Two-thirds of secondary schools face closure as teachers' union threatens strike action over pay
Almost two-thirds of the country's secondary schools are facing chaos this term as a teachers' union threatens industrial action.
Around 450 schools could be brought to a standstill by the end of October or early November as the Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland (ASTI) ratchets up its dispute with the Government.
Education Minister Richard Bruton said it was regrettable that the ASTI "seem determined to pursue a route of confrontation rather than dialogue".
As the prospect of school closures looms closer, school managers called for "meaningful discussions to take place as soon as possible", with a view to bringing about a resolution of the various issues.
John Curtis, general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which represents around 370 schools where the ASTI is the sole union representing teachers, said they were very concerned about disruption to schools.
Much of the ASTI campaign is on pay-related matters, following its rejection of the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) on pay and productivity in the public service.
Already, ASTI members are refusing to co-operate with a range of day-to-day school activities, such as participating in the so-called Croke Park hours school planning meetings, which, while not closing schools, is causing considerable disruption. It could affect parent-teacher meetings.
But now following a meeting of the union's 180-member central executive committee at the weekend, two separate ballots of the 18,000 members were announced. The results are due in mid-October; any move to take action requires seven days' notice.
One ballot is seeking a mandate for strike on the issue of two-tier pay scales, which has left new teachers without qualifications allowances worth about €5,000 a year.
The union had set August 31 as a deadline for agreement on a deal to restore qualifications allowances and so remove two-tier pay scales. Talks are progressing between Government officials and teacher unions about this issue, but no agreement has yet been reached.
Separately, the ASTI is seeking members' support for a withdrawal from supervision and substitution duties - which would force schools to close because of lack of cover.
The union's rejection of the LRA means its members are not benefiting from partial restoration of pay cuts introduced in the austerity era, which has triggered the ballot on supervision and substitution.
Among the ongoing losses to members are payment for supervision and substitution work in schools and a continuing freeze on increments, which has been lifted for members of the TUI and the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO), which have accepted the LRA.
The ASTI takes the view that if members are not being paid for supervision and substitution work, why should they do it.
The union executive is also planning a lunchtime protest in schools as part of its ongoing resistance to junior cycle reform.
The junior cycle changes are going ahead in about one-third of schools, where the TUI is the sole or dominant union.
The ASTI's continuing lack of co-operation on junior cycle is now creating a two-tier system, with pupils in ASTI schools at risk of losing marks in their assessment because of teachers' lack of co-operation.