Unions threaten strike action over two-tier salary scales
Election prospect gives teachers added leverage
Teachers are arming themselves for a battle with the Government over two-tier pay scales.
More than 900,000 primary and post-primary pupils could return to threats of strike action next September, if there is no progress on pay equalisation.
Pay equality for new entrant teachers will dominate this week's annual conferences of the three teacher unions.
Education Minister Richard Bruton will be left in no doubt about the depth of feeling on the issue as he does his round of the conventions.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has promised early talks with the unions, which are expected to get under way by the end of April. However, unions want more than talks - and are seeking a firm commitment to the principle of equality and a tight timeline for restoration of pay scales to pre-2011 levels.
They will back up their demands with a united threat of industrial action, including strikes.
With the school year drawing to a close, there will be no disruption before the summer, but there is a prospect of teacher unrest in the autumn if a deal is not done.
All Opposition parties support pay equalisation and the possibility, if not likelihood, of a general election this year has put the issue onto the political agenda, giving the teachers an added lever.
The Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) already has a mandate for action, up to and including strike.
The other two unions - Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) and Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) - expect to hold ballots after this week's conferences.
A motion for discussion at the INTO conference tomorrow proposes a ballot of members in May on action up to and including strike, "if full upward pay equalisation is not achieved by April 30, 2018".
This is taken to mean a commitment by the Government to full pay restoration. INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said "unequal pay for teachers doing equal work is wrong.
"It is eroding morale, sapping goodwill and breeding discontent and resentment in schools. It must be ended."
A motion tabled for the ASTI conference also seeks support for a ballot on industrial action, up to and including strike.
The ASTI leadership has been discussing whether to put a more strongly worded proposal to delegates, and a decision on that will be taken later today.
Its general secretary Kieran Christie blamed unequal pay scales for teacher shortages.
"During the early years of their career, recently qualified second-level teachers are as much as €6,000 and €7,000 a year worse off. By 2020, these graduates will have lost in the region of €50,000 due to the fact that they are on a different pay scale."
Lower pay scales for public servants were introduced as a cost-cutting measure at the height of the austerity era.
A recent report, which put the cost of full restoration across the public service at €200m, including €59m for teachers, has laid the foundations for negotiations.
Post-austerity pay deals have restored about 75pc of the losses to post-2010 teachers, but they will still be up to €100,000 worse off over a career.