November 2016        

The ASTI dispute: A teacher’s view

By an ASTI member

I am a teacher in my third year of teaching after receiving my postgraduate diploma in education (formerly the higher diploma in education) in 2013.
     From the outset it was difficult to find work in any school. I spent my first two years in schools where I had temporary contracts, not being paid for holidays—including those magical “three months’ holidays.” When I did have regular work it was not the full twenty-two hours weekly class time; a lot of the time I would wait for calls in the morning to come into a school as a substitute teacher.
     This is common practice for a lot of newly qualified teachers, and, as the ASTI writes, “they experience the double whammy of a part-time income and an inferior pay scale.” Ireland has a far higher proportion of temporary teaching positions at second level than the OECD TALIS (Teaching and Learning International Survey) average: 30 per cent, compared with the average of 15 per cent. This reality has meant that my yearly wage for my first two years was €23,000 and €26,000, respectively.
     Now in my third year I have found full-time work, but not permanent, which means insecurity in the years ahead. If I was in my third year, having started before 2011, I would be €8,888 better off. But at least I’ve three months’ summer holidays!
     These are my circumstances, which are repeated up and down the country to a greater or lesser degree for countless people who spent between four and six years in gaining the required qualifications, just to be attacked by the media hawks, such as Pat Kenny and other teacher-bashers, as soon as teachers begin to organise and agitate for their pay and conditions.
     The establishment would do well to remember the value that teachers provide to the children of this nation—not all perfect but doing their best, given the resources and curriculum available.
     As a newly qualified teacher, and fresh after coming off the picket line, it’s clear to me that the present dispute will be a battle to win public support. We see it and hear it in the news when any public dispute about pay and conditions arises. The livelihoods of those involved are splashed up for all and sundry to dissect, pass opinion on, and judge. The present dispute, between the secondary teachers’ union, ASTI, and the Department of Education, has not been spared the media onslaught, and teachers find themselves in the cross-hairs of the mouthpieces of the establishment.
     What makes the present dispute even more difficult is that there is a range of issues on which teachers have balloted for industrial action, which muddies the water somewhat for teachers on the picket line being able to articulate and justify their strike.
     The first issue, which is to the forefront and on which strike action has taken place, is the campaign for equal pay for equal work, where teachers entering the profession after 2011 are on a lower pay scale; those entering after 2012 are on different pay scales from those appointed and, more importantly, do not get the qualification allowances (a loss of €6,154 annually with an honours degree and HDip or PGDE).
     The second issue is that ASTI members have voted by an overwhelming majority to withdraw from supervision and substitution duties. The allowance for this was removed in 2011, and now they do not get paid for these extra hours they work to maintain the functioning of schools.
     The third issue is the vote by members to reject the Lansdowne Road Agreement, so withdrawing from the mandatory thirty-three Croke Park hours, which in effect directed teachers to add an additional thirty-three hours to their calendar year without getting paid. The Department of Education made sure to punish the ASTI for this rejection, outlining in its circular 0045/2016 the draconian measures for ASTI members only.
     The fourth issue is the continuing dispute over the new junior cycle reforms, which at present do not meet the real concerns of teachers over the feasibility of teaching the new programme, because of a massive increase in work load, which affects the quality of education provided to pupils.
     All these issues are not about “greedy” teachers looking for more money but are genuine concerns by workers about the inequality and deterioration in the pay and conditions of the teaching profession, especially for those who entered the profession after 2012.
     This dispute, in the context of the wider political economy, is part of the general crisis within the capitalist economic system, part of the strategy of undermining and attacking the pay and conditions of working people, whether in the public or the private sector. It stems from the austerity governments overseeing and implementing massive cuts in the public sector, a result of the private bank bail-out of 2008, costing the state more than €40 billion so far on the interest alone.
     The ASTI and the teachers themselves, through their families, friends, and networks, have to win public support to force the hand of the Government in conceding the demands of the teachers’ union. This is a battle just as crucial as that of the Dublin Bus workers, because it lays down another marker for the future of organised labour in Ireland. The CPI slogan of trade unions becoming either radical or redundant rings true on the picket line.

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