| 7.8°C Dublin

Stern test for Government as teacher unions dig in

NOT for a quarter of a century has there been such a show of strength from the teacher unions. The INTO, ASTI and TUI are unifying to up the ante in the battle with the Government over the Croke Park II agreement. All three unions will be balloting over the coming weeks for industrial action, up to and including strikes.

As a result, schools could be closed for one or more days at a time through a series of rolling strikes and perhaps even on a sporadic, regional basis.

The outcome of the ballots, provided they are passed, will have the leadership of the teacher unions primed to initiate action in September, if the Government goes ahead with threats to unilaterally cut teachers' pay.

Representatives of lower-paid civil servants in the CPSU have already unanimously voted to ballot for industrial action if the Coalition proceeds with the cuts.

Croke Park II isn't the only industrial relations headache facing the Coalition at the moment as the Irish Bank Officials Association is worried ordinary bank staff will be punished for the sins of their bosses.

The coming together of the three teachers' unions is the biggest show of strength since the Teachers United action of the 1980s.

Ironically, one of the leaders of that movement was then ASTI general secretary Kieran Mulvey.

Mr Mulvey is now chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission, tasked with assessing if the deal can be reworked.

The poacher turned gamekeeper has got his work cut out to find a resolution.

This time around, INTO secretary general Sheila Nunan is warning the Government not to come back with the same formula from the rejected Croke Park II deal, where only public sector workers' pay is on the table.

The longer the Government takes to peruse that rejection, the more time it gives unions to become entrenched.

The horizon is bleak before the talking has started.

Irish Independent