THE secondary teachers' union ASTI has appealed to its 17,000 members to stick together in support of industrial action, as the impact of their dispute hits home in pay packets.
The stark consequences of their action was laid bare this week when Education Minister Ruairi Quinn circulated differing terms and conditions for those teachers who are in dispute and those who are not.
As the department's circular arrived in schools, ASTI general secretary Pat King responded with a letter to members stating: "It is essential that ASTI members continue to support their union at this time."
Members of the other second-level union, the TUI, are working normally, while teachers who are not members of any union can find themselves caught in the middle – and losing out financially.
The unprecedented situation is causing confusion in some schools about who is doing what, and has also triggered murmurings of discontent among those on the wrong end of the new two-tier pay scale.
The Department of Education told the Irish Independent yesterday that it had "received some queries from teachers who are not members of a trade union".
About 150 – 94 community and comprehensive schools and about 50 community colleges – of the 730 second-level schools have members of both unions on their staff.
There are about another 200 community colleges where the TUI has sole representation, while in the 380 voluntary secondary schools – those traditionally run by the religious – the ASTI is the recognised union. Some schools have a mix of ASTI members and teachers who are not in any union.
TUI members in the 150 dual union schools have been asked to sign a declaration that they are a TUI member, in order to ensure they receive the benefits of the deal.
In an added complication, teachers who are not members of ASTI, but who are working in an 'ASTI school' are, for the moment at least, being treated as ASTI members.
So, teachers who are not in any union but who happen to be working in one of 380 voluntary secondary schools are suffering the same losses as ASTI members. Similarly, the small number of TUI members in an ASTI school (arising from a merger) are also being treated as ASTI members, for now.
The department's broadbrush approach raises wider questions about union representation, which has the potential to lead to a challenge.