Sunday 26 March 2017

It's hard to see how we can reopen, say school bosses as action looms

TUI general secretary John MacGabhann. Photo: Tommy Clancy
TUI general secretary John MacGabhann. Photo: Tommy Clancy
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The body representing more than half of the country's second-level schools has said it is hard to see how any of them can reopen after mid-term if teachers withdraw from supervision and substitution work.

The Joint Managerial Body (JMB) speaks for the 380 schools in the voluntary secondary sector, generally those traditionally under the control of religious orders.

There are about 730 second-level schools nationwide.

As school bosses examine their limited options, a fuller picture is emerging of the chaos that lies ahead in the face of two threats of industrial action by the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) in their row over pay.

Earlier this week, JMB general secretary John Curtis predicted widespread closure of JMB schools if ASTI members stopped supervision and supervisory work from November 7.

Last night, he went further and said "we are of the view that, by and large, our schools will not be able to reopen after mid-term".

The Department of Education is overseeing a contingency plan to enable schools to recruit external supervisors to replace ASTI members on this work from November 7.

But the lack of time to make alternative arrangements, coupled with a refusal to allow principals who are members of the ASTI to co-operate with putting a supervisory structure in place, is hitting JMB schools particularly hard. This is because the ASTI represents teachers in these schools.

About 96 community and comprehensive schools and 62 community colleges, known as dual-union schools, where both the ASTI and the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) have members, may also be forced to close. Scores of these schools are now advertising for external supervisors.

The ASTI is also threatening a series of one-day strikes, starting next Thursday, which is causing separate difficulties. The 380 JMB schools are facing closure on the strike days, but there is much confusion about how the one-day strikes may impact dual-union schools.

If a school decides that it can open, even in the absence of ASTI members, other staff, including TUI members and special needs assistants, members of Impact, would have to cross picket lines.

The TUI is likely to advise members that if they do not cross picket lines they are at risk of losing a day's pay and may not be protected under industrial relations legislation.

However, TUI general secretary John MacGabhann said the union would "absolutely protect" members who chose not to pass the picket from disciplinary action.

The TUI executive will clarify its position after a meeting tomorrow.

There are about 210 schools in the Education and Training Boards sector, where the TUI is the sole representative of teachers, which are expected to be unaffected by both sets of action.

ASTI representatives met with Department of Education officials yesterday and another meeting is arranged for Monday, but there is no expectation, at this point, that next Thursday's stoppage will be averted.

Irish Independent

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