Teachers must prioritise narrowing of pay gap between new entrants and established personnel
Willingness to compromise and clear strategy essential for teacher unions
Teaching has been seen traditionally as an attractive profession with status, decent conditions and a solid career path. But the impact of several years of austerity-era cuts is taking its toll. The annual round of teacher conferences heard evidence this week of how reduced pay and low-hour contracts has left those who are newly qualified struggling to make ends meet.
Many new teachers are reliant on fragments of work and are struggling to pay their rents. In some cases, young graduates have incomes as low as €10,000 and see little prospect of securing full-time employment or a long-term career. Among more established teachers, morale is flagging. Many cite the volume of administrative work and after-school meetings as sources of growing job dissatisfaction.
Most acknowledge that issues facing young teachers are among the most pressing. Successive governments introduced lower payscales for new entrants during the economic crisis in order to cut the public sector pay bill. The abolition of allowances for additional qualifications also means there is little incentive to upskill. The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (Asti) voted at its conference in favour of balloting for strike action if the pay gap between recently recruited teachers and their more established colleagues is not closed. The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) already has a mandate for strike action on the issue. The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation is also demanding greater action.
However, many young members are frustrated that their unions have not taken the issues seriously enough. Some unions have been engaged in a range of bitter disputes over other issues such as additional working hours, junior cycle reform and productivity. Industrial action looms this autumn on a number of these fronts which could lead to school closures and lock-outs. Asti, in particular, seems to lack a coherent long-term strategy or endgame and resistance to compromise among the membership of each of the unions may hinder rather than help in the longer term.
The consequences of failing to narrow the pay gap and secure greater working hours for young teachers are potentially profound. If left to fester, they could result in a drain of the best young graduates away from the profession. Young people can earn considerably more in other sectors of industry, work more hours, and enjoy better job security and promotional prospects.
Teachers should be properly rewarded for the influential role they play 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.