Minister in promise of talks over teachers' lost income
Education Minister Joe McHugh has promised early talks between his officials and secondary teacher leaders over repayment of money they lost when pay sanctions were imposed on them during a dispute two years ago.
If a deal is reached with the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), it will mean a back-pay bill of at least €15m.
The minister's commitment came as the 16,800-member ASTI announced it may sue the Government over the decision to penalise its members but not nurses who went on strike earlier this year.
ASTI members are continuing to feel the effects of an increments freeze imposed in 2016-17, which amount to accumulated losses to date of €15m, Mr McHugh confirmed.
He acknowledged the increment losses were an issue and told reporters his department was taking it "very seriously" and his officials would engage with the union "hopefully, sooner rather than later".
The ASTI dispute, over junior cycle reform, ended in June 2017 and the increments were restored immediately .
But June became the standard date for increments to apply, and teachers whose increment was originally due earlier in the school year are losing the value of it for the intervening period.
ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie told his union's conference it had identified a number of potential grounds for legal action including a judicial review arising from the 2016-17 pay freeze.
Mr Christie said the union may also consider an action for breach of members' constitutional right to equality provided by the constitution.
Under the rules of the public sector pay deal and legislation, known as Fempi, introduced during the financial crash, the Government has the power to impose penalties on unions for taking industrial action.
But ASTI is furious that while sanctions were imposed on its members, the same did not apply to members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) who took strike action this year.
"We are working with our lawyers to see what can be done about the differential treatment of ASTI and INMO members regarding the application of the Fempi legislation," he said.
Meanwhile, an end of two-tier pay scales in teaching continued to be a major talking point at the conferences.
Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) president Seamus Lahart told Mr McHugh it would not give up its campaign until every teacher was paid equally for the work they do.
Further clarification emerged on the potential scope of the process announced to deal with outstanding pay equality issues for teachers arising from the era of cuts.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) says it will bring its members "over the finishing line" in terms of ending inequality.
Second-level unions have been more cautious because of concerns about whether it could deal with the loss of postgraduate qualifications allowances, which they say must be resolved if equality is to be restored for their members.
Speaking to reporters, Mr McHugh said the allowances, were currently before the Teachers' Conciliation Council "which is nothing to do with this".
Asked if the issue could be referred to the new process if the unions did not get a resolution at the council, the minister said: "I think everything can be on the table when it comes to outstanding issues. That is part of the outstanding issues from within the second-level schools sector."