Teachers’ roll-back on productivity to cause major headache for Government

Imposing financial penalties could lead to school closures and industrial unrest

Other unions which have accepted, with great reluctantce, unpalatable measures of their own under the various agreements will be watching carefully to see how the Government now deals with the ASTI. Photograph:  Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Other unions which have accepted, with great reluctantce, unpalatable measures of their own under the various agreements will be watching carefully to see how the Government now deals with the ASTI. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The decisive vote by second level teachers who are members of the ASTIto cease carrying out 33 additional hours per year agreed as part of the original Croke Park agreement may well set in train events that will lead to the closures of schools and significant industrial unrest inthe autumn.

The Government will now have to decide whether the move by the ASTI represents a repudiation of a collective agreement and impose sanctions on teachers accordingly.

The Government’s consistent position has been that productivity measures agreed under the Croke Park accord in 2010 followed on into the successor deals , Hadington Road and Lansdowne Road. While it was prepared to restore pay which was cut, it considered productivity gains to be permanent.

The previous government last autumn introduced new financial emergency legislation which would allow it to impose significant financial penalties on groups considered to have repudiated such collective agreements.

The ASTI, like the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) and garda representative organsiations, all rejected the Lansdowne Road agreement in ballots last year.

However the Government effectively adopted a wait-and-see approach, to determine whether group would actually cease carrying out productivity requirements set out in the agreements.

The Government’s hope was that the groups outside of the Lansdowne Road accord would eventually get onboard, particularly inthe light of the precedent set a fortnight ago in a deal with firefighters which could end the controversial lower pay arrangements for staff recruited since 2012.

Members of the TUI are curently balloting on broad proposals drawn up in the wake of the fire-fighters’ deal which, if accepted, would see them come within the Lansdowne Road tent within the next few weeks.

The Government also hoped that a forthcoming pay review for gardaí - albeit potentaily delayed by the resignationof the chairman last week - would eventually see their representative bodies also come on board.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton and the Cabinet will now have to decide if they considered the ASTI, on foot of its vote on Thursday, to have de facto repudiated the Lansdowne Road accord.

If so, will the penalties set out inthe financial emergency legislation beapplied from July 1st when the protections of the former Haddington Road deal expire?

The potential penalties are significant. The Deparment of Education in recent weeks warned that teachers would lose up to €31,000 over the next four years if considered to have repudiated the agreement.

These projected losses would be made up of increment freezes, non-payment of money for supervision and substitution duties which were due to be restored from September, and the withdrawal of improved pay scales for new entrants.

In addition, the department also warned of other potential consequences including the loss of any protection against compulsory redundancy.

Last autumn the then ASTI secretary general Pat King warned his executive that if all this came to pass there could be a full-blown dispute involving school closures in the autumn.

Other unions which have accepted, with great reluctantce, unpalatable measures of their own under the various agreements will be watching carefully to see how the Government now deals with the ASTI.

Imposing the financial emergency penalties could lead a bitter dispute with teachers but allowing teachers to unilaterally walk away from the 33 hours could have its own consequences for productivity measures being implemented by other groups and perhaps for the entire Lansdowne Road agreement, the cornerstone of Government public pay policy.