Friday 20 January 2017

On a teacher's wage, I may never be able to afford a mortgage

In my opinion...

Alison Hayes

Published 09/03/2016 | 02:30

Primary school teacher Alison Hayes.
Primary school teacher Alison Hayes.

In Ireland in 1970, a time of great economic uncertainty, the minimum wage for women was two-thirds of that of men. Neither the Irish public nor the EU accepted this arbitrary reason and so the wrong was put right. Why then should lower pay based on a different arbitrary reason be considered fair in modern Ireland?

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I am a primary school teacher, teaching in Blanchardstown, Dublin 15. I finished a four-year teaching degree and graduated in 2011. On the day I started teaching in September 2011, I was discriminated against, simply because of my age. I love my job, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to come to terms with the fact that, over our careers, the teacher in the next room will earn over €100,000 more than me.

In 2010 the Government cut the pay for public servants by an average of 14pc. On top of that, the pay of every new entrant teacher was cut by a further 14pc. We were told this was part of the measures agreed when the government accepted the troika bailout for the banks. The new entrants pay cut was imposed as a budget measure.

New teachers were then hit once again with the loss of allowances, an established part of salary scales, with these allowances remaining in place for existing employees. This time the cut for new teachers was not a troika-imposed measure. It was a deliberate, unfair, unjust and discriminatory decision made by our own government to heap further costs for financial recklessness onto the next generation.

While there was some improvement following the Haddington Road Agreement, we still face losses of up to €100,000 over the course of our careers.

In pay terms, this unfairness means new entrant teachers will earn tens of thousands of euro less over their career. This inequality is unjust and unfair. It amounts to a mortgage which is something many teachers will never be able to afford in this country. I and many others are being punished because of the year we qualified. It is blatant and indefensible discrimination.

I want to make it clear that young teachers are not demanding pay rises; we are demanding pay restoration and pay equality. We want to be equal to our colleagues. We should be paid equally for the equal work we do. Teachers are well aware of the dire economic situation the country was in at the time and the difficult decisions that had to be made, but this does not lessen the wound of gross inequality that was imposed on the young teachers of Ireland.

I am five years into my career and I have yet to see a credible restoration of the deplorable pay cuts that were imposed on young teachers. For five years we have been paying for the mistakes of the boom-bust economics of the last two decades and, without pay restoration and equality, we will continue to pay well into our old age. Were we the cause or part of the boom and bust? No. Were we the cause of the financial crash? No. So then, I ask, why were we singled out for special mistreatment?

I believe the implementation of a two-tier payscale has been immensely damaging to morale within the profession. It demeans young teachers and makes us feel lesser than our colleagues with whom we share a staffroom and a workplace. Many new teachers who are educated and trained at the expense of the State, go to work abroad in order to receive fair and equal pay. This waste of resources and loss of talent is a direct result of a policy which discriminates against new entrants.

We want a commitment from the next government to prioritise restoration. I am looking for the next Government to commit to making me an equal member of the teaching profession.

I chose teaching as it is fulfilling and inspiring in so many ways. I only wish to be treated as an equal. I am 27-years-old now - I do not want to be unequal when I am 37, 47, 57 or older. A political choice made us unequal - a political choice can reverse it.

Alison Hayes is a primary school teacher

Irish Independent

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