SECOND and third-level teachers yesterday warned the Government that they "can't and won't take any more" cuts to pay -- and threatened to go on strike.
The annual congress of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) opened in White's Hotel in Wexford town yesterday, where up to 450 delegates gathered.
The conference heard the TUI executive had already passed a motion to issue a ballot for industrial action if pay is touched.
"If the Government wants to be in breach of the Croke Park Agreement by attacking our pay, which has already taken a 20pc reduction, then they need to realise that it is they who will have kick-started a period of industrial unrest," said TUI president Bernie Ruane.
Ms Ruane said teachers had "kept our side of the bargain" by complying with the public service agreement. "If the Government wants to break its side, they will have to face the wrath of the TUI membership. . . If it is breached now, all bets are off. Our pay and our working conditions have been so eroded that we can't and won't take any more."
Ms Ruane also attacked the Government's €90m annual spend on private fee-paying schools. "These schools, while they do a worthwhile job, are bastions of privilege. They are, by their very nature, exclusive," she said, before adding that millions of euros were being spent on private schools while "depriving our public schools of proper resources".
In his first address to the TUI congress, general secretary John Mac Gabhann said education cutbacks were hitting the most vulnerable in the system.
"Adding insult to injury is the fact that the cuts continue to affect those already most in need. Cuts to the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme, to resource hours for Travellers, to legacy disadvantage posts are particularly damaging," he said.
He said the budgetary measure which saw career guidance and counselling posts included in the teacher quota for schools had led to a deterioration in the pupil/teacher ratio. "In some schools, it will result in a cut in subject options; in others, the amalgamation of higher- and ordinary-level classes; in yet others, the loss of subjects."
On the issue of the Government's proposal to establish technological universities, Mr Mac Gabhann said that the "almost intoxicated fervour with which partners, or potential partners, are being lured, cajoled or press-ganged into regional alliances is worrying".
"It is not good enough to make a second-rate university of a first-rate institute," he added.
Meanwhile, the TUI executive is to campaign for a change to education legislation to ensure teachers' rights are clearly defined under the law which is explicit about the rights of students and parents.
Audrey Cepeda, a teacher from a Dublin city post-primary school, described how her colleagues were being forced to teach students who had assaulted them.
She said one teacher, who was three months' pregnant, had a chair thrown at her from a second storey by a student.
She said physical attacks were happening and teachers had to face the students the following day. "If you put them (students) outside the classroom, you are denying them the right to access education," Ms Cepeda said, before adding that teachers needed to know their rights.
Teachers need hard lesson about pay