Friday 15 December 2017

Schools to stay shut as teacher dispute heats up

Thousands of students hit as ASTI action continues tomorrow

ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie (left) and ASTI president Edward Byrne speak to members in Dublin Photo: Collins
ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie (left) and ASTI president Edward Byrne speak to members in Dublin Photo: Collins
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Thousands of students will be locked out of secondary schools indefinitely from tomorrow on health and safety grounds as ASTI teachers continue their industrial dispute over pay and conditions.

Officials from the teaching union and the Department of Education held talks yesterday with no sign of a breakthrough as both sides continue to dig their heels in.

Neither side seemed hopeful that the dispute would be resolved in time for students to return to school tomorrow after the Halloween break.

ASTI members will withdraw from supervision duty tomorrow, and with the department left with little time to make alternative arrangements or put parents through a garda vetting process to resume the supervision work, the majority of schools will have to remain shut.

Only schools run by principals who are not ASTI members will be able to open, as these were the only schools who were able to implement alternative measures.

Education minister Richard Bruton said the ASTI action will close schools indefinitely. "It is important to remember that the dispute, which is likely to impact on schools from tomorrow, does not relate to new entrant pay, but to ASTI's withdrawal from supervision and substitution, which is likely to cause indefinite closures from next Monday.

"At the root of this dispute is ASTI's unilateral withdrawal from carrying out the 33 'Croke Park Hours' per year."

A Government source said it is estimated that the closure of 400 schools across the country will see 200,000 children left in limbo this week as discussions continue.

"We do not want the action tomorrow and Tuesday to go ahead but for them it seems the opposite is the case, especially judging by the statement they issued on Friday," said the source.

"They are being asked to work on average an extra hour a week but they seem reluctant to budge on the matter."

Teachers are being advised to turn up for work as normal tomorrow and some schools will be unaffected by the ASTI members' withdrawal from substitution and supervision work.

However, a planned one-day strike for Tuesday looks likely to go ahead and it is anticipated this will affect more schools. Officials in Government are angered that they were not given the time to make alternative arrangements to facilitate the reopening of schools after the mid-term holidays.

Schools were advised it is a matter for school management to decide to open schools tomorrow but warned the anticipated number of staff available for supervision must be considered in light of making decisions.

The union said it will continue to engage in talks with education officials and will work towards averting industrial action this week.

The dispute is rooted in the ASTI's rejection of the Lansdowne Road Agreement, which has started the process of restoring austerity-era pay cuts to public service workers.

The Government has so far withheld the first phase of the restoration of payments - worth about €800 - from ASTI members in the wake of their rejection of the agreement.

Union officials are seeking a timetable to bring an end to a two-tier pay structure that affects newly qualified teachers.

ASTI president Ed Byrne said expecting members to undertake supervision and substitution work for no pay while their colleagues in other teacher unions are receiving a payment is unacceptable.

"It was always inevitable that deducting pay from ASTI teachers for supervision and substitution work would lead to a withdrawal from this work," he said.

"We made this clear to the department as early as July of this year.

"Teachers received a commitment under the Haddington Road Agreement that this money would be paid.

"The Department's decision to pursue this course of action is extremely problematic in terms of resolving this dispute."

A proposed new deal from the department being implemented for Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) and the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) members, sees a 15pc increase in starting pay between August 31 this year and January 1, 2018.

This would see a teacher's starter salary rise from €31,009 to €35,602. A teacher with 11 years' service would see their pay rise by 9pc in the same period from €45,222 to €49,436.

Sunday Independent

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