Mitchell O'Connor backed in call for equal pay for teachers
Minister of State John Halligan has backed Mary Mitchell O'Connor's call for an end to the two-tier pay system for teachers.
Ms Mitchell O'Connor annoyed many of her Government colleagues by breaking rank on the issue, just as teachers return to the classroom after their summer break.
Education Minister Richard Bruton has said there will be no deviation from the policy which sees teachers who started after 2011 placed on a lower pay scale than older colleagues.
However, Mr Halligan told the Irish Independent he believed in the principle of equal pay for equal work.
"I think she's fundamentally right on that," he said.
The Independent Alliance TD's comments mean two of the three minsters in the Department of Education now support teachers in their campaign for pay equalisation.
Asked whether the new entrants should be on the same pay scale as their more senior colleagues, he said: "Absolutely. I think there is a view that over a period of time that should be the case.
"Certainly over a period of budgets it should be brought in line, in my view."
Teachers who have started work in the past six years stand to lose in the region of €100,000 over the course of their careers unless the system is changed.
But Government sources said to do so would cost around €70m.
However, the comments from the ministers will give new impetus to a campaign by the three main teacher unions.
The Teachers' Union of Ireland is planning to ballot members for industrial action in October, unless there is movement on pay equalisation.
Ms Mitchell O'Connor was not available for comment last night but sources said she had not intended to make a stand on the issue.
On Wednesday, the Higher Education Minister was asked about pay equality in the context of her own situation, where she is paid €16,000 less than the two other 'super junior' ministers at the Cabinet table.
Legislation would have to be changed to permit a third minister to receive the top-up.
She said: "Everybody that does the same job deserves the same pay."
Mr Halligan said he strongly supported the minister's position, arguing she should be paid the same as Defence Minister Paul Kehoe and Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath.
"I think that's quite offensive to people that work at the same job and don't get the same thing," Mr Halligan said.
He hit out at Fianna Fáil, whose members have indicated they will not allow legislation to be changed in order to amend the policy.
"There's hypocrisy there with Fianna Fáil and I don't think it's genuine," he said.
Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne criticised the "squabbling" at ministerial level. "[It is doing] nothing to clarify how pay equality for new teachers will be achieved in the coming years," he said.
He described Ms Mitchell O'Connor's remarks as "off the cuff", but questioned whether she could continue in her role if the row was not resolved.
"This idea that a minister can disagree with the policy that is formally agreed at Cabinet is crazy. It goes against normal principles of government," he said.