Education Minister Richard Bruton says teachers have 'justifiable demand' on pay inequality
Mr Bruton was speaking at the Irish Nation Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) conference
Education Minister Richard Bruton signalled to teacher unions vowing to take strike action over pay inequality that the Government are now prepared to address the issue.
Mr Bruton was repeatedly heckled by protestors at the ASTI conference in Cork with shouts of "equal pay" and "pay up" as he delivered his address to the union's 96th annual conference.
The minister was repeatedly jeered by delegates carrying placards when he outlined the resources the Government have devoted to the education sector over recent years.
"We have found €1billion extra for education," he said.
"I have developed the Action Plan for Education. That has set a bold ambition that by 2026 we will have the best education system in Europe."
That prompted loud jeers from the floor with delegates shouting "equal pay," "pay up" and "better school resources."
The minister did not set a deadline to offer the ASTI, INTO and TUI a timetable for the restoration of a single pay scale across the Irish primary and secondary school sector.
Over 800,000 primary and secondary school students now face the threat of strike action from September by all three teacher unions unless an acceptable pay equality restoration package is tabled.
The unions have set early May as a deadline for progress on the issue.
Mr Bruton arrived at the ASTI's annual conference in Cork to be greeted by a protest with 40 demonstrators carrying placards demanding urgent action on pay equality.
Protestors then followed him into the conference venue - and heckled when he failed to immediately address the issue of pay equality in his conference speech opening.
Mr Bruton said there are four areas where Ireland faces major challenges - digital technology, special needs, school leadership and teacher supply.
However, the conference erupted to loud cheers when he referenced the issue of pay equality for young teachers.
"I know your union has a justifiable demand for more progress on the issue of new entrant pay," he said.
"I am glad that very early on in my period in Government I was able to negotiate an improvement in the deal for new (teacher) entrants."
"It has improved the opportunity for young teacher to get access to (permanent) contracts."
He vowed the Government will now address the issue of equal pay after what he termed "a lost decade."
"There will be engagement and negotiations on that starting from April 27," he said.
"This is an area where I believe we can make progress and the Government is committed to achieving progress."
"Half of some extra funding allocations....have (already) gone on pay restoration."
"I believe we need to build up our capability in our education sector in the future."
"We do need to ensure that quality people get the chance to participate and that people with significant skills are valued."
"I am proud that I have been able to employ 5,000 extra teachers on full time contacts over recent years," he said.
"What is encouraging is to see a growing number of teachers getting work here at home and a declining number emigrating."
"We need to make sure that education is the force that drives progression in this country."
"The risk of marginalisation becomes even greater in the years ahead as the threat of people being left behind in the backwash."
"There is no doubt that the power of the new technologies have to be harnessed within our education system."
"Every citizen has the right to an equal education. We do not want to see any child left behind."
Mr Bruton insisted that the role of teachers will also be protected.
But that prompted renewed shouts of "pay up, pay up."
"There can be no crude league tables - we must protect and develop the role of teachers in the years ahead."
"It is a very important year," he said.
"Looking to the future, I am absolutely convinced that education will be the driver of our future prosperity. It will be talent that will drive our achievements in that area."
"If you want to pre-empt threats such as Brexit, again it will be education in many areas such as science and technology that will hold the key to our future."
"The onus on education is to provide inspiration and the drive to solve our problems."
Mr Bruton said the success of the Irish secondary education sector is borne out by the fact that 50 years ago just 5pc of Irish students went on to third level - today around 66pc of people go on to achieve a third level qualification.
ASTI President Ger Curtin received a standing ovation when he warned that the Irish education sector can no longer sustain the fall-out from pay inequality.
"Teachers are voting with their feet - that is the fate for the Irish education sector unless we tackle this issue right now," he said.
"We know there is no magic pill but we have to take urgent action now."
"The fact that post 2010 entrants face income losses of Euro 100,000 over their career is not fair - it is not fair pay."
"In Ireland, doing more with less seems to be the norm."
The ASTI boss warned that the education sector desperately needs greater resources and pay equality as the basis for a bright future.