Government 'provoking' ASTI with threat to cut pay if schools can't reopen
The Government has upped the ante in the row with secondary teachers - confirming they will not be paid at all if their school shuts because they withdraw from supervision and substitution work after the mid-term break.
A hard-line approach is evident in formal Education Department advice to schools about payroll arrangements from November 7.
The Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland (ASTI) described it as a "provocative act" and is taking legal advice.
Members of the ASTI will lose a day's salary today as a result of the one-day strike over pay that is closing 507 of the country's 735 second-level schools. Some 228 schools will remain open.
The stoppage is forcing about 250,000 teenage students to stay at home.
But there are even bigger worries about whether most schools will remain closed indefinitely after the Halloween break.
November 7 is the day ASTI members are threatening to withdraw from supervision and substitution, which is likely to cause about 500 schools to close because of lack of cover. Some schools have alternative cover, but most say it is not possible.
The threat to teachers' pay provoked an angry reaction because while the ASTI has directed members not to undertake supervision and substitution duties, it has told them to turn up for work and be available for normal teaching duties.
However, the department has taken the view that supervision and substitution is part of their contract.
A circular to schools explained that teachers will have to complete a form and return it to the principal, confirming their availability for the full range of duties.
These duties include supervision and substitution.
The circular also said that the requirement also applies to ASTI members who legitimately opted out of this work when they were given a choice some years ago.
Ultimately, if a school shuts as a result of the action, teachers who have not confirmed that they are available for supervision and substitution duties will not be paid for the duration of the closure.
However, if a school manages to stay open - and some dual-union schools will be in that position - ASTI members will get paid, even if they have not confirmed their availability for these duties.
Many will see this as a confusing and divisive situation. A department spokesperson has confirmed that the question of whether an ASTI member supporting the union's action gets paid or not will come down to whether their school remains open.
ASTI leaders and senior officials of the Education Department met yesterday, but ASTI president Ed Byrne described their positions as "static".
The ASTI stands alone in its rejection of the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA), which has started the process of pay restoration in the public service after austerity-era cuts.
The union's main demand is for a timetable for the end of two-tier pay scales.
Education Minister Richard Bruton was unyielding on the issue of whether the Government could even make a statement of intent about further pay restoration. He said it was a matter for negotiation. They would be sitting down with public service unions generally to negotiate any future arrangements, not just one union.
Schools closing today include 43 community colleges, a higher number of closures in that sector than was originally feared.