'Money is not available, we have to balance the budget' - Education Minister's words to ASTI
Education Minister Richard Bruton said meeting the pay demands of the ASTI was “not tenable” because it would cost €2.3bn in knock-on payments to workers across the entire public service.
He said that money would have absorbed the entire budget for this year and next, and would mean no improvements such as extra public service workers or tax cuts.
“It is not available, we have to balance the budget”, Mr Bruton said, while attending the annual conference of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD).
“I understand that people feel aggrieved and that it has been a tough number of years, but we have to do it in balanced and fair way so that we are able to bring other people along,” he said.
The minister was speaking ahead of an announcement by the leadership of the secondary teachers union on industrial action in pursuit of full restoration of pay cuts imposed in the austerity era.
It follows two separate ASTI ballots in which members voted overwhelmingly for strike action on the issue of pay equality for newly-qualified teachers and withdrawal from supervision and substitution duties.
The ASTI disputes arise from the union’s rejection of the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) for public service workers, which has started the process of reversing austerity-era pay cuts.
A withdrawal from supervision and substitution would force schools to close on health and safety grounds, unless they were in a position to recruit external supervisors, which would take several weeks.
Mr Bruton said they were awaiting a response from the ASTI on a request to the union to co-operate with the necessary planning for the recruitment of external supervisors that could avert closures.
“We have yet to hear whether they will support that, that would be very important, to allow schools to remain open,” he said.
Mr Bruton said they had sat down with the two other teacher unions, the INTO and TUI , and had reached agreement on a range of pay restoration measures, and that was all available to the ASTI.
“We have shown that we are willing to invest in system,” he said.
He said it was “very unfortunate that we are having dispute, there has been dialogue available”.