The payment of the final two phases of the benchmarking increase and general round increase due under the Sustaining Progress agreement is dependent, in the case of each sector, organisation and grade on verification of co-operation with flexibility and ongoing change, satisfactory implementation of the agenda for modernisation, maintenance of stable industrial relations and absence of industrial action in respect of any matters covered by the agreement.
As provided for in Sustaining Progress, the Secretary General of my Department accepted a progress report provided by the Teachers' Conciliation Council confirming progress on the agreed commitments. This was provided in the context of the payments applicable from 1 January 2004 and was predicated on the expectation that real progress would be made in the discussions on parent-teacher meetings which, under the agreement, were scheduled to be concluded before the end of December 2003. Due to the fact that no agreement had been reached and that the issue was being referred to the arbitration board, it was the view of the Secretary General that it was only reasonable to await executing arrangements for the payments due with effect from 1 January 2004 until the arbitration process had concluded. In this regard, I am happy to report that agreement has now been reached on the arrangements for the holding of parent-teacher meetings following the arbitration process.
In addition, the Deputy will be aware that difficulties arose in relation to issues of non-compliance by certain schools regarding the agreed arrangements for the standardised school year. To report comprehensively on the position and to bring the matter to the Teachers' Conciliation Council for its consideration, my Department requested that each school complete a declaration regarding compliance with the agreements reached in respect of the standardised school year, parent-teacher meeting and staff meetings for the school year 2003-2004.
The outcome of that process is being considered today, 10 February 2004, by the Teachers Conciliation Council in the context of finalising proposals for the arrangements for the standardised school year for the coming school years. I am hopeful that agreement will be reached at the council which will enable my Department to execute the arrangements for payment of the appropriate increases to teachers without delay. The payments will be backdated to 1 January 2004.