Government takes tough line on teachers

Quinn gives first hints of what life could be like for ASTI members outside accord

 Ruairí Quinn: the Minister was  adamant that ASTI members would face a financial hit by remaining outside the Haddington Road agreement

Ruairí Quinn: the Minister was adamant that ASTI members would face a financial hit by remaining outside the Haddington Road agreement

 

The Government has signalled to second-level teachers that it will be adopting a tough line in the face of industrial action by members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), and there will be no renegotiation of the Haddington Road agreement.

Comments by Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn about the potential loss of job security was the first hint to the teacher union of what life could be like outside of the accord.

However, some senior figures in the education world believe that in reality compulsory redundancies are unlikely on any widespread basis.

However, the Minister was also adamant that union members would face a financial hit by remaining outside Haddington Road in that they would face the “full impact” of the terms of the financial emergency legislation which the Government introduced during the summer.

This will mean that pay cuts imposed on those earning more than €65,000 will be permanent and will not be reversed in the years ahead. In addition, increments will be frozen for three years.

Beyond the general statements by Mr Quinn last night, the Government has not yet spelled out any specific reaction to the the union decision to reject Haddington Road and to embark on industrial action. Government sources said it was considering its position.

However, there are a number of steps it could take which could have an important impact on how this dispute plays out.

One major potential flashpoint is the issue of supervision and substitution arrangements in schools. Up to now this has been voluntary and those who undertook this work received payments of €1,700 per year.

Primary school teachers and members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) will no longer receive supervision and substitution payments under the terms of Haddington Road which they have backed. However, on its website yesterday the ASTI reminded members that for them the scheme still attracts payment.

The Department of Education last night said the Minister had the power to change the existing scheme and that “all options were on the table”.

However any move by the Minister to withhold supervision and substitution payments could trigger an escalation. In previous disputes when teachers withdrew from supervision and substitution arrangements, schools have had to close on health and safety grounds.

Education sources also warned that it could be difficult to bring in non-teachers in the short-term to carry out such duties given the tightening up of child-protection arrangements and the requirement for Garda clearance, for example.

Perhaps more importantly is whether the Government will allow teachers to opt to sign up to Haddington Road on an individual basis. The TUI is likely to be asked for a list of its members to allow them to receive their latest increment. However, the situation regarding non-union members remains to be clarified.