Friday 17 January 2020

'I am concerned about impact on children and parents' - Varadkar's last-ditch plea to teachers

Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Allison Bray

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar is urging members of the ASTI to consider the impact of its looming strike on parents and children.

Speaking as talks continued today in a last-ditch effort to avert tomorrow’s strike by secondary school teachers, the minister said he hopes teachers will consider the severe impact of the action.

Around 500 second-level schools are poised to close tomorrow during the first one-day strike that will see up to 250,000 students locked out of their classrooms over seven days.

“The government is working towards averting those strikes today,” he said of  the 11th hour negotiations between the Department of Education and the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI).

“But what I would be particularly concerned about – and I think everyone would be concerned about – is the impact on children losing school time and the impact on parents who may have to take time off work or who may have to fork out for child care.”

As for the impending strike by gardai, scheduled to take place over four Fridays next month, Mr Varadkar said he is also hopeful the strike will  be averted.

However, he said the Government cannot intervene in the dispute that will see 10,500 rank and file gardai and 2,000 garda sergeants and inspectors “withdraw labour” on November 4, 11, 18 and 25 as they seek pay restoration of 16.5pc and other concessions.

“What the Government wants to do is to avoid the strike happening at all,” he told reporters this morning at an event in Temple Bar.

“A lot of concessions have been made, including restoration of rent allowance – which is worth €4,000 a year to younger gardai and also giving gardai access to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court and in addition to that the new Public Sector Pay Commission,” he said.

“A lot of concessions have been made by (Justice) Minister Fitzgerald in her effort to avert this strike. But one thing we have to be very clear about as a government is anything that happens in public sector pay has to be done within the confines of the Lansdowne Road Agreement.”

“One thing I would love to do is to restore the weekly social welfare payments back to what they were before the crisis, for the carers, the disabled, widows and others. But to do that right away would cost about €700m. To restore public sector pay to what it was before the crisis would be another €1.4bn and to take away the extra taxes that were imposed, mainly on private sector workers during the crisis, is another €2bn on top of that, so there is no way the Government can come up with €4.1 in any one year,” he explained.

“So what we have to do is restore living standards for everyone, not just gardai and secondary school teachers over a period of time in a way that’s affordable and sustainable,” he said.

“That’s why we can’t have a special deal for any one group or allow any one group to put themselves at the front of the queue.”

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