Teachers: Equal pay for new entrants

 

The teachers’ conferences, which get underway this week, are set to dominate the news agenda as they do every Easter. Attendees are, by definition, more radical than those who do not. Younger teachers – especially those with young families – do not find it easy to get away during the school holidays, so conferences have tended to attract those approaching retirement.

In the past, conferences often focused on issues related to older teachers; pensions were often a hot topic. In recent years, however, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of young teachers attending conference. These new recruits have been radicalised by lower pay scales and poor job opportunities and many feel their concerns have not been taken seriously enough by their representatives.

Teachers’ unions have responded by putting these issues towards the top of their agenda this year . The situation facing many younger teachers is undeniably bleak. A survey carried out by the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) found that two-thirds of teachers who qualified since 2010 are working in precarious teaching positions, many reliant on fragments of work. Almost one-in-five were supplementing teaching incomes by working in part-time jobs such as taxi-driving or barwork.

Teaching has traditionally been an attractive profession with status, decent conditions and a solid career path. It still attracts some of our most talented graduates. But the impact of years of austerity-era cuts means we cannot take this for granted anymore. Many of our highly-educated young teachers are already voting with their feet and emigrating, or opting to switch careers. Young people can earn considerably more in other sectors of industry, work more hours, and enjoy better job security and promotional prospects.

Teachers’ unions have adopted different approaches to tackling the issue. By negotiating under the terms of the Lansdowne Road agreement, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland have secured increases from 15 to 22 per cent for new entrants, closing the wage gap with their more senior colleagues by up to three-quarters. The ASTI’s decision to breach the terms of the agreement, however, means its younger members are deprived of these increases as well as incremental pay rises.

A new collective agreement should offer further scope to tackling the remaining inequity. The Government should make a pathway to pay parity a priority of any future agreement. It has been reluctant to commit to such a move to date. If we are serious about protecting the status of teaching, it is a step it needs to take sooner rather than later.

At the end of the day, teachers play a hugely influential role in firing young minds and helping students reach their full potential. The best members of the profession do not just educate children; they inspire young people, build their confidence and develop crucial skills needed for their future careers. It is vitally important that teaching remains an attractive profession for bright and ambitious graduates.

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