Teachers in dispute: A collective agreement is the best way to restore pay and conditions
The alternative is a wage free-for-all, industrial action and a wave of school closures
The impact of austerity-era cuts has been felt across the public sector. Teachers, gardaí, nurses and other public servants have faced reduced pay, pension levies and longer working hours. Younger workers have been hit hardest and, in some cases, are on reduced payscales, low hours and are struggling to make ends meet. Against this backdrop, there is rising militancy among some trade unions and a growing appetite to reject productivity measures linked to recent public sector pay deals. In the case of teachers, industrial action looms this autumn which may lead to widespread school closures and lock-outs.
The ASTI, the country’s biggest secondary teachers’ union, has rejected the Lansdowne Road agreement and voted to cease working an additional hour a week from this summer. Such a move would be considered a repudiation of the agreement and would trigger financial penalties. The other main secondary teacher’s union, the TUI, has rejected the agreement but is putting it to a new ballot with a recommendation to accept. It is facing internal criticism from more militant elements who view this as a sellout.
Those making the case for rejection have little appetite for a collective agreement. Their strategy is simple: secure a full restoration of employees’ terms and conditions, at all costs. The problem is these demands are not realistic. Teachers may believe they have a special case. But what about gardaí, nurses and doctors who, in many cases, have had to deliver even greater productivity savings? Any deal for one group would inevitably lead to knock-on claims for others.
There is an urgent need to invest more money in our battered public services. However, full restoration of pay and allowances – estimated to cost more than €1 billion – would easily devour all available resources. It would also disproportionately benefit those on the highest salaries.
The Lansdowne Road agreement may not be perfect but it offers a pathway towards pay restoration and improvements in working conditions. A recent deal with fire-fighters opens the door to clawing back additional allowances. There are also better prospects for young teachers seeking to secure permanent jobs and more hours. The Government’s planned public service pay commission is also due to focus on narrowing two-tier pay structures for new entrants.
The alternative is a wage free-for-all, widespread industrial action and inevitable school closures . This would impact most on students and their parents. Teaching has traditionally been an attractive profession with status, decent conditions and a solid career path. The profession plays a vital role in inspiring young people, building their confidence and nurturing crucial skills. It is important that it retains its appeal to our best graduates. A collective agreement is the best way forward.