, however, insists its requirement to work additional hours expired earlier this year as it has not signed up to the Lansdowne Road pay deal. It says that nowhere in the Croke Park pay deal did it say these hours were a permanent commitment.

These points are a source of fierce debate. What is clear is that the union was warned by Department of Education officials that ceasing to work these Croke Park hours would “repudiate” the Lansdowne Road public sector pay deal and result in the non-payment of supervision and substitution payments.

Therefore, the non-payment cannot have come as a surprise to anyone - certainly not in the leadership of the union.

The ASTI has made it virtually impossible for schools to open

- Minister for Education Richard Bruton

There is little doubt the short notice which the union gave for withdrawing supervision and substitution duties - along with a directive that ASTI school principals should not co-operate with contingency plans - has made it very difficult to keep schools open.

The ASTI has claimed that school management bodies have had plenty of time to prepare contingency plans.

The union is correct that action of this kind has been looming for several months now. However, school management bodies say recruitment for supervisors could not be commenced until after the results of the ASTI ballot three weeks ago were announced.

In addition, they say the ASTI’s directive which prevents principals from hiring or training supervisors makes it extremely difficult to keep schools open. In the absence of school principals to recruit, vet and train supervisors, it is left to boards of management, who serve on a voluntary basis.

It’s not correct to say that all the schools that are closed, that the principals and deputy principals are ASTI members; that’s not true.”

- Kieran Christie, ASTI general secretary

The ASTI’s general secretary is correct. Some schools with principals and deputy principals who are members of the union opened on Monday - but they amounted to a tiny proportion of overall closures.

It is estimated that more than 400 of the country’s 736 secondary schools closed on Monday due to the the union’s withdrawal of supervision and substitution duties.

Most of these schools were ones where the ASTI was the main union - typically voluntary secondary schools - or where the principal or deputy principal was a member of the union.

About eight or so schools with ASTI principals or deputy principals managed to open, according to Mr Christie.

Anecdotally, these schools which managed to open had creative solutions to providing supervision duty, or have had a history of using non-teachers working as supervisors.

- “ASTI teachers were available for work on Monday - but have been ‘locked out’ of schools”

- ASTI leadership

Yes, ASTI teachers were available for work on Monday - even if there were no pupils to teach. The union has instructed its members to turn up to schools every day this week.

While its members are available to work, they have been instructed not to provide any supervision or substitution cover on the basis that they are not being paid for these duties.

This action has closed at least half of secondary schools on health and safety grounds where the ASTI is the main teachers’ union or where principals are members of the union.

Many school management bodies have closed schools on the basis that contingency plans were not possible to put in place - chiefly because the ASTI has directed members not to co-operate with them.

Not all schools in which the ASTI is the main union were locked. Some opened by putting together contingency plans; others opened their doors to staff but not to students.