Saturday 24 February 2018

Grassroots force leaders to call special ASTI convention

Brendan Broderick addresses the ASTI conference in the INEC, Killarney, last month
Photo: Don MacMonagle
Brendan Broderick addresses the ASTI conference in the INEC, Killarney, last month Photo: Don MacMonagle
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The ASTI leadership is being forced to hold a special convention to consider suspending all industrial action after more than 1,000 members signed a petition demanding the move.

Two long-term ASTI activists yesterday handed in the names of 1,141 members who support the call for a convention, to be held within the next six weeks.

Former president Brendan Broderick and executive committee member Noel Buckley presented the signatures to senior ASTI officials at the circa 17,000-member union's headquarters yesterday afternoon.

Mr Buckley said that more names had been pledged and he expected the overall figure to be several hundred higher by the time the union's 180-member central executive committee gathered for a scheduled meeting on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the ASTI leadership is also embroiled in an embarrassing internal dispute over its refusal to attend the Workplace Relations Commission about a staff complaint.

ASTI staff will ballot tomorrow on industrial action, up to and including a strike, arising from a decision by the leadership to decline to attend talks that had been arranged recently in the WRC.

The grassroots petition for the special convention met a furious response from Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland (ASTI) president Ed Byrne, when it was launched last week. Mr Byrne described the letter to schools from Mr Broderick and Mr Buckley as "unofficial" and not approved by the leadership.

However, under ASTI rules, with a petition signed by a minimum 800 members, union general secretary Kieran Christie has no option but to call the convention, within six weeks.

The matter is likely to come up for discussion at a meeting today of the union's governing body, its 23-member Standing Committee, and again on Saturday, when the executive committee meets. If a date for the convention has not been announced by Saturday, Mr Christie will be asked to set it.

The petition was borne out of a frustration that the union's go-it-alone dispute strategy had failed and that, in the words of a delegate at its recent annual conference it was a "hermit kingdom" and the "North Korea of the trade union movement".

The ASTI is the only public service union not to have accepted the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA), which started the process of post-austerity pay restoration, while it is also refusing to co-operate with junior cycle reforms. The union strategy has been driven by hardline factions, but as members feel the effects, disquiet has grown. Although the union action has not closed schools since last November, it is causing serious disruption to school life, while teachers are suffering heavy financial losses.

Recently-qualified teachers are the worst hit, missing out on partial pay restoration, and on the opportunity to get a permanent contract within two years, rather than four - because they have not signed up to the LRA.

Almost 450 members resigned from the union in the first three months of the year and many more have held off doing the same, pending the petition initiative outcome.

Mr Buckley said that in some schools as many as three to five young teachers face losing the opportunity to get a permanent contract if the dispute is not resolved soon.

Mr Buckley and Mr Broderick initiated the petition, having tried unsuccessfully to have the motion to consider a suspension of action debated at the recent annual conference.

"A lot of members out there want a discussion. The end of the school year is approaching and people want to know what is happening," he said.

Irish Independent

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