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Emergency measures to tackle teacher shortages 'perpetuating unequal pay', say teaching unions

Emergency measures include an increased involvement of student teachers and retired teachers.

TEACHING UNIONS HAVE criticised the Department of Education’s emergency measures aimed at alleviating the substitute teacher crisis at second level which will see teachers paid different hourly rates for the additional work.

The Department of Education announced a number of measures to alleviate the pressure schools are experiencing sourcing substitute teachers due to the Covid-19 pandemic earlier today. Among the suite of measures, second-level teachers already working in schools are being asked to volunteer for overtime to cover shortages. Teachers will be paid a rate based on their salaries.

A teacher can provide up to a maximum of 35 additional hours to be utilised between now and the end of February 2022, at which point these temporary emergency arrangements will cease, according to the Department. Teachers usually have up to 22 contact hours every week.

Teaching unions welcomed some initiatives in the emergency measures including increased involvement of student teachers, removal of pension-related barriers for retired teachers, and the release of teachers who are on secondment to Department of Education support services.

However, both the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and The Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) were critical of the temporary arrangement which will see a different rate of pay for those appointed from 2011 onwards.

TUI said the move was “deeply disappointing” but it is committed to securing significant further progress on the overarching issue of pay discrimination through the sectoral bargaining element of the Building Momentum agreement -  the latest Public Service Agreement proposed last year. 

The Union also highlighted that prior to the pandemic, there was already a teacher supply crisis at second level that the Department failed to address.

“Of course, it would be remiss of us not to highlight that there was already a teacher recruitment and retention crisis before schools ever had to deal with the additional challenges of Covid-19,” TUI General Secretary Michael Gillespie said.

This genesis of this crisis can be traced back to imposition by Government of the two-tier system of pay discrimination on those employed from 2011 onwards. Teacher recruitment and retention problems will continue at second level until this is resolved.

The ASTI estimates that a typical teacher on the post-2010 pay scale will earn approximately 20% less under the scheme than those on the pre-2011 pay scale. The union said Minister Norma Foley has chosen to construct this scheme on the structures provided by the “discriminatory and unequal pay scales that divide and besmirch the profession”.

“Lesser-paid teachers will again be dealt a blow that hits them hard in their pockets,” the union said in a statement.

“This is another indignity being heaped upon lesser paid teachers. We objected to this and we have been met with a dogged insistence on perpetuating unequal pay. It is not too late for the Minister to act and revise the arrangements under the scheme to equalise payments across the two pay scales. We call on her to do so,” ASTI General Secretary Kieran Christie said.

ASTI President Eamon Dennehy added: “It beggars belief that the Minister seeks to persist with continuing discrimination against the most vulnerable members of the teaching profession.”

The Department moved last week to tackle the shortage at the primary school level, while the new antigen testing system in primary schools across the country began today.

Under the plan, tests will be provided for children who are in the same pod as a confirmed case.

If a parent receives a positive PCR test for their child, they are being asked to inform the principal of the school. The principal will then contact the parents of the other children in their child’s pod, to give them details of how they can order free antigen tests for their children using a freephone number.

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