School closures over strike set to be greater than anticipated

TUI members to stage stoppage on February 4th – just days before the general election

The scale of school closures on February 4th next is set to be greater than anticipated after the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) issued instruction to members including principals and deputies not to provide cover for their striking colleagues.

About 19,000 Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) members in secondary schools, institutes of technology and centres for further education are due to stage a one-day stoppage next month, just days before the general election, in protest at the existing two-tier pay system for teachers.

The ASTI is not involved in the strike but has issued new guidance to members on what to do during the stoppage.

The letter to members states that they should turn up for work as normal on February 4th on the basis that if they refused to work on the day, they would be deemed to be engaging in unofficial industrial action. The union says ASTI members would be paid even if their school was closed as a result of the TUI strike.

Crucially, the union guidance states that “no member of ASTI, including principal teachers, deputy principal teachers and/or other post holders may undertake any duties that are normally done by colleagues who are members of TUI”.

It adds: “No ASTI member can undertake the supervision/substitution duties of an absent TUI colleague on 4th February who will be engaged in industrial action. Redesign of the roster with a view to having ASTI members cover supervision slots normally undertaken by TUI colleagues is not acceptable.”

The move means that most secondary schools will shut on health and safety grounds, even if only a small number of teachers are TUI members.

Of the 700-plus secondary schools, about 260 under the wing of Education and Training Boards will almost certainly close should the strike proceed, while the vast majority of the almost 100 community and comprehensive schools are also set to shut.

ASTI members

In addition, large numbers of the 380 voluntary secondary schools look set to close on foot of the latest guidance.

While these schools have traditionally been exclusively staffed by ASTI members, many now also have staff represented by the TUI as well.

The school management organisation for the voluntary sector, the joint managerial body, said it now expects significant disruption on foot of the union guidance.

"The ASTI position will make it difficult for voluntary secondary schools, with even limited numbers of TUI members, to remain operational," said John Curtin, general secretary of the joint managerial body.

The planned strike is in protest at continuation of the controversial two-tier pay system in place for teachers recruited since 2011.

The dispute is aimed at making what the union described as “pay discrimination” a key political issue in the general election campaign.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent