Teachers likely to mark pay package 'not satisfactory'
IT was the shortest honeymoon period any Education Minister has ever had. Barely a wet week in the job Mary Coughlan was quickly immersed into the choppy waters of teachers' conferences.
It was not their finest week from the point of view of a weary public, which saw the protests at two of the conferences as a discourtesy to their guest. The third did not even invite her.
The same public was also confused by the split over the pay deal in the unions. For a time it looked as if the Teachers' Union of Ireland, which represents teachers in vocational schools, community colleges and Institutes of Technology, was isolated. Until then, it was the only union executive, along with the CPSU -- pilloried by the public for the passport chaos -- that recommended a rejection of the deal.
TUI General Secretary Peter MacMenamin cut a solitary figure, arguing against it. But events changed during the week. The ASTI convention, always likely to vote 'No' anyway, came out unanimously against it.
Then the executive of IMPACT, upon whom the Government was relying for a 'Yes' vote, unexpectedly decided it could not recommend acceptance. Yesterday the UNITE executive also came out strongly against.
Suddenly, the INTO leadership is in the spotlight with members asking if they got it wrong. Its executive had, with one dissenter, recommended acceptance of the deal. Dublin delegates came perilously close to overturning that when a motion urging rejection was defeated by four votes.
If they had succeeded, it would have been embarrassing for the new general secretary Sheila Nunan and would have put the union in a situation where the executive was urging 'Yes' and congress was saying 'No'.
Opponents of the deal are now saying it's dead and the size of the turnout for its obsequies will be decided in the ballots of members. Those clinging to hope that it stays alive say it will be decided, as one informed observer said, by "events, dear boy, events".
The possible collapse of the Greek economy might send the doubters back into the 'Yes' camp as the deal gives them some reassurance their pay won't be cut further. Further reassurances may also be given.
For teachers, there also has to be clarification on the rewriting of their contracts.
The Department of Education and Skills does not want to show its hand in advance, but it needs to reassure teachers its cards are not all laughing jokers who will sweep the table.
Surveying the week's developments, one of those involved in the negotiations remarked: "This could be a bit like Lisbon 1 and Lisbon 2 as there is no alternative."
The ASTI discussion on the pay deal was revealing. It was not so much a debate as a one-sided damnation of the deal and all that it stood for, until eventually one delegate repeatedly asked the obvious question everybody else so carefully avoided -- "When are we going on strike?"
Clearly not this side of the summer as voting on the deal will be strung along over the next month or longer. Even if there is a massive 'No' vote, further ballots would probably be held to sanction industrial action.
So the public faces months of uncertainty as work-to-rule directives bite deeper into education and other services.
Nobody likes what is going on -- NAMA, the bailout of the banks, the loss of pay to public servants and jobs in the private sector -- but none of the teachers on 'Liveline' yesterday gave a coherent response to the frustrated caller who asked "NAMA or the IMF?"