Another ballot, another crucial decision

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Information. It’s what teachers trade in. We gather it, we gauge it, balance it, we pass it on in the hope that we have taught our students how to best use it. That’s what this blogpost is about, information. You teachers, ASTI members deserve to make a decision about this latest offer without prejudice.

The assertion that we are voting on the same offer again needs putting to bed first. It is plain to see that this offer is different, our rules say we must put it to a ballot. That is it. Voting on the same offer may arise if we reject this time and we have to revisit the decision if further industrial action doesn’t have the desired effect.

It is reasonable in my view to assume that our negotiators have achieved something no other union has achieved: an offer that goes beyond what the Haddington Road Agreement originally held. Holding out now for more blood from the stone in my view is not a strategy.

What the Government plan to do in the event of a rejection of this offer is clear: they intend to impose an unpaid, compulsory Supervision and Substitution scheme from mid-January. Our response to that will have to be a stepping up of our industrial action. There are a few options open to us at this stage: the first is refusing to do that S&S and probably closing schools in the absence of student supervision (this happened during the 2001-2 dispute); we could be locked out (as a history teacher, for me this would be both ironic and welcome in this centenary year) or possibly replaced by outside supervisors; we would then be faced with taking strike action. There are those who want to vote no and claim that these are not the only options, that we could volunteer to supervise outside the scheme to keep schools open (this for me seems the same as voting yes), and there are those who want to vote no and never wanted the word ‘strike’ to appear on the ballot paper back in September. I will work to rule, refuse to do S&S in the circumstances outlined above and I am ready to go on strike if there is a no vote but for people to say these are not part of our strategy in the event of a no vote is not true.

From the beginning some of us have insisted on keeping the ASTI response to Junior Cycle reform out of the tangles of the HRA. That has been achieved. If they were enmeshed and members accepted the offer, there would be no alternative  but to accept this deeply flawed, rushed and ill resourced reform. As it stands now we can still resist it, constructively or even destructively if we aren’t listened to by the Minister. The course of that resistance will be in our hands, where it belongs.

This offer contains too many promises for my liking. There are various committees, expert groups and consultation groups as well as the promise of all cuts being restored in time. I don’t trust them. But it will be up to us on each of those committees and in every negotiation to get the best for our members as soon as we possibly can. I do trust our people, if we don’t trust our own, we can pull down the shutters now.

CEC has recommended a rejection of the offer. I am a member of CEC by virtue of my election to Standing Committee. I would have preferred if as a ‘union leader’ to have been able to consult the members in my Branch and in my Region in advance of going to that CEC meeting on Saturday, November 16th. By that time Standing Committee had spent Monday, Thursday and Friday of that week in session, isolated from members for the most part and most CEC members didn’t get documents for the meeting until the Wednesday before. The decision was made too quickly, without time to consult and without time to consider our options. Maybe CEC would have made the same decision, but an extra week would not have hurt us.

So. There are teachers who wanted to preserve the pensionable payments they made out of their Supervision and Substitution allowance and they are rightly aggrieved at being forced to do S&S. There are those who feel strongly that they are being asked to pay not to do S&S when the never did it in the first place (I’m in that situation). If these are the only considerations for you and you feel you are not being fairly treated, you should reject the offer.

There are of course people who voted yes the last time. Maybe they want earlier CIDs or a better pay scale, maybe they want something done about casualisation or maybe they don’t want to fight any more. These people are our members too and if there is a no vote we will have provide these people with a home and bring everybody with us. Writing them off is a recipe for disaster.

But there is another more troubling group then these ‘hard no’ or ‘hard yes’ voters, the 45% who didn’t vote the last time. When all this comes to an end, and it will end one way or another around a table somewhere, we have other issues to deal with. One of the biggest is the disengagement of many of our members. When almost half of our members don’t vote and branch meetings are sparsely attended in a crisis we need to find better ways to speak to all our members and involve them in our union. Because teachers need a union but a teacher union needs its members engaged and involved.

Below I’ve laid out the facts, complicated as they are, about what is on the table since a fresh offer was negotiated in November between the ASTI and the representatives of the Department of Education. It represents the best on offer right now, you don’t have to like it, but you just have to read it, decide and please vote.

Substitution & Supervision
If ASTI members accept the offer in the ballot:
any teacher can opt out of S&S with the exception of those who have being putting a portion of their S&S payment into a pension fund in 2012/13 school year. For these ‘pensionable teachers’ S&S is compulsory.
the cut that follows from an opt out is €1769 p.a. for pre-1 January 2011 entrants or €1,592 for post-31 December 2010 entrants. If you opt out the cut will be permanent and you cannot subsequently opt in and out of S&S.
the ‘adjustment’ takes effect on January 1st 2014, teachers will have one month to decide.
the promise of restoring the S&S payment in two halves in 2017 and 2018 to everyone, whether opting or out, is still there. This restoration will amount to €796 x 2 (€1592) and is a permanent pensionable restoration.
effectively opting out for a pre 2011 teacher would cost €1769 in 2014, 2015 and 2016, €973 in 2017, €973 in 2018 and €177 every year until retirement except that 1769 is a fixed figure whereas the rest of salary will continuing growing.

Croke Park Hours
There is an acceptance that the hours are only essential for staff meetings, parent-teacher meetings and school planning.

If ASTI members accept the offer in the ballot:
a review of what the hours are to be used for would take place involving the Department, the unions and management bodies in early 2014, and it’s recommendations are to be implemented in Sept 2014.
The review will consider if the hours can be used by individuals, groups or on a whole-school basis.

Junior Cycle Reform

If ASTI members accept the offer in the ballot:
there will be a parallel Junior Cycle process started 25 Nov
A working group is being set up on reform to recommend how to address the concerns raised by the ASTI.
The initial meeting would be with the ASTI, meetings with other parties will follow.

Increments
If ASTI members accept the offer in the ballot:
any pay lost due to incremental freeze would be refunded
all original incremental dates in HRA will be reinstated.

Higher pay
The HRA applies a 5.5% pay cut to all earners over €65,000 pa. This cut applied to those within HRA was reduced by €1769 because the S&S payment was no longer available.

If ASTI members accept the offer in the ballot:
they would be refunded the above payment for the length of time since July 2013, approx €900
the above cut is to be restored in 2017/18 for all teachers who have accepted the offers.

New entrants, CIDs, Casualisation, Post of Responsibilty
Those who have signed up to HRA and joined the profession in 2011/2012 have a better pay scale, it can amount up to €2,466 per year better than the equivalent ASTI teacher if the worse scale and FEMPI cuts are combined.
If ASTI teachers accept the offer in the ballot:
these new entrants would get a refund of the difference between FEMPI/worse scale and new pay scale backdated to July 1st.
the requirement for a CID reduced from 4 to 3 years from September 1st 2013 onwards.
an expert group on the issue of fixed term and part time teachers will meet in January 2014.
after the consultation a panel for such teachers will be in place for next September.
there is a provision for 300 Assistant Principal posts to be provided this year and further post from next September.

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