Schools reopen after ASTI agrees suspension of action

Government facing further pressure on public service pay as nurses warn of strikes

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe: says Ministers have reiterated their commitment to the Lansdowne Road agreement and a collective approach to industrial relations. Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe: says Ministers have reiterated their commitment to the Lansdowne Road agreement and a collective approach to industrial relations. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

All second-level schools have reopened today after the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) last night agreed to suspend industrial action at hundreds of schools.

The union and the Department of Education accepted an invitation from the chair of the Teachers’ Conciliation Council – an arbitration body – to attend talks on “matters of mutual concern”.

The ASTI said it had agreed to defer its directive to members not to carry out supervision and substitution duties – which had led to the closure of hundreds of schools earlier this week on health and safety grounds – as well as its separate strike action over lower pay for recently recruited teachers to facilitate the new process. It said it expected the new talks process would continue until the end of November.

While the Government has welcomed the initiative aimed at resolving the teachers’ dispute, it is facing further pressure over public service pay as nurses and midwives become the latest group to warn of potential strikes.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) is seeking the introduction of new financial incentives to recruit and retain nurses and midwives, and to secure adequate staffing levels. It is also looking for the Government to speed up the process of general pay restoration for nurses and other public service staff.

The decision by the INMO to ballot its members for industrial action, announced yesterday, comes at a time when the Government is already facing considerable pressure over pay in the wake of the Labour Court recommendation last week for a €40 million package of increases for gardaí.

The public service committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions – the umbrella body for most of the public service groups – is to meet in Belfast next Wednesday to consider its position on the existing Lansdowne Road accord in the light of the Garda pay recommendation.

Most unions argue the timetable for their members to receive additional payments over and above those set out in the Lansdowne Road deal – which runs until September 2018 – will have to be brought forward. In the absence of any new accelerated deal, many union leaders fear the emergence of a free-for-all over pay within the public service.

Labour Court

The Cabinet yesterday formally accepted the Labour Court recommendation on Garda pay, which resulted in last Friday’s planned strike by gardaí being averted. The Government insisted the money for the rises would be taken from existing public services rather than through tax increases.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said after the Cabinet meeting Ministers had reiterated their commitment to the Lansdowne Road agreement and a collective approach to industrial relations. Some sources suggested there may be further contact with the public service unions in advance of the meeting next Wednesday.

Mr Donohoe said he would discuss with Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald where the money would be found to pay the extra €40 million if the Garda associations accepted the Labour Court recommendation.

Mr Donohoe was emphatic that, in the absence of the Lansdowne Road agreement, there would be consequences for public spending.

The INMO, meanwhile, is effectively adopting a twin-track stance on pay. It is joining with other public service unions to seek pay restoration at a faster pace than originally envisaged under the Lansdowne Road agreement. However, simultaneously, it is also seeking specific additional new measures for nurses and midwives.