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Primary schools braced for strike action as INTO to ballot on next move

The union will meet next Wednesday to agree on a ballot for industrial action, up to and including a strike.

A protest over teachers pay earlier this year.
A protest over teachers pay earlier this year.
Image: Sam Boal

EDUCATION MINISTER JOE McHugh appears to be set for a so-called baptism of fire in his new job. 

McHugh is in the job a matter of weeks and already has had to deal with structural issues at up to 40 schools and now the likelihood of a strike by primary school teachers.

Teachers’ pay has been a thorn in the side of consecutive Governments, since budgetary measures brought in to deal with the fall out from the recession, cut salaries for new entrants from the first of January 2011.

The cut means that starting salaries for newly qualified teachers are below that of their colleagues who had started work at any point up to 31 December 2010. Teachers’ pay operates on a scale based system with increments awarded on years of service. 

Negotiations have been ongoing since the reduction was brought in, with the latest offer believed to be worth in the region of €200 million. The proposal would allow teachers jump two increments over a prolonged period in order to bring them more in line with their colleagues pay. 

Under pre-2011 arrangements teachers with an honours degree and those with postgraduate qualifications such as a Masters or a PHD would start on a higher point on the scale. However after 20011 the qualifications allowance was scrapped, with teachers now starting at point one on the scale €36,318.

Through negotiations the government agreed to recognise an honours undergraduate degree and that has been brought in since 2015. The new negotiations had reduced the number of points on the scale from 27 back down to 25.

The latest move has been cautiously welcomed by the Teachers Union of Ireland with 53% of members voting in favour the measure in their ballot released last week. 

President Seamus Lahart said however it would not yet mean the restoration of equal pay:

The measure will allow new and recent entrants to progress up the scale quicker.
However, it does not secure pay equality. There is no such thing as partial pay equality and the continuing injustice of discrimination against new and recent entrants to teaching remains to be comprehensively addressed.

However primary teachers have rejected the proposal. The Irish National Teachers Organisation is now set to meet next Wednesday to decide on whether to ballot members for strike action on the matter. 

The union released the results of its ballot on the matter yesterday. The proposals were rejected by 53% of voters with a turnout of 55%. INTO General Secretary Sheila Nunan said ” the proposed agreement by government failed to signal an end to pay inequality for all new entrants”:

Acting in solidarity with their colleagues who are paid less for doing the same job, our membership has signalled that they will not stand for any agreement which leaves them in a similar position.

To date the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland has gone on strike on two separate days over the issue of new pay, both in 2016, with the union demanding “equal pay for equal work”. 

The results of the latest ASTI ballot on the are expected to be known by the end of November.  

The results so far mean a divide has emerged between primary teachers, represented by the INTO, and secondary teachers, represented by the TUI, on the government’s proposals. 

It’s expected that INTO members will be asked to vote on strike action following next week’s meeting, which could see hundreds of primary schools around Ireland closed for the first time in the row over teachers’ pay. 

In a statement to TheJournal.ie a Department of Education spokesperson said it is disappointed with the INTO ballot result. 
The deal on new entrant pay is a public service wide deal which was negotiated by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform with the ICTU.
It is important that the INTO be given the time and space to reflect.
The spokesperson said the Department wishes to see “industrial peace maintained in order to avoid disruption to pupils and their parents”.

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