Sunday 19 November 2017

Schools spared strike in May as pay dispute divides union

No sign of an early end to ASTI campaign

ASTI president Ed Byrne. Photo: Arthur Carron
ASTI president Ed Byrne. Photo: Arthur Carron
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Secondary schools have been spared a one-day strike in May after union members rejected a move to take a harder line in their long-running dispute over pay equality.

Students, parents and school leaders will breathe a sigh of relief after the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) annual conference voted overwhelmingly against causing disruption in about 500 schools the run-up to the State exam.

But as the convention came to an end in Killarney, Co Kerry, there was no sign of an early end to the ASTI campaign, while internal divisions are deepening over a dispute strategy that has split the union down the middle.

Some delegates leaving the conference warned that the continuing ASTI policy would see more members leaving the union, because of growing frustration over the strategy being pursued.

Richard Terry, of St Colman's College, Fermoy, Co Cork - where the ASTI was founded - said one-third of the union's 33 members in the school have sent a letter of resignation and more were waiting to see what would happen at conference.

Margaret Kent, of Loreto College, also in Fermoy, said in her school they had been "holding our finger in the dyke" until after the conference, but "once we get back next week there will be people leaving".

ASTI members are losing money as a result of their stance, which arises from their rejection of the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) in 2015. But the issue that appears to be causing most concern is the difficulty being caused for newly qualified teachers in the ASTI who have to wait two years longer than their counterparts in other teacher unions for a permanent contract.

Industrial action leading to school closures last autumn failed to deliver the desired results for the union's pay campaign. The ASTI has since adopted a strategy of what union president Ed Byrne describes as "passive resistance".

This involves a refusal to work the 33 Croke Park productivity hours and ASTI members not moving up to act in vacant middle management positions, while in a separate dispute, ASTI members are not co-operating with junior cycle reforms

Calls from delegates for clarity on the current strategy in the pay dispute led to yesterday's debate on a one-day strike on May 16, and other strike days, but it was roundly defeated.

However, the conference did vote to withdraw from all unpaid classroom substitution from September, in a move that could cause disruption to schools, or oblige schools to pay for substitutes to cover certain teacher absences.

This is in response to the withdrawal of certain terms and conditions from ASTI members who voted to reject the LRA.

Read more: Infighting hits ASTI as 450 members quit in first three months of the year

The union will also re-ballot members in the new school year on industrial action, up to and including strike action, if the issue of pay equality is not "adequately addressed" by then.

Mr Byrne said the union was committed to continuing its campaign to achieve fairness and equity for recently qualified teachers.

He said that the upcoming pay talks presented an opportunity to put to bed the issue of unequal pay for new entrants to the public service. However, in the event that the issue was not resolved, the ASTI would ballot its members.

The ASTI is the only union not to have accepted the LRA. As a result, its members are losing out on improved pay and conditions.

Young teachers are worst hit - currently up to €220 a month behind their counterparts in other teacher unions - and they also have to wait four years for a permanent contract, rather than two years agreed under LRA. In another big loss, about two in three ASTI members have forfeited an increment, worth an average €1,200, this year because of the dispute.

Irish Independent

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