Wednesday 13 December 2017

Teachers' union stalls on date for talks over future of strikes

ASTI General Secretary Kieran Christie Picture: Daragh McSweeney/Provision
ASTI General Secretary Kieran Christie Picture: Daragh McSweeney/Provision
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

ASTI leaders have not yet set a date for the special convention of the union's members to discuss suspension of its industrial action.

The convention was demanded in a petition signed by about 1,500 members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) who want a rethink on the union's dispute strategy.

ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie told a meeting of the union's 180-member executive committee on Saturday that arrangements could be announced shortly. Under ASTI rules, it has to be held within six weeks.

Meanwhile, as the union faces growing pressure about the impact of the action on members' pay and conditions, arrangements are being made for information meetings for newly qualified teachers, the group which is worst affected by the ongoing dispute over pay.

Among the penalties imposed on the ASTI for not signing up to the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) - the only public service union not to have accepted it - is a wait for four years, instead of two, for a permanent contract.

Hundreds of young teachers, in schools where the ASTI represents staff, are believed to be affected by the delay.

Long-term ASTI activist and executive committee member Noel Buckley, one of the prime movers behind the petition, said that in some schools between three and five young ASTI members are in such an uncertain position.

Arising from its rejection of the LRA, members are also losing out on pay restoration measures agreed under LRA and deals associated with it.

Industrial action by the ASTI has disrupted school life in the past year and forced the closure of hundreds of schools for three days last autumn, while the union is also refusing to co-operate with junior cycle reforms.

Separately, the incoming general secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (Ifut) has warned women in the workplace are being forced to take costly legal actions to tackle gender discrimination.

Joan Donegan told the Ifut annual conference there was an "effective failure" of industrial relations processes, which was leaving women "in limbo" and forced, in many cases, to take a legal route.

She said the current discrimination cases being taken by four female lecturers in NUI Galway were an example of the practical result of such a failure in overall industrial relations policy.

The cases of the four women were referred to mediation last week "almost on the steps of the High Court" and years after they were "forced" to initiate legal action.

"The extent of financial and personal stress on the women involved, over a two-year period, was a cause of grave concern. It also acts as a major deterrent to any other woman, in any workplace situation, who is experiencing discrimination," she said.

Ms Donegan also referred to a fifth female lecturer, who is pursuing a case against NUI Galway. Two years ago, this lecturer withdrew her case from the legal process, and has a hearing scheduled in the Labour Court on May 31.

"It was disappointing there had been such a delay in the hearing of the Labour Court case while the costly and difficult legal route in the High Court considers a mediated resolution before the 'no-cost option' at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC)," she said.

Ms Donegan said "there appeared no greater urgency now to resolve the issue than in the past".

Irish Independent

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