Two-tier pay: ‘It’s immoral, it’s wrong and it doesn’t make sense’

Lower payscales for new entrants will dominate this week’s teacher conferences

David Waters, a new entrant teacher at Greenhills College in Dublin 12. He says lower payscales are immoral. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

David Waters, a new entrant teacher at Greenhills College in Dublin 12. He says lower payscales are immoral. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

David Waters used to think teaching was a solid job with decent pay and good career prospects – until he entered the classroom.

“I couldn’t even get a car loan in my first few years teaching,” says Waters (30), who works at Greenhills Community College in west Dublin.

“I started on two hours a week; then it went up to four, then six and eventually 17 hours,” says Waters.

“By the time I did get full-time hours, I was 28 years of age. I felt I should have had a big chunk of savings by that age, but I could barely afford my bills.

“I pay rent, and Dublin is tough enough as it is. The idea of a mortgage just isn’t realistic,” he says.

Waters is one of almost 24,000 teachers who are on lower payscales than colleagues who joined the profession prior to 2011.

He estimates that he earns about €5,000 less as a result and puts his potential career losses in the region of €100,000.

The issue is set to dominate teachers’ annual conferences this week, with demands that the Government agree a timetable to restore pay equality.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton will run the gauntlet of all three teachers’ conferences, where new entrants form an ever-growing proportion of members.

He is likely to point out the progress that has been made in relation to narrowing the gap under his watch.

In 2016, Mr Bruton concluded an agreement with the teachers’ unions that saw up to 75 per cent of the pay gap closed. He says a teacher straight out of college now earns €36,000; this will rise to €37,600 in October 2020.

His official line to date is that the Government recognises there are outstanding pay demands and will work with unions under the new public sector pay deal to progress them.

While the Government estimates the cost of restoring pay for teachers is about €83 million, the total cost of such an adjustment across the public sector is of the order of €200 million.

While Mr Bruton has avoided a firm commitment to end unequal payscales, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week said he wanted to reach agreement with unions on pay equality “over a number of years”.

Timescale

The next question then is what kind of timescale will be agreed, and how soon can the gap be closed?

For unions, frustration is mounting. It is now seven years since austerity-era payscales were introduced. While the bulk of the gap has been closed, they are under pressure from younger members to secure further progress.

Teaching unions this week will likely gain support, or reaffirm their mandate, for industrial action if timescales to end pay inequality are not introduced soon.

However, they will be mindful that any industrial action that breaches the terms of the current pay deal will trigger pay freezes and potential losses for members. The ASTI’s recent actions in that regard are fresh in everyone’s mind.

Integrity concern

That may be why teaching unions are widening the argument on two-tier pay to concern over the integrity of the education system itself.

They argue that teacher shortages are directly linked to pay inequality as recent graduates go abroad in search of better paid employment.

The result, they say, is that more and more Irish pupils are being left without fully qualified teachers.

Winning parents over, they reason, might help create the kind of political pressure to end unequal pay sooner rather than later.

For teachers like David Waters, the gap can’t be closed quickly enough.

He joined the profession in 2012 and now has full-time hours and earns about €40,000 a year.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that many of us earn less than other teachers for the same work. It’s immoral, it’s wrong and it doesn’t make any sense.

“I’d like to see an end in sight, within a year or two would be realistic. Soon it will be a decade since these pay cuts were in place.”