Teachers should beware of “opportunists” who would seek to “normalise” the changed working conditions that they have put in place to assist their students and communities during the health emergency, according to the general secretary of one of the main education trade unions.
Addressing the annual conference of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) on Friday its general secretary John MacGabhann said there were employers “who would eagerly seize upon the opportunity of having you work permanently from home”.
He said there were those who “ would build upon that opportunity by collapsing the wage structure and the working conditions that you currently enjoy. Indeed, there are employers who would dispense with your services altogether and reduce teaching and lecturing to gig economy, precarious working and moonlighting in order to cut costs. That is one Trojan horse that must be kept tethered and padlocked outside the walls.”
TUI president Séamus Lahart told the union’s online conference that what members in all sectors had delivered during the Covid-19 pandemic may have been unprecedented. But he said this was “not a precedent, nor should it be thought of as such”.
“This crisis has, of course, highlighted and exaggerated the existing shortcomings in funding for education, particularly in the third-level sector. We have sought without success to date to reach an agreement on the provision of courses online. We have in the past week issued a directive to all-our third level colleagues in this regard, and this is particularly important in the context of their return to work and the move to deliver courses entirely online. The TUI will not tolerate unilateral decisions. We will not be dictated to and where this happens we will take action.”
Mr MacGabhann said that while the pace of progress in dealing with the two-tier pay system [which means recently recruited staff receive less than longer established colleagues] had been “disappointingly slow”. The TUI’s campaign for pay equality would continue until it had been achieved.
“It is worth noting the damage that discrimination does. When the dank fog of Covid clears, the teacher supply crisis will remain, largely because the inequity of pay discrimination remains.”
Mr MacGabhann also warned the next government that teachers expect to receive the 2 per cent pay rise scheduled to be paid under the current public service agreement in October. “Payment makes impeccable sense . . . it will generate economic activity and employment.”
He said the union would insist that the next government “must invest in education at all levels”. But that as matters stand “our schools and colleges are experiencing a surge in student numbers without any concomitant surge in investment. This is unacceptable and the TUI demands that the staffing and investment . . . be provided.”
He said the workload on teachers and lecturers in second and third level is unfair and unsustainable.
“We need urgently an end to bureaucratic tinkering and administrative overload. The myth that more and evermore data is required has taken root and must be extirpated.”
Mr MacGabhann said one of his regrets was unity between the TUI and the other union representing second-level teachers – the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland – had not been achieved.
“The current duplication of effort is wasteful and absurd. The competition and occasional antagonism between the unions is grist to the mill of those who would have us weak, divided and ineffectual. Real teachers in real schools with real challenges by and large could not care less about what they see as unnecessary, jaded and sometimes embarrassing squabbling.”
He also suggested that the TUI and the Irish Federation of University Teachers, which also represents education personnel at third level, should “get together to increase collective clout”.