Teachers accused of "using students as pawns" as dispute continues

Teachers say no end in sight to dispute "unless the government starts acting maturely and engaging with the process"

Teachers accused of "using students as pawns" as dispute continues

Members of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) take part in strike action outside St. Mary's Secondary School Holy Faith, Glasnevin, Dublin. Image: Brian Lawless PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 14:15

Teachers have been accused of "using students as pawns" in their pay dispute with the government as strike action forces the closure of schools across the country today.

Three out of four of the country's secondary schools are closed as ASTI teachers head for the picket line for the second time this month.

Today’s action is in relation to “equal pay for equal work” regarding recently qualified teachers.

However, schools will also be closed tomorrow - and indefinitely - for health and safety reasons as teachers continue to refuse to carry out supervision and substitution duties.

Paul Mooney, president of the National Parents Council said students will bear the brunt of the action.

“What we are trying to say is - whatever the dispute is about - they can deal with the dispute but do not involve the students. It is as simple as that,” he said.

Today’s strike action is in relation to the two tier pay system that exists in the teaching profession - and in other areas of the public service.

In response to the financial crisis, the previous government abolished qualification allowances for teachers recruited after early 2012, while also cutting pay rates for those who had qualified after 2011.

Teacher unions said the cuts have left recently qualified teachers up to €5,000 worse off than their more experienced colleagues - for doing the same job.

Earlier this year, two of the country’s other teacher unions - the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) and the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) - agreed a deal which will see recently qualified teachers given a pay boost of €2,000 on a phased basis over the next year or so.

The agreement will cost the exchequer about €20 million.

Mr Mooney said any improved deal the ASTI can expect to achieve through their industrial action “will probably be marginal to what is already available to the TUI.”

He questioned whether these potential gains provide “sufficient reason to have 200,000 pupils not at school.”

On the picket line, teachers at St Aidan's CBS in Dublin said it is hard to see how the dispute will be resolved:

While the ASTI teachers will make themselves available for work tomorrow, they are refusing to undertake any substitution and supervision duties – which, in effect, means many schools will have to remain closed.

The Department of Education is refusing to pay the teachers for these duties unless they agree to work the ‘Croke Park hours’ - 33 hours per year teachers are expected to work for free as part of the Lansdowne Road agreement.

The ASTI has not signed up to the agreement and said expecting its members to carry out substitution and supervision work for no pay while colleagues in other unions were being paid is "unacceptable."

This morning, the head of the association representing Ireland’s education and training boards has questioned the ASTI strategy in the matter and warned there will be “no winners” in the dispute.

Michael Moriarty, general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) said the union’s refusal to sign up to the Lansdowne Road agreement has only served to weaken their bargaining position:

ASTI General Secretary Kieran Christie said the union’s position is very simple - “equal pay for equal work.”

“We haven’t secured movement from the government in relation to that matter. This is our second day of strike and we need to see movement, we need to see real commitment from the government, to address that matter in a timely fashion,” he said.

He said the government needs to act “sharply” to get students back at their desks:

The Minister for Education, Richard Bruton said “every other public servant” works the extra hours the ASTI teachers are refusing to work.

He said if other public servants followed suit it would have a “devastating impact” on the country.

Minister Bruton said there is a "good deal" on the table for the teachers and urged the ASTI to consider it seriously, "so that we can end this dispute and limit the disruption to parents and students."