Wednesday 17 January 2018

Why industrial action by ASTI members is likely this autumn

In my opinon... Ed Byrne

Ed Byrne, ASTI president
Ed Byrne, ASTI president

This autumn, members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) face difficult challenges. We are in dispute with the Department of Education and Skills on a number of fronts and industrial action - including strike action - is likely. For teachers, strike action is a last resort and only considered in extreme circumstances, where peaceful avenues for resolution have been exhausted. What has brought teachers to this point?

One significant source of tension is the treatment of recently qualified teachers. These (mainly) young teachers are on different pay scales than their colleagues even though they do the same work. This means a six-figure differential in lifetime earnings compared to their colleagues. Because most new teachers spend their first few years as substitute/part-time teachers, they experience the double whammy of part-time income and an inferior rate of pay. Well-educated, talented young teachers who are not valued are more likely to leave the profession or relocate (benefitting other countries' education systems). Students' education is also negatively impacted. The ASTI is asking its members to vote for strike action in order to end this inequitable treatment of newly qualified teachers.

The treatment of these teachers is a key reason why our members voted to reject the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA). It is true that the Government asked the ASTI to talks on new teachers' pay, so long as we went along with the LRA. However, ASTI members believe many provisions included in the LRA copper-fasten measures brought in during the financial emergency. The emergency is over and these measures have no place in our schools. We are not willing to ignore years of damaging cuts and impositions on teachers.

Take the Croke Park hours: their prescriptive nature means that schools are forced to hold an excessive number of meetings which tie up teachers and take away time previously available for classroom planning work, pastoral care work and extra-curricular activities. Time is precious. How it is allocated should be left to the professional judgement of teachers.

Earlier this year, ASTI members voted to withdraw from the unproductive Croke Park hours. This resulted in an amazing over-reaction by the Department of Education and Skills. Despite the fact that withdrawal from these hours does not impact on the running of schools or students' education, the Department implemented penalties. For example, while TUI and INTO members receive payment in recognition of supervision and substitution duties, this payment has been withdrawn from ASTI members (even though we continue to do these duties).

The job of a trade union is to protect its members from unreasonable and targeted attacks by powerful employers. This is why we are now asking our members to vote to stop doing unpaid supervision and substitution. It would be ludicrous to have a situation where INTO and TUI members are paid for this work and ASTI members are expected to do it for free.

A third significant issue for the ASTI is Junior Cycle reform. Our campaign has achieved much. The short-sighted decision to abolish Junior Cycle State exams has been reversed. A number of outstanding concerns remain.

There is still no State oral exam for Gaeilge or modern languages. Our campaign includes non-cooperation with aspects of the new Junior Cycle.

It has been reported that students whose teachers are ASTI members will lose marks. Such an unnecessary move would be unacceptable to the ASTI and to parents and I am calling on the Department/State Examinations Commission to clarify that students' results will not be affected. Whatever else, children should not be used as hostages in an industrial dispute.

Ed Byrne is president of the ASTI

Irish Independent

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