|The News Line: Feature
Thursday, 20 April 2017
INTO Irish teachers condemn funding cuts for primary schools!
AT THE Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) annual congress in Belfast on Tuesday, primary teachers condemned the lack of adequate funding to primary schools and the failure of the government to restore any of the cuts made to funding over the past five years.
INTO represents more than 40,000 teachers, both south and north of the border. Delegates on Tuesday demanded that the primary school capitation grant be increased in line with capitation grants at second level.
Government funding for the day to day running of primary schools is 170 euros per pupil per year compared to over 300 euros at second level. The current level of capitation grants does not cover the basic running costs of primary schools.
Government cuts to capitation grants of 15 per cent in recent years means schools have to rely on fundraising and voluntary contributions as school management boards try to make up the shortfall.
Delegates also called for a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the impact of these cuts and to highlight the importance of increased state funding in primary education to build the intrinsic, solid foundation for subsequent stages of education.
Karen Gerard from Drogheda told the conference that running a school was an expensive business. Outlining the cost of maintaining computers in her school, she said that, this year, they had spent 1,200 euros and that the money received this year would not be sufficient to meet their needs.
Kathryn Crowley, a principal in Dublin, outlined an alphabetical list of school fundraising activities beginning with art auction through bring-and-buy sales to zany dress-up days. She urged the minister to fund schools properly and let teachers focus on teaching and learning.
Primary teachers rejected a race to the bottom in pensions. They condemned attempts to play off private sector and public sector workers in the area of pensions. The value of public service pensions has been substantially reduced by changes imposed in the last twenty years. According to INTO, teachers are now paying more, working longer and getting less.
A pension levy was imposed on all public servants in 2009. This was touted as a temporary measure at the time, in place until the economy started recovering. Currently, Ireland has one of the fastest improving debt ratios in the eurozone and the indicators of economic recovery are positive. Primary teachers have been paying this levy for eight years.
Delegates demanded the phasing out of the pension levy during the next pay agreement and called for its immediate abolishment for teachers on the career average pension scheme. The career average pension scheme, introduced in 2013, has eroded the value of teachers’ pensions. The 27 year salary scale in operation for teachers means that relatively few years of a teacher’s career are spent at the top of the scale.
Addressing delegates, Pat Crowe, a member of the INTO Executive Committee, referred to the valuation saying that ‘research shows a clear case for the immediate discontinuation of the pension levy for members of the 2013 scheme and a full return to the previous contribution rate.’ Speakers condemned the career average scheme and the fact that teachers are required to contribute so disproportionately to a scheme from which they get such little value.
Deputy general secretary, Noel Ward, told delegates the cold hard facts that ‘public servants pay up to 17% of earnings towards pension … this is daylight robbery for those in the career average scheme’ and that ‘the reality is that the State is making major savings through career average pensions and is paying practically nothing for such pensions as long as the levy is in place.’ He called for ‘a new mandatory pension scheme, beyond the State Pension, for all workers’ warning, ‘otherwise future pensioners in many cases face reduced living standards and even poverty in their retirement.’
The issue of pay for teachers, both North and South dominated the agenda at the INTO annual Congress. Teachers slammed cuts to pay that been imposed over the last eight years and demanded both the full reversal of these cuts across the country along with pay equality in the Republic of Ireland.
Members in the North began industrial action this year by withdrawing their co-operation from the Education and Training Inspectorate. This was followed by strike action, along with other teacher unions in the North, through a series of half-day strikes since January.
The ever-increasing workload demanded of teachers, the significant decline of teachers’ pay, which is now well below the OECD average, and the attempt by government not to pay increments, led to 78% of INTO members voting for strike action and 95% of members voting in favour of industrial action.
In the South, teachers made it clear that pay equality is still at the top of their agenda. Speakers acknowledged that significant progress has been made but that the campaign needs to continue until full pay parity has been achieved.
Separate pay scales have been in operation for new entrant teachers since 2011. Some of the new entrant cut was reversed under the Haddington Road Agreement and under the Lansdowne Road Agreement, the INTO made further progress towards full pay restoration.
This progress means that a new entrant on 1 January 2018 will start on 97% of a pre-2011 teacher, when at the height of the cuts they were facing a starting salary that was 85% of a pre-2011 teacher. Speakers reiterated that there is still a distance to go in achieving full pay parity. They slammed separate pay scales as being discriminatory and unreasonable and called on the government to provide a roadmap to full pay restoration.
In addition to the pay equality issue, delegates condemned the array of pay cuts and levies imposed on all teachers under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act. Delegates heard that these cuts were accepted as a temporary measure but given that the country’s economy is improving at a rapid pace, teachers demanded the full restoration of pay cuts suffered during the recession.
Proposing the motion Joe McKeown from the Central Executive Committee said equal pay for equal work was a core principle. ‘It should be standard practice for all fair-minded employers.’ He said the starting pay of new teacher entrants across the sector has been discounted by some 15%. ‘Even with recent improvements, this represents career long losses of more than 75,000 euros.’
He said the difference in pay for exactly the same work is not justifiable. He said successive governments had refused to honour a pay award made to primary school principals in 2008. ‘Yet they have continued to pile extra duties and responsibilities on the shoulders of already over-burdened principals, especially teaching principals.’
He said principals had waited long enough. Principals have had enough. All primary teachers have worked harder, for longer, for less pay. Those days are over. The new deal must deliver pay equality. It must deliver the principals’ benchmarking award and it must deliver pay increases for all teachers. He said the endorsement of the INTO for any new pay deal cannot be taken for granted.
Dorothy McGinley from the union’s executive told the conference that teachers in the north were drowning under a tsunami of initiatives including targets, monitoring and evaluation. Yet she said salaries in the north are certainly not taking account of the astounding increase in workload. This is essentially now leading to a build-up of resentment, despair and anger right across the teaching profession.
She told delegates that with the increase in National Insurance, pension contributions and inflation, teachers have essentially lost 15% over the past few years. This, she said, was the same as teachers working an additional 6 to 8 weeks for free.
She declared: ‘There’s a general mood that our job just isn’t worth the grief anymore. We’re doing far more than we’ve ever done in terms of paperwork. We’re held accountable for every single thing it would seem. We’re juggling 6 reading groups and 5 maths groups in ever growing class sizes. At the same time our pay is decreasing.’
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