I wanted to stay away from commenting on what our union is up to for a while because I didn’t want to leave myself open to charges of sour grapes, or being a sore loser. So I’m going to confine myself to commenting in this post on the upcoming ASTI ballot on 33 Croke Park hours.
First it has to be said that on all fronts, most notably on Junior Cycle and the Lansdowne Road Agreement, there has been no movement and little engagement. This is despite the pressing need to develop a response, a credible response, on the slow decline of teaching as a profession held in high regard: cuts to pensions and new entrants pay (not to mention casualisation), the decimation of middle management in schools and the removal or downgrading of guidance in many schools. In fact, the recent offer of talks on a wide range of these issues was declined by the ASTI. There is no good reason not to listen to what your opposition wants to say. If you are not talking, you are not representing your members, and if you are not talking because you think you know what the other side will say before they say it, you are irresponsible. Genuine trade unionists prize advantageous resolution above all else, but it appears clear that the ASTI leadership now wants not to resolve any of the above issues. For this leadership, action can wait. It will be promised, but it will never happen, rather the issue, whichever issue it is, will be strung out without resolution until members are forced into a corner and have to accept an offer without having taken the action promised. This is what happened on the Haddington Road Agreement, an agreement entered into after repeated negotiation achieved all that could be achieved without a single day’s strike action. There is no chance of resolving any of the issue on which we have decided to simultaneously fight if we are only talking to ourselves. The only conclusion reachable is that resolution is no longer on the agenda for the do-nothings running the show and isolation is preferable to communication.
On the Ballot
With a disillusioned and disconnected membership, it is essential they know the implications of their decisions, particularly when being outside an agreement will put many vulnerable teachers in grave danger. There is a duty to members to inform them fully, if information is withheld a legal challenge is possible.
I believe that incomplete information has been published for members in advance of the ballot. Below I will try to fill in the gaps.
‘Members will be asked to vote Yes or No to the following question: Are you in favour of authorising ASTI Standing Committee to direct members not to fulfil the 33 Croke Park hours upon completion of the Haddington Road Agreement?’
None of the reasons presented in the latest Nuacht for withdrawal from the Croke Park hours will raise a quibble from me. That they are part of HRA and it is concluding unless unions accept LRA as an extension of the earlier agreement is true. The ASTI has not accepted the agreement and has always maintained the work represents a huge imposition on teachers, partly because of its prescriptive nature, and partly because it is largely unproductive. The fact that extracurricular work cannot be counted towards the delivery of CP hours is a bugbear for many of us who coach teams, train debaters, conduct choirs or produce the school play.
It is when we come to the implications of withdrawal from 33 Croke Park hours that the problems with information for members begin. We are all clear that members will not be comprehended by the terms of a collective agreement. The Nuacht makes it clear that FEMPI legislation will apply to those outside LRA. (There is, by the way, no chance of fighting FEMPI while outside an agreement, having antagonised ICTU and other public sector unions in a show of braggadocio).
(information not included in the latest Nuacht in bold)
The Salary increase of €1,000 for teachers earning less than 65,000, excluding allowances on 1 September 2017 will not be paid.
An increase in pay for those earning less than €24,000 (annualised) of 2.5% and for those earning less than €31,000 (annualised) of 1% will not be available.
Half of the previous higher pay cut for those earning €65,000+ to be restored on 1st April 2017 and the other half on 1st June 2018 under HRA will not be paid.
It is also worth pointing out that the ASTI was told in October that these increases would be paid except in the event of a repudiation of the agreement. A Yes vote amounts to a repudiation.
Increments will be frozen until at least 1 July 2018, without a collective agreement FEMPI legislation becomes the method for dealing with ASTI members, and it could be amended again in 2018 to extend the freeze. No table of comparison for what this would mean for salaries over a short or extended period is provided.
There will be no addition of the equivalent of the Supervision and Substitution allowance to the pay scale. This means that the S&S allowance of €1,592 – half on 1 September 2016 and half on 1 September 2017 – will not be paid. There is no calculation as to how much this unpaid flat-rate, pensionable amount would amount to over the course of a teacher’s career. My own calculation is that it would cost me between a half and three-quarters of a year’s pay over the remainder of my career. A flat -rate increase of course benefits lower paid teachers and new entrants. I calculate that without S&S restoration and with an incremental freeze, a teacher below the tenth point of the salary scale could lose €6-7,000 by 2018 . FEMPI will specifically be used to prevent the delivery of this payment, and we would be delivering S&S for free, for the length of our careers with no chance of an opt out.
Teachers will lose the alleviation of the ‘double hit’ for those earning in excess of €65,000. Those who lost the S&S allowance and were also subject to the salary reduction for high earners had their reduction alleviated by the amount of the S&S allowance.
The pay reduction for teachers earning over €65,000 will not be reversed because if HRA doesn’t exist, the government can argue that failure to reach a succeeding agreement allows for the means there exists no facility for paying it.
The publication of various pay scales for comparison of implications on the pay of members in the Nuacht was standard information in the past, I have completed some basic calculations above, but everyone would be affected differently and each voter should look at the implications for salary in voting yes or no.
Will long service allowance continue to be paid? No mention of it in the Nuacht.
Will CIDs revert to the pre-Ward report 3 or 4 year awards? Four years is the norm elsewhere in the Public Service. It appears the ASTI has advice on this which was not shared with members. It is likely that, given recent comments by DES officials that this is being considered.
There is no mention of where the redeployment scheme will stand. HRA gave protection from redundancy to public servants. Three years ago, while the ASTI opposed HRA, a list of schools over quota was published by the DES in order to make clear who might be targeted for redundancy, a disgraceful move no doubt, but we hadn’t repudiated an agreement then, as we might now. Where the redeployment scheme stands after our decision, yes or no, is unclear.
Parent-teacher meetings and Staff meetings: If we are outside an agreement, what happens to parent-teacher meetings? What agreement covers them and in/out staff meetings? Why aren’t we balloting to withdraw from 45 hours, rather than 33?
Pension related deductions are not mentioned.
The Grace Period for retirees which effectively extends to September 2018 would also be under threat. With hundreds retiring every year, the Nuacht makes no mention of how the result of a ballot would affect this option to retire on the pre-cut salary.
No mention is made of dispute resolution either. In normal circumstances, the WRC would adjudicate in disputes, large and small, without that route, the ASTI might have to resort to the courts directly or negotiate directly with the DES. That does not seem to be on the agenda for any issue at the moment.
The procedures for balloting sent to Stewards make no mention of holding a meeting to discuss the issue prior to voting. Branches have been encouraged to hold information meetings. It remains to be seen how well attended they will be.
I don’t want to tell you how to vote this time, I can see why teachers might want to see the back of Croke Park hours, but I believe that they will only go temporarily. If we are ever to begin discussions with the DES again, they will be back on the table.
The time for a strategy with a clear purpose is long gone.