THE leader of the country's trade union movement has told secondary teachers they are being "ambitious" to think they can squeeze more from the Haddington Road Agreement.
David Begg played down any hopes ASTI members have of getting a better deal on pay and productivity as they ballot on the agreement for a third time.
Irish Congress of Trades Unions (ICTU) general secretary Mr Begg said it was "probably a bit ambitious to think that something unique and special over and above what is available at the moment can be achieved for secondary teachers".
He was speaking as the ASTI ballots for the third time in less than a year on different versions of proposals aimed at reducing costs in the public service.
The ASTI is the only public service union not to have signed up to the Haddington Road Agreement, and another No vote threatens to close about two in three second-level schools from January 17.
The ASTI central executive committee has recommended a No vote in the ballot of its 17,000 members, which concludes on December 18.
In the event of another rejection, the Government is preparing to take a hard line that could see about 500 schools close their doors in January.
Mr Begg showed empathy for teachers and the job they were doing. He said "everyone talks about them as if they have a great time" and they sometimes received a bad press.
But in reality, he said, a lot of extra work was being loaded on teachers, who were expected to solve every social ill in the classroom. Nonetheless, he said the difficulty was that, through the Haddington Road Agreement, the Government had made a contract with the broader public service.
Speaking on RTE's 'News at One', Mr Begg also referred to the risk of job losses facing ASTI members. These teachers will lose protection against compulsory redundancy if they reject the deal again.
This could turn into job losses next year in schools where teacher staffing levels are currently above the official quota, arising from a recent drop in pupil numbers.
The Department of Education recently circulated a document identifying 29 schools where the equivalent of almost 50 full-time jobs are at risk next year.
Members of unions that have signed the agreement are protected from compulsory redundancy but, while outside it, ASTI members are exposed to risk.
Mr Begg said the whole idea of Haddington Road was about avoiding redundancies in the public service.
The FEMPI legislation introduced earlier this year gives the Government unprecedented authority to implement changes to terms and conditions without agreement.
If the ASTI returns a No vote, the Cabinet has set Friday, January 17, as the date on which it will make it mandatory for all ASTI members to do supervision and substitution work, for no pay.
Traditionally, this work was voluntary and paid, but under Haddington Road it is now included as part of teachers' core duties.