THE Government is planning to push through compulsory redundancies in the public service for the first time in the history of the State.
It is targeting up to 100 college lecturers represented by the rebel Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), who are deemed to be "surplus to requirements", documents obtained by the Irish Independent reveal.
The unprecedented move represents a major departure from the tradition of a job for life in the public service.
But the hardline approach is likely to spark both legal and industrial action by members of the TUI, who have refused to enter direct talks on the Croke Park agreement. Despite this, Government sources last night vowed to face down the union.
"The TUI have isolated themselves," one source told this newspaper.
Confidential letters have been sent to the country's 14 institutes of technology, asking them to identify the number of "surplus" lecturers, some of whom earn up to €85,000 a year.
The "surplus" staff are mainly involved in teaching apprentices, whose numbers have plummeted over the past two years.
But some lecturers on construction and related courses are also in danger of losing their jobs.
The letters state: "Under the Croke Park agreement, no TUI member has a right to redeployment to any vacant position."
Unions which have signed up to the deal have been guaranteed that none of their members will be made redundant. Even if any of their jobs disappear as part of public sector reforms, they will be redeployed and retrained if necessary.
However, the letters state that there is no requirement to consider redeployment or retraining for TUI staff.
Instead, priority will be given to technical and administrative staff whose unions have already signed up to the Croke Park agreement.
One letter controversially states that a SIPTU lecturer from a "nearby university with suitable qualifications, who is surplus to requirements, arguably has a greater right to fill a vacancy than the TUI member, as SIPTU is compliant with the Croke Park agreement".
The contentious move is being viewed as an attempt by the Government to force the TUI to sign up to the deal.
It follows the union's refusal to suspend its current limited industrial action and enter talks on the Croke Park agreement on public sector reform.
That deal would have given the lecturers protection against redundancy and the right to be redeployed if their current jobs are no longer required.
Assistant lecturers are on a scale ranging from €39,715 to €49,487 a year. Lecturers start at €56,607, rising to €83,811 a year, plus a €2,284 long-service increment.
The letters were sent by the Institutes of Technology Ireland (IOTI), which represents the management of 13 institutes. The Department of Education and Skills separately contacted the Dublin Institute of Technology, which is not part of the IOTI.
Union sources last night warned that any attempt to introduce compulsory redundancies would spark off a major confrontation.
The TUI is drawing up contingency plans to respond to any attempt to implement the deal without its agreement.
One difficulty the Government will face is identifying lecturers who belong to the TUI.
Data-protection legislation does not allow information on union membership, held by management for the purpose of deducting union dues, to be used for any other purpose.
The Data Protection Commissioner ruled on this some years ago, when the Department of Education sought to "dock" the pay of members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) after their industrial action had forced school closures.
The TUI is excluded from the talks on implementing changes in second-level schools and institutes of technology on foot of the Croke Park agreement.
The other education unions, INTO, ASTI and the Irish Federation of University Teachers, are currently engaged in discussions with the department.