Sunday 24 June 2018

ASTI and INTO vote in favour of ballot on joint industrial action over pay equality

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Ralph Riegel and Katherine Donnelly and Conor Kane

THE Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) overwhelmingly backed a vote for joint industrial action while the INTO voted unanimously in favour of the same motion over pay equality.

ASTI members voted overwhelmingly at their 96th annual conference in Cork to set a deadline for next May for the Government to set out a clear and immediate path to tackling pay inequality.

If the Government do not outline an acceptable timetable for returning to a single pay scale for teachers, Ireland will face industrial action, up to all-out strikes, from next September by 70,000 teachers across three unions.

The motion was carried by what appeared to be a unanimous vote.

Meanwhile, primary teachers have voted unanimously for a ballot on strike action if the Government doesn’t commit to pay equality within a month.

The annual conference of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) heard speaker after  speak denounce two tier pay scales and there was hearty applause when a motion on industrial action to back up their pay demand  passed without any dissenting voice.

ASTI President Ger Curtin tabled a motion which warned: "Convention demands that the proposed engagement must commence in April 2018 and conclude by early May 2018 and have the capacity to achieve a resolution of all aspects of pay inequality."

The ASTI motion confirmed that industrial action will be co-ordinated with other teacher unions if a Government deal is not agreed.

"Pay inequality has dogged our profession for the past seven years. To use the word urgent does not do it service - it was urgent seven years ago," Mr Curtin said.

"We have been fighting this fight in ASTI since pay inequality was first introduced."

"We will not let this drag on into another school year."

The ASTI conference was told the pay disparity extends to 50pc over the first 13 years pay for young entrants.

Some ASTI members warned that young teachers now have to hold down a second job just to be able to pay their bills.

The ASTI boss said the Government face a very different prospect with industrial action by three teacher unions.

"Seventy thousand teachers is a lot of people," he said.

"That would be my take on the prospect."

"Now, Leo (Varadkar) it is time to deliver - justice and equality for all teachers is at the heart of this motion."

Mr Curtin stressed that a unified stance by all three teacher unions was "hugely important."

The ASTI waged a solitary campaign of industrial action against pay cuts and pay inequality over recent years.

The ASTI boss said that pay inequality was now "prompting young teachers to vote with their feet and leave Ireland for work overseas."

He also said that pay inequality was destroying morale within staff rooms at Irish schools.

"There have been a significant number of young teachers and new entrants to the profession impacted by this," he said.

The industrial action motion was seconded by Siobhan Peters, a young teacher who earns substantially less than her older colleagues because she entered the profession after 2011.

"I am now five increments behind a 2010 graduate (in pay)," she told ASTI delegates

"No-one expected us to get pay parity overnight. I feel our engagement with this process needs to bear fruit before the start of the new school year."

Former ASTI President Ed Byrne warned the current stance was "progress for slow learners."

"The ASTI took industrial action from July 2016 when we withdrew from Croke Park hours as a process."

He said new entrants only got some pay concessions after the ASTI had taken strong industrial action.

"The other two unions know that now and that is why they are threatening industrial action."

Mr Curtin said he believed around 20,000 of the 70,000 teachers in Ireland are now impacted, to varying degree, by the pay inequality issue.

"But it is very important that people don't confuse salary with equality," he said.

The ASTI boss said it was misleading to refer to a starting salary of Euro 36,000 for young teachers when many young entrants only get three or hour hours work each week.

"That is assuming they get full hours and a significant number of young teachers do not get full hours - some of them don't get full hours for a long, long time.'

Mr Curtin acknowledged that the Government estimate around Euro 200 million is required to tackle the pay inequality issue.

But he pointed out that the Government seem to be able to find money for their own priority projects.

"Why are we footing the cost of educating and training these young teachers for the benefit of other countries where they are now going to work."

Numerous ASTI delegates warned that their union "has done all the heavy lifting" in respect of using industrial action to fight for the rights of new entrants.

"Let's no flinch this time," one delegate warned.

"This is not a fair Government - industrial action with the TUI and INTO is our only option. It is a hard option but it is the only option."

Tipperary teacher Mary Linden has two children working as young teachers.

"Knowing now how things turned out, I would probably say to them don't do it - look elsewhere (for careers)."

She said the TUI and INTO had effectively "stolen the clothes" of the ASTI.

"They were Rip Van Winkling up until recently - we (ASTI) were the ones carrying the can for young entrants," she said.

ASTI Sligo member Gerry Breslin demanded a special triple-lock in the pay equality talks to ensure no union can walk away from the Government talks until all three unions are in agreement on the outcome.

ASTI Fermoy delegate Richard Terry warned it was vital all three unions co-ordinate their actions.

"What happened last year was that the membership began to flinch. It is vital that when we go forward with this motion...(there is) coordination with the other unions. If that is not there members will see people in other unions getting benefits they are not."

"We need to have 70,000 teachers standing in one line - they must all be lined up together."

"We must all stand together or we will surely all hang together."

Earlier, at the Teachers' Union of Ireland conference in Wexford their general-secretary John MacGabhann also spoke about the issue dominating this year’s teacher conferences: pay inequality and unions’ attempts to have new entrants to the profession on the same pay scales as older members.

The TUI has rejected the Public Service Stability Agreement and already has a mandate for industrial action.

“We are determined to persuade government to accept that pay parity must be established without delay,” John MacGabhann said, adding that the Government “chose” to take more from teachers than it did from other public service workers. “It returned to the scene of the crime - not once but twice. It plundered our members’ pay more often, more steeply. Restitution, therefore, is more costly.”

He urged delegates to lobby politicians on pay restitution, particularly in the run-up to the next general election,  and said any members who are also members of a political party should threaten to withhold their support “unless justice is served” for teachers.

“Tell them that you will not organise, canvass or vote for them until they do the right thing... Tell them that the Budget is a defining moment.

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