Saturday 25 January 2020

Chaos of seven strike days could mean heavy financial losses for teachers

A protest by ASTI teachers at the Dáil after the announcement of industrial action Photo: Arthur Carron
A protest by ASTI teachers at the Dáil after the announcement of industrial action Photo: Arthur Carron
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Secondary teachers could be facing heavy financial losses as they kick off a wave of industrial action that will close hundreds of schools.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) announced a series of strike dates that will cause chaos in the education system within weeks.

More than half the country's second-level schools are now facing effective closure from Thursday, October 27, in the row over pay.

Sinead O'Loghlin takes part in the protest Photo: Arthur Carron
Sinead O'Loghlin takes part in the protest Photo: Arthur Carron

The Department of Education could not confirm last night that members of the ASTI would continue to be paid if they withdrew from supervision and substitution work.

The looming chaos follows overwhelming support for action on two fronts by members of the 18,000-strong union, arising from its rejection of the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA), which has started the process of restoring pay cuts imposed during the austerity era.

The ASTI has announced a plan of stoppages designed to cause chaos in the education system in pursuit of full and immediate restoration of those cuts.

ASTI president Ed Byrne Photo: Arthur Carron
ASTI president Ed Byrne Photo: Arthur Carron

The teachers' union is planning for seven one-day strikes, starting October 27, linked to its demand for pay equality for newly qualified teachers.

The union has also announced withdrawal from supervision and substitution duties from Monday, November 7, which is likely to close about 450 schools indefinitely.

What it boils down to is that after the first strike day on October 27, schools would open again on Friday, October 28, and then close later that day for the week-long mid-term break.

Schools are due to reopen on Monday, November 7, when the withdrawal from substitution duties will take place.

Click here to view full-size graphic
Click here to view full-size graphic

But the November 7 deadline gives school managers insufficient time to put together a contingency plan involving external supervisors, who would be needed if teachers stopped doing this work.

Schools would have to close on health and safety grounds, because of lack of cover for break times and absent teachers.

The union has rebuffed a request from the Department of Education to give longer notice of any withdrawal from supervision and substitution to allow for the recruitment and vetting of external supervisors.

The one-day strike dates include: Thursday, October 27; Tuesday, November 8; Wednesday, November 16; Thursday, November 24; Tuesday, November 29; Tuesday, December 6 and Wednesday, December 7.

Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton Photo: Fergal Phillips
Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton Photo: Fergal Phillips

But lack of supervision and substitution cover from November 7 is likely to mean that schools will be closed anyway by the time the second one-day strike is due on November 8.

If schools cannot organise cover, it means they cannot reopen after the mid-term break.

School leaders have confirmed that they need a lot longer than three weeks to put contingency arrangements in place.

Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools general secretary Eileen Salmon said they would be advertising for supervisors next week, but it would take until the end of November to complete the process.

"Schools will want to stay open, but realistically it will be the third week in November before we can have external supervisors recruited and vetted," she said.

While ASTI members would be available for other work, including their core duty of teaching, the question arises as to whether they would get paid if they are not doing supervision and substitution, which the department deems to be part of their contract.

The department could not confirm to the Irish Independent last night that they would remain on the payroll in those circumstances.

The ASTI says their members should no longer have to do the supervision and substitution work because they rejected the LRA.

The strong mandates delivered by ASTI members for industrial action are believed to be as much, if not more, to do with a desire to bring matters to a head rather than a widespread sense of militancy.

The ASTI has been in ongoing dispute with the Government since 2012 over junior cycle reform, which is still unresolved, and the rows over pay have come on top of that.

There are strong indications that many rank-and-file members, exasperated at the "no settlement" stance being an influential wing in the union leadership, believe the scale of disruption threatened will force hands.

ASTI president Ed Byrne said "teachers are reluctant to take industrial action or to interrupt the running of schools in any way. However, we have flagged our serious issues well in advance and remain available and committed to a resolution through talks without pre-conditions."

Education Minister Richard Bruton (below left) reacted with "disappointment" to the ASTI announcement.

Mr Bruton has invited union leaders to a meeting next week to discuss the issue.

The other two teacher unions, the TUI and the INTO, have both accepted the LRA.

Mr Bruton has said full pay restoration now was "untenable" because the knock-on cost across the public service would be €2.3bn, representing the entire amount available in the Budget for this year and next.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he hoped there would be some agreement.

Irish Independent

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