Sunday 26 May 2019

'Full consideration' will be given to settling outstanding pay inequality issues for teachers - McHugh

Education Minister Joe McHugh
Education Minister Joe McHugh
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Education Minister Joe McHugh promised primary teachers today that "full consideration" will be given to settling outstanding pay inequality issues.

It follows yesterday’s announcement that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DEPER) has agreed to address matters that remain unresolved following the signing of the current public service pay deal last year.

Teacher unions have kept up a sustained campaign for the full reversal of pay cuts imposed on new entrants after 2011.

Outgoing Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) general secretary Sheila Nunan said the initiative announced yesterday would get them "over the finishing line".

Mr McHugh addressed the pay issue in a 30 minute speech to delegates at the annual conference of the INTO, his first time at a teacher union conference as minister.

Later, speaking to reporters, the minister responded to queries about whether the proposed process would deal with all the outstanding teacher pay equality issues, with a guarantee of resolution.

Mr McHugh said it was not possible to pre-determine the outcome, but "sometimes it is about trusting a process and this process has been given an endorsement by INTO and welcomed by different unions.

"I am of the belief that we will make progress and confident that this issue will be dealt with."

In contrast to frosty receptions that several of his predecessors had to deal with at these conferences since pay cuts were introduced in 2011, the mood was cordial.

The minister was applauded several times by delegates, not only on his pay promise, but as he went through several items on the INTO wish list.

He included a pledge to look at the possibility of improving the pupil teacher ratio in small schools and further progress on improving the grant paid to schools to cover day to day running costs.

For years, ministers arriving at this conference were met by angry groups of newly-qualified teachers,  wearing yellow t-shirts, carrying placards demanding pay equality.

This year, the yellow t-shirts were worn by delegates representing teachers working around the world,  mainly in the Middle East, who lined the minister’s path into the conference hall.

This year the placards were worded differently, but the underlying message was the same.

Many emigrant teachers want to come home, but say there are obstacles, and unions say two tier pay scales are the main problem.

Their placards gave names of  teachers working abroad  simply, indicating where and how long they have bene away, such as  "UAE 4 years" or "Dubai 2 Years".

In the course of his speech, Mr McHugh acknowledged their presence and thanked them for “fighting on behalf” of emigrant teachers.

He said that the issue over pay inequality was one of the "major barriers" to teachers returning to work in Ireland and repeated his view that it was "unfinished business".

Mr McHugh said he was conscious that, in its August 2018 Report, the Public Service Pay Commission proposed that the parties to the current public service pay deal,  Public Service Stability Agreement, should give consideration to putting arrangements in place to allow for the adequacy of current pay arrangements, more generally, to be fully examined.

"The Commission was clear that this might be done at an appropriate time, and without compromising the stability of the public service pay bill.

"On the issue of new entrant salary scales, I know that the INTO has outstanding issues of concern. These outstanding matters will be given full consideration," he said.

He said it would happen either in the context of any pay review mechanism agreed between DEPER and the Public Services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions,  or in the context of the next round of pay talks, as provided for in yesterday’s announcement.

Meanwhile, the primary teachers’ union and Paschal Donohoe’s Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DEPER) are at odds about what a statement on pay equality they agreed in recent days actually means.

The INTO hailed a process announced on Monday as one that will bring them “over the finishing line” on their demands to end two-tier pay scales.

However, a statement issued by a DEPER spokesperson was much more cautious interpretation.

A wording issued on Monday following intensive negotiation between DEPER and the public service union representatives, said ”full consideration” would be given to dealing with  pay matters still outstanding after last year’s public service pay deal..

This would happen in a new process, yet to be determined and for teachers this means dealing with outstanding issues over lower pay for new entrants.

However, DEPER said outstanding issues “may be” examined by any pay review.

In a brief but firm response, outgoing INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan, who is vice chair of the Public Services Committee of the Ictu, said”we are operating off the text that was agreed between the parties. The text is the text and that is the basis on which the INTO will be engaging.”

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