Saturday 19 October 2019

The old reliable teacher union's stance is a setback, but may not scupper pay deal

Sheila Nunan of INTO Picture: Mark Condren
Sheila Nunan of INTO Picture: Mark Condren

Anne-Marie Walsh

The all-new Lansdowne Road Agreement looked like a done deal last Thursday. Public servants had to make up their minds if they want to vote for a deal that means they are in line for a €1.1bn pay boost over four years.

But yesterday there was a bit of a shocker.

The primary teachers' union threw a spanner in the works by advising its 36,000 members to reject it when they begin balloting next week.

In the normal course of events, the ratification of big pay deals, be they social partnership or public sector pacts, follow a predictable chain of events.

There is initial grumbling by the usual union suspects who always reject them before the first of the big players - the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (Into) - says yes.

This sets the tone for the rest of the ballots in the autumn and everyone can relax during the summer holidays, particularly the teachers who don't have to work through them.

But yesterday the old reliable union declared that it is not recommending the draft proposal to extend the Lansdowne Road Agreement because it fails to give new teachers equal pay.

It's a slap in the face for its general secretary Sheila Nunan - one of the four negotiators for the union side at the top table at the talks in Lansdowne House.

"The recent pay talks were an opportunity to draw a line under pay discrimination and right a wrong imposed on new entrants since 2011," she said. "The agreement has failed to signal an end to pay inequality imposed by Government on recent entrants."

Either the Government held a hard line, she did not argue well enough, or along with the rest of the union team failed to gauge the mood and pay enough attention to the issue.

On the subject of new entrants to the public service, the draft deal said the parties acknowledged concerns in relation to the two-tier set-up.

It said an examination of salary scale issues that are a result of recessionary cuts would be undertaken within 12 months of the start of the deal.

But after this, the parties would agree a way to address the matter that "does not give rise to implications for the fiscal envelope of this agreement".

It seems they had the go-ahead to find a way of addressing lower pay rates that did not involve looking for money.

Ms Nunan's executive could hardly be seen to have sold out the "yellow pack" workforce, when the TUI has recommended rejection on the issue and the ASTI is likely to do so.

Newly qualified teachers and indeed all new entrants to the public service begin on lower starting salaries than their colleagues.

But they only remain on lower wages for around two years before going on to the normal incremental pay scale.

The truth is that starting salaries in teaching are not the worst.

The first point on the scale for a newly qualified teacher is €33,806.

For gardaí, for example, starting pay is in the early €20,000s.

Teachers will probably argue that they have higher qualifications, but there was a time when the two professions were pegged at the same level.

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Paschal Donohoe recently revealed it would cost €209m to restore a single-tier pay system and insisted it was not having an impact on recruitment. Given the cost of the proposed deal, adding it to this would be a no-no, so it would have to be cut from something else. Pay rises, for example.

The Into stance will spur on unions who are objecting to the deal on other grounds.

The Civil, Public and Services Union will ballot its members if extra unpaid hours that add 20 minutes to its members' working day are not abolished by the end of this month. The deal says they're not going to be.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation wanted a Government commitment to put its members on a higher pay scale for professional staff because of retention problems. That didn't happen.

And those on Rolls Royce fast accrual pensions - including gardaí, prison officers and Defence Forces personnel - are far from happy with the fact that they will have to pay a higher permanent pension contribution than anyone else.

The bottom line is that the Into vote, if it goes the way the executive wants along with those who have publicly objected so far, would not bring down the deal on its own. But there would be no deal without the big players Siptu and Impact.

Public servants don't have long to decide. They will have to make up their minds fast if they want a slice of the October budget.

Irish Independent

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