Wednesday 18 September 2019

New deal to offer fairness for young teachers hit by education pay gap

Other unions to make claims in wake of concession

Unfinished business: Education Minister Joe McHugh. Picture: Tom Burke
Unfinished business: Education Minister Joe McHugh. Picture: Tom Burke

Katherine Donnelly, Anne Marie Walsh and Kevin Doyle

Teacher leaders claim an end is in sight to their long-running battle over two-tier pay scales after a breakthrough deal with the Government.

The Government was under growing pressure in the wake of concessions made to nurses following three days of strike action earlier this year.

A carefully worded statement agreed between the Government and union leaders was issued yesterday as the annual round of teacher conferences was getting under way.

It came on the eve of Education Minister Joe McHugh’s first address to the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) conference and sets him up for a good reception.

Outgoing INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan last night declared “it will get us over the finishing line” in their fight for pay equality.

However, while the Government has committed to addressing outstanding pay issues arising from the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA), crucially it is not tied to delivering any more money before the end of the current deal in 2020.

It doesn’t open the pay floodgates, but a number of other public service groups will be watching developments to see whether there is scope for a knock-on claim.

The process was agreed in intensive negotiations, which continued until yesterday, involving the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DEPR) and the Public Services Committee of the Irish Congress of Trades Unions.

As the INTO conference got under way in Galway, the union released the text of the wording agreed with the Government.

The beneficiaries will be teachers recruited between 2011 and 2014 – estimated at about 5,000-6,000 – whose pay is still lagging behind after the PSSA.

While the PSSA, which was signed last year, came close to restoring pay equality after cuts imposed on new entrants in 2011, it did not close the gap fully.

After the PSSA, teachers recruited between 2011 and 2014 face ongoing career earnings losses of up to €19,000 if the outstanding issues are not resolved.

Teachers, and primary teachers in particular, were most affected by lower pay scales because of the ongoing recruitment in education during the recession.

The agreed wording states: "On the issue of new entrant salary scales, certain unions have indicated that they have outstanding issues of concern following the agreement brokered in September 2018.

"The management side understands that these outstanding matters will be given full consideration either by 1) any pay review mechanism agreed by the parties or 2) in the context of the next round of pay talks.

"It is recognised that the positions of each of the parties concerned on these matters must be given due regard in endeavouring to reach a mutually agreed resolution."

The INTO set this week's annual conferences as the deadline for a firm commitment on ending two-tier pay scales.

The union had held out the threat of a ballot on industrial action if it did not receive a commitment on pay restoration by this conference.

All three teaching unions were involved in the ongoing campaign for full restoration and the negotiations, but the INTO was taking a lead in this phase.

The priority for the INTO is the 2011-14 recruits, however the second-level teacher unions have additional issues.

While Mr McHugh has repeatedly described the pay inequality issues as "unfinished business", an INTO source said last week that, for the first time, DPER officials also acknowledged that.

Incoming INTO general secretary John Boyle said they were "confident that the announcement provides a pathway to pay equality which will deliver for our 2011 to 2014 cohorts".

"The process, taking the form of a statement of intent by Government, acknowledges the need to find a resolution on pay equality and other outstanding pay issues by way of a pay review process or in the context of the next public sector pay talks," he said.

Mr Boyle said the union's executive committee considered the new development and had decided that the INTO would use this new process which had now been agreed with Government.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) said it would engage fully with the parties and would "explore any avenue in order to finally bring an end to pay inequality for teachers".

While the immediate focus is on the teachers, other public service unions will ensure they keep step with any concessions made to other groups, although they all don't necessarily have the same case to make.

Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell said his union would be watching the commitment given to teachers with great interest.

He said his union was seeking the restoration of a "twilight allowance" for thousands of support staff and an allowance for radiographers.

PDFORRA, which represents rank and file staff in the Defence Forces, said it would consider any concessions made within the confines of the current pay agreement.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin told the Irish Independent that pay inequalities that resulted from the crisis "can no longer be justified now that the economy and public finances have recovered".

Irish Independent

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