IN MY SCHOOL, just like in every other school around the country, there exists inequality.
Not inequality based on gender, although that fight is still on-going.
A new inequality has emerged – pay discrimination for younger teachers.
Since I began my first teaching job in 2007, I am on what is called the ‘pre-2011’ teachers’ pay scale, while my colleagues who began teaching ‘post-2011’ are on a much-reduced new entrants’ salary scale.
I share the same duties and responsibilities as these new entrants, and we are both held equally accountable. Yet there will be a six-figure difference in our lifetime earnings.
It is unacceptable and wrong to accept this situation in any profession. Therefore, this autumn, as a member of the ASTI, I will be voting ‘yes’ to industrial action, up to and including strike action, to put an end to marginalisation and pay disparity.
We are not looking for a pay increase; we are demanding a pay restoration for our most vulnerable colleagues.
For the first time in six years, we have been given the opportunity to stand with our lesser-paid colleagues and show intergenerational solidarity. I am angry on their behalf and refuse to act as a bystander and allow this unfair situation to continue. I know that if I were in the shoes of a recently qualified teacher, I would want my colleagues to stand with me.
The majority of new entrants to teaching do not have full-time hours. Such teachers are therefore only receiving a proportion of an already reduced salary. They are also likely to be on temporary contracts, as Ireland has a far higher proportion of temporary teaching positions at second level – over 30% compared to the OECD average of 15%.
This means that newly qualified second level teachers are caught in a vicious cycle of precarious, low hour contracts with the added insult that ‘post-2011’ entrants get an inferior rate of pay.
This is the treatment newly qualified teachers face after they have spent the required four to six years training to be teachers, attaining a degree and a Professional Masters in Education, the required qualification for new entrants to second-level teaching.
Double-jobbing or leaving
Many young teachers are double jobbing to make ends meet, seeking other avenues to sustain a living wage. There are recently qualified teachers who work in restaurants, retail or security in the evenings, finishing well after midnight and then getting up early to teach the next morning.
This is a difficult situation for these teachers, and I know many excellent, highly qualified young teachers who have left the profession or had no choice but to emigrate, to the loss of the Irish education system. They have been denied a decent future and the right to work in Ireland.
The inequitable treatment of newly qualified teachers does not just affect teachers. Short hours and temporary contracts affect students’ education too. They have a lower status in the school community and therefore less impact in the classroom. The school community feeling is weakened when some teachers are only teaching four hours a week.
Teachers who are part of the school community need to be accessible to students for pastoral care and for leading extracurricular activities, something which is lost when a high proportion of teachers are on piecemeal low-pay contracts.
Decision to strike
The decision to strike is not one taken lightly by teachers. I, like many other workers, have taken massive hits to my income as well as experiencing the deterioration of our conditions mixed with productivity burnout. Because of my timing in entering the profession, I am considered ‘one of the lucky ones’. However, I cannot easily afford the loss of income that will come from taking strike action.
I am in my thirties, and I still live with my parents – just like most of my peer age group working in both the public and private sectors. Renting in Dublin is just not an option for most of us, especially if I want to save for a deposit for a house of my own, which now seems like an ever-decreasing prospect.
Aside from the financial impact, a strike day will mean I must endeavour to make sure the educational needs of my pupils are met and that lost time is made up for in some way.
I am willing to strike despite these drawbacks because I feel that we need to put out a strong message to the government, that the discrimination against newly qualified teachers’ with regard to their pay is not acceptable.
As a trade unionist, I believe that an injury to one is an injury to all, and it is important that there is a resolution to the inequalities experienced by newly qualified teachers in the Irish education system.
Ciara Kinsella is a teacher of Gaeilge and history in a South Dublin school and is the ASTI representative on the ICTU Youth Committee.