THE closure of about two-thirds of post-primary schools is on the cards from mid-January if teachers reject the Haddington Road pay and productivity deal again.
The Government has set January 17 as the date from which it will stop paying members of the Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland (ASTI) for supervision and substitution duties.
If that happens, the teachers involved are likely to refuse to do the work, which would force the closure of 70pc of post-primary schools where the ASTI has members because of concerns about health and safety.
Supervision and substitution work involves providing cover for teachers who are absent, or supervising at lunchtime.
The January 17 deadline was agreed at yesterday's cabinet meeting and is another indication of the hard line the Government will take if ASTI members vote 'no' for a third time in a ballot starting this week.
It has powers under the new Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act (FEMPI) and other legislation to make supervision and substitution a compulsory, unpaid duty for ASTI members.
The Government is piling on the pressure as the 17,000 union members receive their ballot papers at home – along with a recommendation from their union executive to reject the deal again.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has already confirmed that about 48 teachers in 29 schools could also lose their jobs next year if the ASTI does not accept the deal this time.
Ballot papers have to be returned by December 18, with the outcome to be delivered just as schools are closing for the Christmas holidays.
In the event of a 'no' vote, fixing January 17 as the date from which supervision and substitution payments cease will allow schools to open normally for the first two weeks of the new term – but with a huge cloud hanging over them.
At present, about 70pc of ASTI members volunteer for supervision and substitution, but the Government said that from January 17, it will be mandatory for all, and unpaid.
Responding to the government announcement, ASTI general secretary Pat King said that they would respond with strong trade union action.
The union would not confirm that it would instruct members to withdraw from the work, but that was the most likely option.
The ASTI also has a mandate to take strike action.
Mr King confirmed: "This move to unilaterally change teachers' terms and conditions will lead to a serious escalation of the current industrial dispute in schools."
As part of its cost-saving mandate, the Haddington Road Agreement has made supervision and substitution compulsory and unpaid. All members of the other two teacher unions, the TUI and INTO, are now working it on that basis.
ASTI members who previously volunteered for the work have continued doing it during this school term and pending resolution of the dispute.
The ASTI rejection of Haddington Road is a reaction to both the cuts to teachers' pay and conditions and the way austerity budgets have reduced resources in education.
It is the only public service union not to accept the agreement which, despite its overall cost-cutting nature, does include some benefits for teachers.