Critics say the pay gap between new entrants and older staff will create problems. Kim Bielenberg reports
It has the potential to be one of the divisive issues in staffrooms across the country. There is a danger that it will sap goodwill and encourage resentment.
The decision to slash the pay and conditions of young teachers when they come into the profession while protecting the terms of existing staff is now being heavily criticised.
In 2008 a primary teacher with an honours degree who helped with supervision duties could expect to earn just under €41,000 in their first job as a full-time teacher.
This year a new teacher with exactly the same qualifications and duties earns €8,500 less before tax.
The effective 21pc cut to pay and allowances of the young teachers has created a two-tier system, and according to the INTO this gulf will be more apparent as the new generation of teachers get older.
An INTO spokesman said: "We estimate that over a career the young teacher will lose out by €100,000."
By targeting young teachers, the Government has taken the easy approach to solving budgetary problems.
The unions are also attracting some of the blame for allowing it to happen.
Bill Roche, Professor of Industrial Relations and Human Resources, told the Irish Independent that the two-tier pay system could create problems in schools.
"If teachers see that someone doing exactly same job is paid much more it is likely to be a source of major dissatisfaction.
"You could see problems with some of the extra voluntary work that teachers take on in the schools – the citizenship roles such as coaching sports team."
Professor Roche said that if teachers felt they were getting a raw deal they might be less inclined to volunteer for extra-curricular activities.
As well as creating disharmony in the classroom, the two-tier system could cause a backlash against the unions.
"There is a good deal of resentment among young teachers that the unions did not do enough to protect new recruits," said Prof Roche. "There is a possibility that they might register their dissatisfaction by not joining the union.
"Technically the unions are correct when they say that cutting the pay of new entrants was not part of the Croke Park Agreement.
"However, in fighting to defend the position of existing teachers, they allowed new entrants to slip off the radar screen."
The teachers' unions vehemently deny that young teachers have been sold out by their negotiators.
Sheila Nunan, General Secretary of the INTO, told the Irish Independent: "All teachers see the Government's decision to cut the pay of newly qualified teachers as discriminatory against a group of young teachers."
She said the Croke Park agreement had not created the two-tier system: "The problem is the Government's decision to reduce new entrant pay."
The unions have now put the issue of pay for new recruits at the top of their to-do list.
The abolition of allowances for those achieving honours degrees and higher qualifications seems to run counter to the Minister's declared aim of upskilling the profession.
Finland is often held out as the model in international education. There, the entry requirement for permanent employment as a teacher in Finnish schools today is a master's degree. But in Ireland qualifications are being downgraded.
Dr Daire Keogh, the recently appointed head of the St Patrick's College of Education, supports incentives for teachers to continue their professional development with extra qualifications.
"It might be possible to consider appropriate rewards which would incentivise graduate studies, and provide a return to teachers who have invested financially in their professional education."
Dr Keogh opposes a two-tier pay scale for teachers. "It does not make sense to have a totally arbitrary difference in pay based on what date a teacher joined the profession."
Close observers of the education scene expect the huge pay gap to become more of an issue as the effects sink in, in five to 10 years' time.
"This will only really become a running sore as time goes on," said one former principal. "Then it will really become a problem. The gap will become wider as teachers get older.''
The massive pay gap may not be the primary concern of young teachers now. For the moment, the biggest problem facing most of them is finding a permanent job.
At primary level, up to 1,800 teachers graduate every year, but it has been estimated that no more than 700 are finding work every year.
The employment crisis in the profession can be shown by the INTO's Internet 'Subsearch' facility. This enables teachers to advertise their availability as substitute teachers week-by-week.
Last Friday, 400 teachers said they were available for work on the following Monday.