Teachers call for joint union action in fight against pay inequality
The country's 70,000 teachers have joined forces for a united campaign on pay, with the threat of strike action and school closures in the autumn if there is no commitment to end two-tier pay rates.
In a show of unity not seen since 1985, all three teacher unions have voted for strike ballots next month if there is no acceptable progress on restoring equal pay for new entrants to the profession since 2010.
Delegates at the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) and the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) voted unanimously in favour of a common motion on the issue, which was debated at all three conferences simultaneously yesterday.
Meanwhile, at the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) support for the motion was overwhelming.
Education Minister Richard Bruton was repeatedly heckled by protesters at the ASTI conference as he outlined the resources the Government had devoted to the education sector over recent years.
"We have found €1bn extra for education. I have developed the Action Plan for Education. That has set a bold ambition that by 2026 we will have the best education system in Europe," he said.
It was greeted with jeers, forcing repeated interruptions in his speech, with delegates shouting "equal pay", "pay up" and "better school resources".
Earlier at the INTO conference, the minister faced a silent protest, with delegates holding "equal pay" placards aloft, and some intermittent heckling.
Mr Bruton told the INTO conference that teachers had a "justifiable demand" but he would not go further to say if and when the Government was ready to end two-tier pay scales.
Negotiations on restoring pay equality in the public service, including to 16,000 teachers, will get under way on April 27.
A report has put the cost of granting pay equality to more than 60,000 public servants recruited since 2010 at €200m, including €59m for teachers.
Mr Bruton told INTO delegates that the Government was "committed to making progress on this issue" but later told reporters that the pay demand, while justifiable for unions, had to be balanced with other spending needs. Opposition support for teachers' demands, and all parties on an election footing, puts the Government under considerable pressure to settle the issue.
ASTI president Ger Curtin said pay inequality had dogged the profession for seven years and "we will not let this drag on into another school year".
The ASTI boss said it was misleading to refer to a starting salary of €36,000 for young teachers when many young entrants only get three or four hours' work each week.
"That is assuming they get full hours and a significant number of young teachers do not get full hours - some of them don't get full hours for a long, long time," he said. He said pay inequality was now "prompting young teachers to vote with their feet and leave Ireland for work overseas".
He also said that pay inequality was destroying morale within staff rooms at Irish schools.
"There have been a significant number of young teachers and new entrants to the profession impacted by this," he said.
The industrial action motion was seconded by Siobhan Peters, a young teacher who earns substantially less than her older colleagues because she entered the profession after 2011.
"I am now five increments behind a 2010 graduate [in pay]," she told ASTI delegates. "No one expected us to get pay parity overnight. I feel our engagement with this process needs to bear fruit before the start of the new school year."
TUI president Joanne Irwin said the "pay of teachers has been severely attacked for almost a decade", leaving many with commitments and debts they have been "very hard pressed to meet or, in many cases, unable to meet".
INTO president John Boyle said "every waking hour" of his year in office had been dominated by the issue of equal pay.
He said the motion was "designed to ensure our negotiators are fortified" when they meet the Government.