Thousands of teachers set to go on strike on February 4th

Teachers’ Union of Ireland members are taking action over ‘pay discrimination’

Teachers’ Union of Ireland: Two-tier pay structure has seen service to students damaged. File photograph: The Irish Times

Teachers’ Union of Ireland: Two-tier pay structure has seen service to students damaged. File photograph: The Irish Times

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Up to 1,100 second-level schools, institutes of technology, technological universities and centres of further education may have to close on February 4th – just days before the general election – due to a strike by thousands of teachers.

The Teachers’Union of Ireland (TUI) said its 19,000 members were to stage a one-day stoppage on Tuesday, February 4th, over what it described as the Government’s “ongoing failure to eliminate the injustice of pay discrimination”.

The union said it wanted to make the issue of the two-tier pay system in schools a “key election issue”.

The union represents 19,000 members in more than 1,100 second-level schools, colleges of further and adult education, and institutes of technology/technological universities.

Another union representing second level teachers, the ASTI, said that its central executive council would meet on Saturday, January 25th to consider the pay issue.

“We will take whatever action is necessary to ensure there is a resolution”, it said.

It will be up to management in each of education facilities with members of the TUI on the staff to decide on whether they should be shut for the strike on February 4th.

However, the union expects it is likely a significant number of these will close as a consequence of the strike by TUI members.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said it would be regrettable if the teachers go ahead with their decision to strike.

“We have a deal with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on restoring pay for new entrants and it is being implemented,” he said.

“It is an absolute certainty that when the new Government takes up office that we will want to negotiate a new deal for public servants because the existing deal expires at the end of the month anyway.”

The Department of Education said on Friday that the Government had given a commitment to deal with outstanding issues relating to new entrant teachers either in the context of any pay review mechanism agreed by the parties to the current public service agreement or in the context of the next round of pay talks.

The Department of Education said this commitment remained in place.

“The positions of each of the parties on these matters must be given due regard in endeavouring to reach a mutually agreed resolution.”

“The matter of new entrant pay is a cross-sectoral issue, not just an issue for the education sector”, it said.

There had been preliminary discussions between the Government and tradeunions about a sectoral bargaining process in different parts of the public service -- which could try to examine issues such as pay for recent entrants -- and which would feed into to negotiations on a successor to the current public service agreement.

Unions had wanted such a process to get under way in January . However given the general election, the prospect of such sectoral talks taking place would appear to be receeding.

In October, TUI members voted by 92 per cent to 8 per cent engage in a campaign of industrial action, up to and including strike action, over the two-tier pay system in schools.

The union said although its campaign over the two-tier pay issue had resulted in progress, “those teachers employed after 1st January 2011 will still earn some €110,000 less than longer-serving colleagues over the course of a career”.

“Critically, they will earn over €50,000 less in the first ten years of their career when key life choices are made”, the union said.

TUI president Seamus Lahart said on Friday: “We have exhausted every avenue open to us to bring this matter to resolution and have been left with no choice but to take strike action over the ongoing scandal of pay discrimination.

“Regrettably, the commitment made by Minister for Education Joe McHugh last April that the issue of pay inequality would finally be addressed has not been honoured,” he said.

The approach of the Minister and his Government since then has been to completely ignore the issue in the hope that it would somehow disappear,” Mr Lahart said.

“As our overwhelming mandate for industrial action shows, this short-sighted approach has only served to strengthen the resolve of our members. We are making it clear today that our campaign will continue until pay discrimination has been eliminated.”