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ASTI is "a long way away" from temporarily suspending teachers strike

Today marked the first day of strike action for teachers across the country, with over 500 schools closed.

IMG_20161027_104625 Joanne Hyall Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

Updated 20.02

TEACHERS’ UNION THE ASTI says it is a “long way away” from agreeing to a temporary suspension of strike action by its members.

Today marked the first day of industrial action by secondary school teachers from the ASTI union, with over 500 schools, almost 70%, closed across the country as a result.

This evening slightly contradictory messages have emerged from the union. First, president of the ASTI Ed Byrne said that the union might agree to a temporary suspension of strike dates if better terms were to be offered to recently graduated teachers.

As things stand schools could close indefinitely from Monday, 7 November, although the ASTI itself will not be on indefinite strike. This is because schools may not open due to health and safety concerns due to teachers ceasing to perform certain duties from that date.

However, speaking on RTÉ’s Six One News, ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie seemed to put the kibosh on his president’s suggestion.

christie Kieran Christie Source: RTÉ

He said that while serious negotiations between the government and the union “were going places” and that emergency measures were not out of the question, a resolution is not yet in sight.

“We are a long way from that, unfortunately,” Christie said when asked directly regarding a temporary suspension.

Off the payroll

Earlier, striking teachers hit out at proposals by the Government to take them off the payroll if they fail to perform supervising or substitution duties from next month.

ASTI teachers are striking over pay parity for younger staff members. Teachers who began working in 2011 are on a lower pay scale than their counterparts who began before 2011.

On top of the seven days of proposed work stoppages, all ASTI teachers will also stop performing supervisory or substitution duties from 7 November.

Hundreds of schools have said that they will be forced to close as a result of this action for health and safety reasons.

The ASTI has instructed its teachers to turn up for work as normal on these days. The union said these are not official strike days.

27/10/2016. ASTI Trade Unions Strikes Source: Leah Farrell

The Department of Education has sent a directive to schools, telling them to remove any teachers who fail to perform these duties from the payroll.

ASTI teachers who opted out of working extra hours under the Haddington Road Agreement (and who have had their pay docked fortnightly as a result) will also be removed from the payroll, the Department said.

Criticised

Speaking to TheJournal.ie this morning, Joanne Ryall, a teacher at Loreto College on the Green, criticised the directive from the Government, saying that it amounted to unfair treatment.

“I have opted out of substitution and supervision so my salary is already deducted fortnightly because I actually don’t do [these duties].” she said.

27/10/2016. ASTI Trade Unions Strikes Source: Leah Farrell

“So now it’s looking like that on the 7 November I’m not going to be paid because I’m a union member.

I’m perfectly available to work… so it seems like an extraordinary gesture. I just think it’s extraordinary that my salary will be stopped when I actually don’t do supervision and substitution.

Ryall also said she felt as though she was being punished for being a member of the ASTI union.

Speaking this morning on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie said this docking of pay was an “extremely provocative” decision by the Government.

“We will fight it,” he said.

We will fight it at the negotiating table and we will fight it elsewhere if we have to.

Christie said the union would bring the matter to the courts if necessary.

Strike 

Speaking to presenter Keelin Shanley on RTÉ’s Today programme, Education Minister Richard Bruton said that teachers were withdrawing from their “core duties” by not performing supervising or substitution at schools.

“They are part of the contract under which people are employed,” he said.

“Where a decision is taken to withdraw from all of those elements it puts us in a very difficult position.”

25/10/2016. Cabinet Meetings. Pictured Fine Gael M Education Minister Richard Bruton. Source: Leah Farrell

ASTI teachers voted earlier this year to stop working an additional 33 Croke Park hours.

Croke Park hours are additional working hours that were brought in by the Croke Park and subsequently Haddington Road agreement.

Bruton said that by withdrawing from these hours, ASTI teachers had “stepped out of commitment that is part of their work contract”. He also said that withdrawing from other duties from 7 November amounted to “strike action”.

“The consequence of the action of the ASTI will have closed the schools,” he said.

And once the withdrawal of labour results in a closure that represents a strike as people will not be paid.

In relation to teachers like Joanne Ryall – who had elected before not perform extra duties – Bruton said that the entire ASTI had signed up to a “scheme”.

“There is a scheme under which there was an opt out for some teachers but the ASTI have decided to withdraw from the entire scheme,” he said.

Despite it being put to him repeatedly, Bruton failed to say whether he supported the principle of “equal work for equal pay” which ASTI teachers had said they are looking for.

In a statement this evening, the Department of Education acknowledged to TheJournal.ie that those teachers who both opted out of Supervision and Substitution (S&S) hours and are also ASTI members will likewise be taken off the payroll if strike action planned for 7 November goes ahead.

“In the event that the withdrawal from S&S duties proceeds, teachers who wish to remain on the payroll are required to confirm their availability for the full range of duties including supervision and substitution duties from 7 November onwards,” the statement said.

In circumstances where a school is not in a position to open for students as a result of the withdrawal of teachers from their duties relating to S&S, teachers who have not confirmed their availability for the full range of duties including S&S duties will not be paid for the duration of the closure.

The Department said that such actions are in violation of the Haddington Road Agreement on public service pay, hence the blanket approach to taking all teachers off the payroll.

Additional reporting Cianan Brennan

Initially published 13.02

Read: Those in exam years will feel the strain of teacher strikes, says student organisation

Read: Schools will shut for seven days as secondary teachers announce strike action

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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