Teachers vote to support strike

Primary and secondary schools are set to close for a day on November 24th after teachers strongly backed the call for industrial…

Primary and secondary schools are set to close for a day on November 24th after teachers strongly backed the call for industrial action.

Third-level colleges are also expected to face serious disruption to services – and possible closure – that day, as both academic and non-academic staff have backed the one-day public sector strike.

Some 65,000 teachers and lecturers working in primary and second-level schools, further education colleges and third-level institutions will participate in the one-day strike.

Almost four out of five teachers backed strike action in separate ballots held by the three teachers' unions, the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) and the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI).

The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT), representing two-thirds of university academic staff, will also support the strike action called by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu).

Figures released yesterday show 79 per cent of primary teachers backed their union's call for industrial action. Both the ASTI and the TUI registered 77 per cent support for the strike action.

The decision means schools will close because of industrial action for the first time since the ASTI strike over pay in 2001. The Government is likely to save €10.3 million in salaries because of the stoppage.

Last night, Mike Jennings of IFUT predicted a "virtual closedown" of higher education on the national day of strike action.

The strong endorsement for strike action reflects anger among teachers about the pension levy and the ban on promotions. There is also widespread concern among teachers about the impact of education cuts.

The teachers' unions hope the industrial action will help stave off other education cuts in the forthcoming budget. The Government is thought to be seeking some €400 million in cuts from the €8 billion annual education spend.

There is speculation the Government could target various teacher allowances and payments. University presidents have also voiced concern that research funding could be vulnerable to budget cuts.

In a joint statement yesterday, the general secretaries of the four unions said: "Teachers and lecturers are taking this action because they have never before faced such a serious threat to their pay, pensions and terms and conditions. Teachers . . . and other public sector workers are being treated as if they are somehow responsible for causing the crisis in the public finances."

Responding to the ballots by the teachers' unions, Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe said industrial action will not address the country's financial difficulties. He called on teachers to pull together in the national interest.

Sheila Nunan, incoming general secretary of the INTO, said teachers have seen a 14 per cent attack on their salaries this year: "Further attacks on pay, pensions and conditions of service are completely unacceptable." Peter MacMenamin of the TUI said the result of the ballot represented a huge mandate by any standards and a clear indication of the strength of feeling among teachers and lecturers.

Meanwhile, psychiatric nurses have voted by a margin of more than four to one in favour of taking industrial action. The Psychiatric Nurses' Association (PNA), which has more than 6,000 members, said members were committed to taking industrial action if the Government proceeded with plans to cut the State payroll by €1.3 billion. "If their pay, premiums or allowances are cut, there will be serious industrial action," said general secretary Des Kavanagh.