Mid-term holidays are now a 'window of opportunity' to stop ASTI teacher row
The mid-term break presents a "window of opportunity" to settle the ongoing industrial action by secondary school teachers, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) has said.
The union will sit down with Department of Education officials today as part of the latest attempt to avoid indefinite school closures from next week.
Hundreds of schools across the country may not reopen once the holidays end if no solution is found over the next few days.
However, union officials believe the short time-frame could prove crucial to avoiding further disruption.
Today's arrangement is the first meeting between the two sides since last week, where no resolution to two disputes were found.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, a spokeswoman for the ASTI said there had been no development since the union's members took industrial action on Thursday.
She also said the mid-term holidays could allow both sides to come to an agreement, potentially ruling out further school closures from Monday, November 7.
"There is only a week before our members take action again, so there is a window of opportunity this week," she said.
"Talks are due on Tuesday [today], and I expect there will be further talks later in the week."
She also stressed that the union is trying to find a solution before students are due to return to classes.
"Since our strike day on Thursday last week, there's been no development," she said.
"We had our last day of talks with the department on Wednesday, October 26, and there's been some contact with the Department of Education to arrange Tuesday's meeting."
She also said that union members "don't want to be taking industrial action" and have always engaged and participated in dialogue with the department.
"All the unions are looking for the same thing. We are all seeking equality for work, but the ASTI has taken a different path," she said.
Thursday's strike action by ASTI members forced 507 schools around Ireland to close. Just one out of 375 such schools was open.
Schools run by voluntary bodies, such as religious organisations, made up the vast majority of those effected.
Most comprehensive and community schools were also out of action.
Schools run by Education and Training Boards were least likely to close, as most are staffed by members of the Teachers' Union of Ireland.
Around 250,000 students across Ireland are believed to have been affected by the action.
The ASTI is taking action for pay parity for younger entrants to the profession.
Those who started teaching in 2011 are on a lower pay scale than their colleagues who entered the sector before that year.
The negotiations also focus on preventing the withdrawal from supervision and substitution duties by ASTI teachers next week.
If the planned industrial action goes ahead, many schools will have to remain closed.
A Education Department spokesperson confirmed it would be meeting with the union today and tomorrow.
Earlier this week, employers' group Ibec expressed concern about the effect industrial action by teachers will have on working parents if schools are shut after the mid-term break.
Maeve McElwee, director of employer relations with Ibec, warned that the indefinite industrial action by ASTI members after the mid-term break could present "a huge challenge". She said that both business owners and working parents would have to consider all options.