Thursday 23 May 2019

Teachers' union may sue government over decision to penalise them but not nurses for strike

ASTI General Secretary Kieran Christie. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision
ASTI General Secretary Kieran Christie. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

Anne-Marie Walsh and Katherine Donnelly

A UNION for 16,800 secondary school teachers may sue the government over its decision to penalise them - but not nurses - for going on strike.

In an address to the ASTI conference this morning, General Secretary Kieran Christie said it has identified a number of potential grounds for legal action including a judicial review after members’ pay was frozen.

Mr Christie said the union may also consider an action for breach of members’ constitutional right to equality provided by the constitution.

The action may be taken after the government imposed an increment freeze other pay penalties anon teachers after they took industrial action but did not impose the same sanctions on nurses who went on strike earlier this year.

Delegates break for coffee pictured at the TUI conference in Killarney
Photo: Don MacMonagle
Delegates break for coffee pictured at the TUI conference in Killarney Photo: Don MacMonagle

The increments freeze has cost ASTI members €15m  to date, Education Minister Joe McHugh said today.

While the increments were restored, they kickstarted for everyone in June 2017.

June has become the standard date for increments to apply, but for teachers whose increment was originally due at a different time of the year, it can mean a considerable time lag and a loss of income for that period. It is that delay that has mounted to an accumulated and combined loss of  €15m.

Mr McHugh acknowledged that the increment losses were an issue and told reporters today that his Department were taking it “very seriously” and his officials would engage with the union “hopefully sooner rather than later”.

Under the rules of the public sector pay deal, the government has the power to impose penalties on unions for taking industrial action.

Mr Christie that the union is attacking the whole “FEMPI project”, referring to the emergency legislation that was used to reduce teachers’ pay.

“In the aftermath of the nurses’ dispute, we are working with our lawyers to see what can be done about the differential treatment of ASTI and INMO members regarding the application of the FEMPI legislation,” he said.

“We believe we have identified a number of potential grounds for legal action for ASTI. Obviously we are not going to discuss them in detail publicly but they may include a judicial review of the government’s decision to implement the FEMPI provisions in an arbitrary manner and it also includes a look at the possibility that we may be able to consider an action for breach of ASTI members constitutional right to equality provided by Article 40.1 of the Constitution.”

He said ASTI may be able to seek judicial review of the original decision to penalise ASTI members.

“We may ask a court to quash that decision on the basis that the decision to allow the INMO to remain within the terms of the 2018 Agreement, despite engaging in industrial action, means that the ASTI now has a legitimate expectation that the same outcome will pertain to them,” he said.

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