Hundreds of schools may face closures as teachers prepare to vote on strike
The president of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) has said that ‘inferior pay scales for recently qualified teachers’ and ‘deteriorating working conditions’ will have to be addressed by the Government if a strike ballot is to be avoided.
In a statement given to Independent.ie, president of the ASTI, Ed Byrne, said that the union is prepared to hold this ballot in early autumn and a final date may be set in the coming weeks.
This follows the Government’s decision to implement financial penalties to teachers who voted against working an additional 33 hours per year under the Croke Park agreement.
He said: “The ASTI rejected the Lansdowne Road Agreement by 74% to 26% because the agreement does not address the key concerns of teachers. These include the inferior pay scales for recently qualified teachers and the fact that working conditions have deteriorated through a combination of cuts to resources and additional demands on teachers’ time.
“Schools can function normally without the Croke Park hours. Despite this, the Government is imposing a range of punitive measures on ASTI members, including the freezing of pay increments and the non-payment of supervision and substitution money due.
“The fact that the Government has escalated the dispute in this way leaves us with no option but to ballot our members on further industrial action. This ballot is likely to take place in early autumn and arrangements will be finalised during the coming weeks.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education told Independent.ie that the 'Croke Park hours' were there for the convenience of both parents and students.
They said: “This year ASTI balloted to withdraw from the Croke Park hours. These are 33 hours per year – less than one hour per week – which were agreed under previous public service agreements, which mean that schools can carry out essential activities such as school planning and parent-teacher meetings outside of timetabled teaching time.
“Before the Croke Park hours were introduced, schools closed for full days or half days in order to carry out these activities, causing interruption to tuition and significant inconvenience for parents.”
The Department also criticised ASTI’s decision to direct their members to not fulfil the extra hours, adding that the ASTI made this rejection after the Department offered to remove punitive measures in response.
They added: “The Department held a meeting with ASTI on the 7th of July, to listen to their concerns and try to come to a constructive resolution. In this meeting, the Department suggested that ASTI suspend their directive to withdraw from the Croke Park hours and in return the Department would suspend the implementation of measures associated with the repudiation of the Lansdowne Road Agreement.
“This suggestion was intended to provide time and space for both parties to meaningfully engage on the issues at hand.
“It was made clear to ASTI that this suggestion was not intended as a pre-condition to talks, but rather to create a more constructive context within which talks could proceed. It was also intended to ensure that any disruption to schools from September, arising from ASTI actions, could be avoided during the period of the talks.
“The ASTI Standing Committee decided not to accept this suggestion and the union is proceeding with their withdrawal from the Croke Park hours, which will lead to disruption in schools in the new school year”.
Both sides of the dispute have said that they are available for continued discussions.