Tuesday 25 October 2016

'Anyone recruited in public service has had to take lower pay' - Richard Bruton

Education Minister remains firm as teachers face prospect of having pay stopped in response to strike threat

Philip Ryan and Maeve Sheehan

Published 16/10/2016 | 13:40

ASTI teachers protest outside the Dáil Picture: Arthur Carron
ASTI teachers protest outside the Dáil Picture: Arthur Carron

The Government will dock the pay of thousands of teachers in a hard-line response to the threat of industrial action by the country's biggest secondary school teachers union, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

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The Department of Education last night confirmed that in circumstances where schools were forced to close, teachers would be taken off the State's payroll.

Tough stance: Richard Bruton Photo: Tom Burke
Tough stance: Richard Bruton Photo: Tom Burke

The decision to hit teachers in their pockets will further raise tensions between the Government and the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) - the only teachers' union still refusing to sign up to the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

Teachers plan to withdraw from supervision and substitution duties from Monday, November 7, which could lead to the closure of over 450 secondary schools.

Now these teachers face the prospect of having their pay stopped.

“The truth is, that if we don’t have an agreement that covers all persons in the public service, and allows the phased restoration, if we had to restore all of them it would cost 2.3 billion," Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton told RTE Radio 1 Sunday afternoon.

“That would absorb all of this year’s entire Budget and all of next year’s so there would be no recruitment this year of 2,500 additional teachers.”

Minister Bruton was asked when equal pay would be achieved but he said that this "has to be negotiated through the successor to the Lansdowne Agreement and the Minister for Public Expenditure has announced that a public service commission will be established early next year".

Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

“In the mean time, a young teacher recruited last September will get 6,700 by the 1st January 2018. That is a substantial amount, it is a significant progress," he said.

“Anyone recruited in public service has had to take lower pay and has had to work the so-called Croke Park hours.”

Read more: Seven days of strikes by teachers over pay dispute

In a statement to the Sunday Independent, a spokesperson for Minister Bruton,said the union's refusal to exempt school principals from the strike action meant it was "now inevitable" that hundreds of schools around the country would be forced to turn away students during planned industrial action.

The spokesman said Mr Bruton would have no choice but to cut the wages of teachers if schools were shut due to health and safety concerns over the withdrawal of supervision and substitution work.

"In circumstances where schools are forced to close as a result of the withdrawal of teachers from their duties relating to supervision and substitution, teachers who have not made themselves available for these duties will come off the payroll," he said.

The minister's spokesperson said there was currently a deal on the table which would see newly qualified teachers' pay increase by up to 22pc, while a teacher with 11 years' experience would see their pay rise by 9pc.

Read more: Wave of strike dates announced for secondary school teachers

Mr Bruton's firm stance against the teaching union comes as the country faces into a winter of unprecedented industrial action as gardai also prepare to strike for the first time in the State's history.

However, a Department of Justice spokesman last night refused to be drawn on whether Tanaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will also cut garda pay if they engage in industrial action.

"Department officials are meeting with the Garda Representative Association (GRA) next week to discuss a range of issues which it's hoped will result in industrial action being avoided," the spokesperson said.

The ASTI announced on Friday that members will strike for seven full days between October 27 and Christmas.

The union also plans to withdraw teachers from all substitution and supervision duties from Monday, November 7, which may also have the effect of forcing schools to close on health and safety grounds.

The ASTI is refusing to give school principals an exemption from industrial action which would allow them co-ordinate alternative arrangements with the Department of Education to keep schools open.

Government sources say this means it will be nearly impossible to put in place any contingency plan.

Read more: 'Money is not available, we have to balance the budget' - Education Minister's words to ASTI

It emerged yesterday that the Department of Education and Skills has drawn up detailed contingency plans to cope with the fall-out from the teachers' mass walk-out.

Parents of school children in affected schools will be invited to become supervisors for a fee of €38 a day. Applications forms will be issued to parents in advance of the planned strike action.

Fianna Fail's education spokesman Thomas Byrne said the proposal showed the Department was "scrambling" to take control of the problem.

Mr Byrne said the ASTI "need to be shown" by the Government that the Lansdowne Road Agreement can result in more pay for members, as it has for the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) and Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO).

"There is a path to progress there but it requires continual dialogue and intense engagement by the Government that hasn't happened up until now and there is a definite lack of communication," he said.

A spokesperson for ASTI said the union "will not impede the Government's contingency plans" regarding the recruitment of parents to run schools.

"We are aware that they have their contingency plans that include letters to parents. We are not happy that it has come to this. Will we impede those contingency plans? No we won't," he said.

Read more: 'Forget about buying a house' - young teachers protest over pay

ASTI members voted overwhelmingly last week to take industrial action and the dates were selected by the union's standing committee on Friday. The planned days of strike action are October 27, November 8, November 16, November 24, November 29, December 6 and December 7.

The union will also withdraw supervision and substitution duties from Monday, November 7 onwards but teachers will still show up for work.

Teachers voted in favour of strike action in order to secure equal pay for new entrants to teaching, and over payment for supervision and substitution duties.

In a statement last week, the ASTI president Ed Byrne said: "The sense of injustice amongst all teachers is palpable. ASTI members are committed to achieving equal pay for equal work for all teachers."

Sunday Independent

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