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Dublin: 16 °C Saturday 15 August, 2020
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'The hypocrisy of it really bothers me': Secondary school teachers on why they're striking today

Over 90% of the Teachers Union of Ireland’s 19,000 members voted in favour of taking industrial action today.

Image: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

SECONDARY SCHOOL TEACHERS across the country are due to go on strike today over some teachers being put on a lower pay scale than the rest of their colleagues.

Teachers who started before 1 January 2011 are on a higher pay scale than those who started after that date, and has resulted in a gap in younger teachers’ pay as a result.

One teacher called it “demoralising to walk into a staff room where people doing similar work to yourself are paid differently”.

Another said “no matter how much I go up, I’ll never reach the top pay scale they do”.

Last autumn, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) balloted its 19,000 members across the country and 92% voted in favour of industrial action over the pay gaps.

The result of the strike action is that many second level schools, centres of further and adult education and institutes of technology will be closed today.

Although many parents are supportive of the teachers, some parents have said that it’s an inconvenience: RTÉ reports that the National Parents Council Post Primary has criticised the planned strike, saying that “emphatically no industrial action should take place during classroom hours or disrupt lesson time for pupils”.

On the €36,953 starting salary, the TUI has said that the full-time starting salary of a second-level teacher “must be placed in its correct context”. Generally, teachers at second level start their career on contracts of low hours, earning just a fraction of the full-time figure in the opening years of their career.

“And even if they were on full hours from the beginning, they would be earning 14% less upon initial appointment than those appointed before 1 January 2011,” the TUI said.

The pre 1 January 2011 figure doesn’t include allowances which would usually amount to over €6,000 extra. In addition, most teachers on this scale would have commenced on third point of scale in recognition of their training period, but those on post-2011 scale commence on first point.

‘Seven years is a long time to wait’

Eamonn MaGuire, a 28-year-old Maths and German secondary school teacher in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, has been teaching for seven years.

He says that some of his older students would be aware of the teachers’ strike, and asked him about it and he explained how he fell into that cohort of young teachers on a lower pay grade.

“I’m teaching students about equality and working within an unequal system,” he says, adding that his students have been supportive and find the logic behind it “hard to wrap their head around”.

 Since I’ve been teaching, I’ve been the victim of pay discrimination, and patience is running out.
I’m on a lower pay scale than my colleagues and doing same work – no matter how much I go up, I’ll never reach the top pay scale they do.

The TUI estimate that a teacher employed after 1 February 2012 earns 14% less, or around €50,000 less in their first 10 years, than their colleagues. This increases to over €100,000 throughout their whole teaching career.

Although the gap has been closing between the two pay scales, and it would have “hit worse if benefits hadn’t improved”, Eamonn says: “it’s equality, or it’s not”.

He says he doesn’t know why their pay hasn’t been brought up on par with their colleagues, adding that to do so “is achievable”.

It’s been mentioned in previous elections as well but nothing has been done about it: “It’s difficult to have faith that something will be done when you have waited as long as I have.”

Especially as a German teacher, when I qualified there was a lot of lucrative options but I just found that I loved the job, I loved to teach.

“The gap has been closing but equality is equality. In my case, seven years is a long time to wait when we’re told the economy is booming.”

‘It’s demoralising to walk into your staff room’

Zara Blake, a 33-year-old Irish and English teacher working in Tallaght, Dublin.

She said that she “absolutely didn’t” think that this issue would still be unresolved “close to a decade” later. 

I didn’t think there would be such rank inequality in our public sector, I didn’t think it would last this long – and there’s no hope that it’s about to change.
It’s such a demoralising thing to walk into a staff room where people doing similar work to yourself are paid differently.

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Similarly to Eamonn, Zara mentions the contrast between teaching students about equality and the unfairness of the two teachers’ pay scales.

The thing that really bothers me is the hypocrisy of it. In the Junior Cert there’s a huge emphasis on students’ wellbeing – but the wellbeing of teachers isn’t considered [on this issue]. 

She said that the pay teachers lose out on makes a “huge difference to people renting in Dublin or buying a home, it’s a huge sum of money”. 

“In my experience my colleagues have been very supportive, they can appreciate how hard the job is and to do it knowing we’re not paid the same as them.”

She said that her colleagues’ support is confirmed by the “strong, heartening” mandate the TUI received from all its members.

As someone who this affects, I would hope that TUI would be able to keep it in the public eye. It’s a huge issue for teacher retention, and unless they solve that unfairness, I don’t think they’re going to solve the retention issue.

When asked if she would stay on as a teacher if this issue isn’t solved, Zara said: “Personally I don’t know. I really enjoy my work, it has its challenges but it’s a great.”

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