Teachers’ union in unprecedented threat of legal action against Ictu

ASTI made complaint over spheres of influence to recruit members in specific schools

There has been friction for some time between the ASTI and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) over representation rights. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

There has been friction for some time between the ASTI and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) over representation rights. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

The second level teaching union, ASTI, has warned of potential legal action against the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) in a dispute over “spheres of influence” and the right to represent teachers in particular schools.

The ASTI is an affiliate of Ictu and the issuing of legal correspondence and threat of court action is understood to be unprecedented in the trade union movement.

The issue has arisen from an internal dispute committee process established by Ictu – the umbrella body for the trade union movement – to deal with a complaint by the ASTI over which teaching union should have rights to recruit and represent teachers in specific types of schools.

There has been friction for some time between the ASTI and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) over representation rights.

However details of the warning by ASTI that it may take legal action has emerged publicly in documentation prepared by Ictu for affiliates ahead of its forthcoming biennial conference in Belfast in a fortnight.

A report of the Ictu executive council issued in recent days says lawyers for the ASTI had written to it warning it was reserving its right to take proceedings, if necessary, arising from the handling of a dispute committee and subsequent appeals process into the complaint it had issued.

The ASTI maintained in its complaint that established spheres of influence/representation rights in second level schools had been contravened by the TUI.

An initial Ictu dispute committee backed, in essence, the establishment of a system of “open recruitment” by both unions across community and comprehensive schools, educational and training board schools, voluntary schools and educate together schools. This would be subject to a protocol being developed on how this would operate in practice.

The ASTI appealed and argued that an arrangement for shared representation rights would be of greater value to the TUI while it would be “significantly disadvantaged”.

The ASTI also maintained the dispute committee had not been properly constituted under the Ictu rules. It is understood that this may form the basis of the warning of potential legal action.

The appeal committee did not uphold the ASTI complaint.

Second complaint

Ictu did not reply to queries on whether legal proceedings had actually been initiated.The ASTI said: “As these issues are confidential, we cannot comment.”

The ASTI complaint about spheres of influence and representation rights was the second it had lodged in relation to the TUI.

A separate complaint relating to allegations that the TUI had “poached” members during a dispute with the then Government in 2017 against Ictu rules was resolved last March. The TUI paid over close to €280,000 in compensation to the ASTI which had initially sought about €6 million.

The ASTI maintained in the appeal that it represented exclusively second level teachers while the TUI also had members who were lecturers and researchers in third level institutions. The ASTI contended that a proposed shared representation rights arrangement would be of greater value to the TUI while it would be “significantly disadvantaged”.

The TUI contested this assertion. The TUI said that about 14,600 of its total membership of just over 19,000 were in post primary or second level schools. It maintained that as the ASTI had about 16,000 members, the difference between the two organisations was quite small.

The TUI claimed that the post primary sector was growing and that because of agreed pupil teacher ratios the number of teachers in the sector would continue to increase in the years ahead. It also maintained that the bulk of the growth in teacher numbers would be in schools traditionally organised exclusively by the TUI. It maintained the proposal for open recruitment would provide the ASTI with an opportunity to recruit members in areas that were previously off limits .