'Everybody that does the same job deserves the same pay' - Minister breaks ranks in new row over teachers' pay
Mitchell O'Connor says 'everybody that does the same job deserves the same pay'
Teachers are set to ramp up their campaign to end two-tier salaries after a minister broke ranks to back 'equal pay for equal work'.
Mary Mitchell O'Connor has created a major headache for the Government by reigniting the debate over pay just as schools prepare to reopen after the summer break.
Her comments have emboldened teacher unions that say there is a "deep sense of injustice" about changes made to the pay structure at the height of the recession.
Teachers starting work this September will earn €32,294, down from the €40,730 that was paid to a typical new entrant before 2011.
Young teachers are on a lower salary scale, which means a loss of €100,000 over the course of a career when compared with senior colleagues.
Ms Mitchell O'Connor, who is the Minister of State with responsibility for Higher Education, was questioned yesterday about an anomaly in her own salary that sees her paid €16,000 less than the other two junior ministers who sit at Cabinet, Paul Kehoe and Finian McGrath.
In response, she said: "Everyone that does the same job deserves the same pay."
Asked whether teachers deserve equal pay, Ms Mitchell O'Connor replied: "I think they do and I'm going to stand by that. That's my comment."
Education Minister Richard Bruton, who has steadfastly defended the Government's pay strategy, stood silently beside his junior minister as she made the comments.
Her comments will pile pressure on the Government to do a deal with unions to reverse the cuts as it already faces the threat of industrial action over the 'yellow pack' system.
This would cost in the region of €70m for teachers and €209m a year for the entire public service.
- Read more: Are there any reasons for teachers to stay in Ireland? We asked five teachers why they decided to stay or go
Unions are now set to turn up the heat in their campaign with the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (Asti) telling the Irish Independent it is the "number one priority at the start of this school year".
Spokeswoman Gemma Tuffy said: "Certainly it's an issue that hasn't gone away for us. What it means for these teachers is they have different pay scales from colleagues in the classroom next door."
Similarly, the Irish National Teachers Unions (INTO) welcomed Ms Mitchell O'Connor's comments, saying pay inequality on any grounds was "unacceptable".
INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said: "The minister has backed the INTO's point of view that legislation that allows this is wrong. Primary teachers will welcome the support of Mary Mitchell O'Connor to tackle pay inequality in the profession. I look forward to her fighting the case for equality with her Government colleagues at the cabinet table."
INTO members have already rejected a draft deal to extend the Lansdowne Road Agreement until 2020 in protest at its failure to fully address the "discriminatory" pay rates and the Asti and TUI are expected to follow suit.
The TUI will ballot for industrial action in October if equal pay for teachers is not restored by then.
Fianna Fáil's education spokesman Thomas Byrne said it was "absolutely shocking" that pay equalisation wasn't dealt with during the public sector pay talks.
"It's simply indefensible. The pay scales are unequal. I've been asking on a regular basis for this to be addressed. We've tried to pin down Richard Bruton on it."
He added that, as a former teacher herself, he hoped Ms Mitchell O'Connor "sees the inequality" and doesn't row back from her comments.
"She's actually a victim herself of sexism in the workplace. Having been a full minister, she is the most senior Minister of State at Cabinet. Why is she the one that had to take the zero pay when the men are getting the full pay?" he said.