Irish Teachers Strikes Loom

Section of the 125,000-strong march in Dublin in defence of jobs and wages on February 21
Section of the 125,000-strong march in Dublin in defence of jobs and wages on February 21

Research carried out by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) indicates that second-level schools will lose an average of 2.6 temporary and part-time teachers in September 2009.

All three main teachers unions in Ireland have backed a campaign of industrial action which will involve widespread disruption in schools in June and again in September.

The move could see schools closed as part of a day of action.

As anger over the public sector pension levy and education cuts intensified, members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) voted for an emergency motion on Friday that endorses industrial action.

This was demanded by delegates – who had earlier rejected a weaker motion on the levy – at the union’s Annual Convention in Killarney, Co Kerry, yesterday.

Members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) heckled Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe during his address to their annual conference in Cork on Thursday.

A number of delegates shouted ‘shame’ and ‘lies’ as he started speaking and more than a dozen walked out.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) is to protest against an embargo on promotional posts and against increased class sizes, which the organisation says will result in the loss of 1,000 jobs.

Up to 700 promotional posts at assistant principal level and various posts of responsibility are due to become vacant this year.

From September, INTO members will refuse to take on duties of more senior staff.

INTO president Máire Ní Chuinneagáin said the union would direct teachers not to undertake additional duties where posts of responsibility are not filled.

She said: ‘The embargo on posts will affect school leadership. There are many duties and complex tasks that need to be done in schools.

‘The government is not going to get this work done for nothing.’

INTO is also holding a special conference in May or June to decide on the next phase of its response to the public sector pension levy.

On the final day of the ASTI conference in Killarney, the 500 delegates condemned education cuts and the pension levy and committed the union to a strategy up to and including strike action.

Directives are being issued to the 18,000 ASTI members and come in to effect when schools re-open today, Monday 19th April.

Teachers will not take part in parent/teacher and staff meetings outside school time, nor will they take part in school development planning meetings.

No teacher will cover for vacant posts of responsibility and there will be limited cooperation with whole school inspection and subject inspection.

ASTI is seeking to coordinate action with the other second-level union, the TUI.

During a sometimes heated debate, delegates put pressure on the ASTI leadership to take a firmer stance on the cuts — the issue that dominated the three-day conference.

Several speakers were for industrial action, including a work-to-rule.

The plight of 3,000 part-time and temporary teachers, many of whom could lose their jobs in September, was also highlighted.

Mark Walsh from Bray, Co Wicklow, said he was covering for a teacher on maternity leave and had just two days’ work left before becoming unemployed.

He told conference: ‘I would be prepared to go on a one-day strike on this issue before the end of the year.

‘I want to see something serious done for non-permanent teachers.’

Rosario Walsh, a delegate from Nenagh, Co Tipperary, said she had to wait 22 years before being made permanent.

She warned there was a real danger that a new generation of teachers may never set foot in a classroom.

Addressing the platform, she asked: ‘These bright young people could be lost to the system. Are we going to stand idly by and let this happen?’

Research carried out by the ASTI in March 2009 provided a snap-shot of 20 second-level schools at a time when they were making decisions about subject provision and deployment of staffing resources for the coming school year.

The research found that on average these schools will have 2.6 less teachers in September 2009.

The schools surveyed stated that they would lose between one and five temporary and part-time teachers as a result of the education cutbacks.

This indicates that well over a thousand part-time and temporary second-level teachers face the prospect of losing their job or having their hours and income reduced significantly.

‘Temporary and part-time teachers make up a significant portion of the second-level teaching work force,’ ASTI General Secretary John White told the ASTI Annual Convention.

‘These teachers play a vital role in their schools ensuring the delivery of a broad curriculum and making an important contribution to pastoral care and extra curricular activity programmes.’

He continued: ‘There are so many reasons why the decision to increase the pupil-teacher ratio is utterly short-sighted.

‘Our economic recovery depends upon young people having access to quality education in adequately staffed schools.

‘Squeezing recently-qualified talented and motivated young second-level teachers out of the education service represents the squandering of a national resource.

‘It will damage young people’s education and hinder Ireland’s ability to recover from recession.’

In his speech to conference, White said: ‘In the climate of economic recession, much of the public discourse has been marked by an attempt to divide public and private sector workers.

‘In this discourse, public sector workers such as teachers and civil servants are almost made to feel as if they are parasites, sucking the life-blood out of the community.

‘Part of this feeling is being generated by commentators whose God has died, that is the God of the triumphant market ideology.

‘This ideology, at least in its virulent form, has been found wanting and rather than admit this, certain commentators have chosen to demonise the public service and those who work in it rather than focusing on the uninhibited gambling by the banks which was fostered by light touch regulation.

‘We reject this ideology.

‘Yes, we did have severe education cutbacks in the eighties but never have we had such cutbacks which are so deep and so wide-ranging and, indeed, so sudden.

‘Colleagues, I want to say to you here today that the ASTI does not accept these cutbacks and that we will fight and argue against them as long as they remain.

‘And I want to tell you colleagues that I always knew that this campaign would not be a short, sharp campaign – it will in all probability be an extended campaign over a number of years but we have the stomach for the fight and we intend to see these cuts reversed however long it takes. And we will see them reversed.’