Thursday 27 June 2019

Bruton seeks talks with the ASTI as school chaos looms

Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton. Picture by Fergal Phillips
Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton. Picture by Fergal Phillips
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Education Minister Richard Bruton has called on secondary school teacher leaders to engage in "constructive dialogue" with a view to resolving disputes that threaten to close about 450 schools next month.

The Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland (ASTI) is expected to announce dates for industrial action, starting in early November, after a meeting of its governing body today.

The 18,000-strong union's move to take its pay battles with Government all the way follows two separate ballots in which members voted overwhelmingly for work stoppages.

ASTI president Ed Byrne said last night that it was likely to result in school closures by early November

The union's general secretary Kieran Christie said they needed a "short and snappy timetable" for full restoration of pay cuts.

Union members backed strike action by 80pc to 20pc on the issue of full pay equality for newly qualified teachers, arising out of the introduction of two-tier pay scales during the austerity era.

Separately, they voted 78pc-22pc to withdraw from supervision and substitution duties, which could mean schools will not open on health and safety grounds.

There were high turnouts, of 77pc and 73pc respectively, for both ballots, giving the union a strong hand in its ongoing campaign.

The ASTI says its members should no longer have to do the supervision and substitution work because they rejected the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA).

Read more: Half country's secondary schools may close for a day - or more - as ASTI backs industrial action

The other two teacher unions, the INTO and the TUI, have both accepted the LRA and a top-up deal on pay equality measures for newly qualified teachers.

INTO and TUI members are now seeing partial restoration of pay cut during the austerity era, including €796 a year for supervision and substitution work, which is not being paid to the ASTI.

Mr Byrne said it was "now the case that members of the ASTI are engaging in supervision and substitution work for no pay while their colleagues who are members of other unions receive payment."

A withdrawal from supervision and substitution would force schools to close on health and safety grounds, unless they could recruit external supervisors, which could take up to eight or nine weeks.

The Department of Education and school managers are hoping to put contingency arrangements in place in order to allow schools to remain open in the event of an ASTI withdrawal from supervision and substitution. The department has sought the co-operation of the ASTI and said that the normal one week's notice of action would not be sufficient, while they also want the ASTI to exempt members who are principals so they can help put a contingency plan in place.

The ASTI has not responded to the request and when its 23-member standing committee meets today, the answer will come in the form of whatever decision is taken on industrial action.

National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals president Paul Byrne said they wanted "all efforts made to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion without delay". He expressed concern that such disputes can poison the atmosphere in staffrooms and schools.

Education and Training Boards Ireland general secretary Michael Moriarty said he was not "sure what strategy is at play other than a battle of wills".

Irish Independent

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