Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Questions (28)

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

28. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will end the treatment of newly-qualified teachers; and if he will report on discussions with the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland, ASTI, on this matter. [28384/16]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Education)

This question relates to the ongoing inequality in the pay of different groups of teachers. Obviously, this applies to other public sector workers too. When will that pay inequality end? Will the Minister report on discussions he has had with the ASTI? Will he also respond in respect of the victimisation of members of the ASTI who will not now receive partial pay restoration because they are union members? This is something we thought was meant to have ended with the 1913 Lock-out.

The recent agreement reached with the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, and the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, on the issue of new entrant pay will result in increases of up to €2,000 per year for new teachers at the start of their careers. The estimated value of these increases over a teacher's career is €135,000. This new arrangement will apply to members of the teachers' unions which have signed up to the Lansdowne Road agreement, namely, the TUI and the INTO.

This agreement gives substantial benefits to new teachers and shows what is possible through dialogue and negotiation within the Lansdowne Road agreement.

The ASTI's decision to withdraw from the Croke Park hours means that the union has placed itself outside the Lansdowne Road agreement. However, the benefits of the new entrant pay deal can also be available to ASTI members. With that objective in mind, I wrote to the ASTI in the past fortnight to confirm my willingness to conclude a similar agreement with them and to deliver these benefits to newly-qualified ASTI members in the context of the union's co-operation with the Lansdowne Road agreement.

I also reiterated my Department’s offer to suspend the implementation of measures associated with the repudiation of the Lansdowne Road agreement if the union suspends its directive to withdraw from the Croke Park hours. This would provide a more constructive context for talks to take place and would avoid disruption in schools. It would also mean that thousands of ASTI teachers would receive the payment for supervision and substitution, as well as other benefits and protections under the Lansdowne Road agreement. Unfortunately, the ASTI have refused this offer thus far but it remains open.

Despite this, my Department is making arrangements to continue the ongoing discussions with the ASTI on its issues of concern. Continuing dialogue between my Department and the ASTI would be in the best interests of schools, parents, students and teachers as is evidenced by the agreements reached with the INTO and the TUI. It is regrettable the ASTI seems determined to pursue a route of confrontation rather than dialogue.

There are three sets of pay scales operating in teaching. Whatever happened to equal pay for equal work? There are teachers who qualified after 2011 and 2012 who are doing exactly the same work as, but being paid less than, their counterparts in other classrooms who qualified earlier. How does the Minister justify that? That is why the ASTI is taking a stance.

The ASTI is often told it is the only teachers' union that did not accept the Lansdowne Road agreement. It is the largest secondary teachers' union in the country. The TUI has a mix of different members. That is how I would explain the differing results on accepting the agreement. Obviously, if one does not work in those conditions, one may deliver a different result. The hourly rates of pay have been reduced, as has the qualified rate, and allowances have been removed. Teachers and others are in precarious work, with one in four secondary teachers working part-time and being forced to take up other employment.

The Minister should stop attacking the ASTI when it is trying to take a stand against that.

I am not attacking the ASTI. I am saying very clearly that there is the opportunity for the members of the ASTI to benefit from agreements that are now in place with the TUI and the INTO that can provide real benefits to its members. They include the substitution and supervision amount, which is more than €700 this year, and another payment later. Also included is the qualification allowance which they lost, which is the largest issue for new entrants, whereby a significant loss is being restored in two phases. It includes flexibility in respect of the 33 hours, which are the subject of some of the ASTI's objections. We have provided more flexibility to allow those hours to be used more usefully. It includes addressing the issue of permanency for ASTI members, which is now being facilitated by new provisions. There are real benefits in the agreements we worked out that address the issues.

It is correct to say that there are issues remaining. Some newly-qualified teachers are paid less than those with longer service, but this issue applies across the public service and will be addressed by the public service commission that will be established by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The terms of reference of that will soon be worked out. There is a comprehensive approach to the issues of concern, which are genuine for the teaching profession, but I believe dialogue is the right approach to pursue in the interests of children and, indeed, teachers.

We see how this Government acts. The Government used the Acts - the threat of FEMPI - to get those agreements passed with the other unions. One or two unions stuck it out and did not heed those threats. What happens? The Government victimises the members and young teachers and tries to stop them getting partial pay restoration as a result. Equal pay for equal work used to be a core principle of trade unionism. That is how women won the right to equal pay and it is how migrants and others should win it as well. It has been a long-standing principle. There has been a rise in employers treating new entrants badly, and it is important in the so-called recovery that workers take a stand on that. I support the ASTI in its ballot for industrial action against this measure. I also support anything that takes young workers and new graduates out of low pay and precarious work.

What happens here is that a teacher has to sign a book that is passed around the staffroom stating what union they are a member of. If they are a member of the ASTI, they do not get the increase while if they are a member of the TUI, they get the increase. I ask people in the TUI not to go along with this kind of division.

In respect of the first part of the question relating to newly qualified teachers, while I welcome what happened a few weeks ago, does the Minister acknowledge that it is only a start and that more must be done to equalise pay? Is the Minister prepared to be a champion for teachers, particularly young and newly qualified teachers, in this regard?

The Lansdowne Road agreement has the support of over 90% of people who work in the public service. It allows progress to be made on the genuine right of people to see a restoration of their pay. However, it allows this to be done within a framework where we can also address the pressing needs in homelessness, housing, health, education and many other spheres, and we have to balance the amount of money being assigned to different tasks. If the entire FEMPI allowance were restored, a figure I read in the newspapers stated that it would require €2.3 billion. That would be more than we have available either in this budget or the following one, so there must be a balance in this approach. This is what the Lansdowne Road agreement has done.

Contrary to some people's views, it has succeeded in addressing issues such as newly qualified teachers and the qualification allowance. Many thought that this would not be possible but it has succeeded and that was through the persistence of my officials, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and mine in making this work for people who are willing to work the agreement. If unions decide that they are going to remain outside an agreement and are going to renege on commitments that are part of it, they cannot expect the benefits to come through. This is an approach that demonstrates the benefit of negotiation, and that is what is on offer here.