In a wide ranging address to 450 delegates this afternoon, Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) General Secretary John MacGabhann tackled a number of issues relating to education and industrial relations including the failure of policymakers to consult with teachers and lecturers, casualisation of the profession, the Junior Cycle dispute and the union’s strong opposition to forced mergers of institutes of technology.
TUI's Annual Congress is taking place at Whites Hotel in Wexford.
Key extracts set out below.
The failure to recognise practicing teachers and lecturers as a repository of the deepest expertise and wisdom and the associated failure to consult them in relation to changes of the deepest consequence for the public education system is not simply misguided or mistaken, it is stupid.
Consultation -Third Level
This failure to consult was evident at third level in the ham-fisted, overbearing attempts by the management in some Institutes of Technology to arrange shotgun marriages without so much as a by-your-leave to the putative partners. It has been egregiously evident in the arrogant behaviour of the management both of NUIG and of St. Angela’s College, Lough Gill, in relation to the incorporation of St. Angela’s into NUIG; a fact evidenced by the decision of our members in St. Angela’s to take industrial action, including strike action.
Consultation - Second level – Junior Cycle
At second level, the ongoing dispute in relation to the proposed changes at Junior Cycle also has its origins in a failure to consult with the profession. This dispute, as commentators have observed, is not about money for teachers. It is, in some respects, not at all a typical industrial relations dispute. At its core it is a dispute between, on the one hand, those who would impose their vision for the future of the Irish education system without properly consulting the practitioners, the experts, our members (you, colleagues) and, on the other hand, the practitioners, our members, who also have a vision for the future of the Irish education system, one that is dynamic and socially progressive. I accept that the majority of those on the other side of the argument genuinely believe that what they propose will enhance the educational experience of students. However, they undermine their own argument by their refusal, properly and comprehensively to consult and engage with the practitioners, those who will be charged with the responsibility of making change work.
At every point, we have been seeking a resolution but not on any desultory old terms or of a nature that would undermine the high quality of our public education system and the rich experience that it provides to our students.
Exclusion from Statutory Bodies
Another means employed to avoid appropriate consultation is exclusion of the union from statutory bodies - in the name of “modernising” governance structures. The TUI has strongly opposed this laicisation of employer and statutory bodies. Our position is clear: displacement of expert practitioners by luminaries from the corporate business sphere who, far too frequently, bring with them a mistrust of public service and public servants, is both wrong and foolish. Yet, this is the currently the dominant tendency in constituting Governing Bodies and statutory bodies, such as SOLAS. The TUI has consistently sought direct representation on SOLAS and the National Apprenticeship Council, for example, but to no avail.
Pay – ICTU/PSC
Initial discussions at the Public Services Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions indicate that the preferred approach of public sector unions is that the pension related deduction - the “pension levy” – a misnomer - should be unwound. This approach would also be consistent with our demand that the odious FEMPI legislation, which has been used repeatedly since 2009, must be rescinded.
It is our clear position in TUI that any increase in income should come without productivity conditions, without strings attached.
In this context, let us remember that, in addition to a sustained assault on the pay and pensions of public servants over the past seven years, there has been an equally sustained and more pernicious assault on your time. Time is your most precious and, at this point, most stretched asset. It is also, in industrial relations terms, demonstrably the new currency. No public servant is only a public servant. Each has a life to live, family and societal responsibilities to attend to and each has a right to personal time. Public service is a noble calling but it must not become public servitude. A person enslaved by his or her work becomes, by degrees, less effective as a person and, inevitably, less effective in his or her work.
Coerced hours damage morale
The reviled flex hours in Institutes of Technology are killing capacity and collapsing morale, at individual and institutional level. The argument that it is only two hours is a deception. Each hour of delivery involves a multiple of that hour in terms of associated professional work.
In further and adult education, additional hours were demanded under the HRA not because they were needed – they were not – but because DEPR, wanted blood, demanded that public servants be put in their place.
The experience at second level has been no different. The insistence on provision of the 33 Croke Park Agreement hours is killing the goose that laid the golden egg of voluntary and co-curricular involvement.
Another abomination of recent years, that has eroded morale is the casualisation of teaching and lecturing. The TUI has consistently demanded that the crisis, the disgrace, of casualised and precarious work in the teaching and lecturing profession, be tackled and remedied. As you know, in excess of 30% of our membership is in part-time and/or temporary work. Many live in abject income poverty, have no credit worthiness, cannot afford to buy accommodation and, increasingly, cannot afford to rent it.
A recent case that came to our attention concerned a single job that had been split three ways by management in order to have three new entrant teachers dance to a strident tune for a full year. Two of the three earned under €10,000 and the third earned marginally over € 11,000. They were, nonetheless, expected to maintain the highest standards of professional engagement and involvement. When not teaching, they were expected, without additional payment, to serve as indentured servants. This is not the way to treat teachers. This is not the way to treat any worker. This was not required by departmental circular or instruction. This was a whimsical exercise of power.
Initial Permanent Appointment
In this regard, I would ask you, when you return to your schools and colleges, to demand of management that they make initial appointments on a permanent basis.
Employment Control Framework
An instrument that has been used, not so much to casualise as to kill employment in the higher education sector, is the Employment Control Framework. This is yet another “emergency” measure that must be dropped.
Against the backdrop of this ECF absurdity, the demands of politicians and of the HEA that Irish higher education institutions become more effective and internationally competitive is cynical and certainly laughable. The plain truth of the matter is that higher education is not at all adequately funded and that you are at nothing if funding is unavailable. The TUI regards the availability of a high quality, publicly funded system of higher education as part of the social contract and as essential if we are to increase and enhance the intellectual, technical and professional capacity of the country, to position Ireland prominently as a knowledge economy.
Forced mergers of IoTs
Therefore, Irish governments should not, as they currently are doing, beggar Irish higher education institutions. Nor should they demand in legislation that institutes of technology merge in order to apply for the status of Technological Universities. The HEA has said that such mergers must be effected on a “shoestring”. That strongly suggests that the purpose of merger is not system enhancement but rationalisation. If we are right - and there is little to suggest we are not - the impact of such rationalisation will be negative.
Technological Universities legislation – TUI’s demand
I wish to put on record our conviction and demand that, as a first step and a necessary one the Minister should confirm that the Technological Universities legislation, yet to be enacted, will not give direct effect to the merger of DIT, the Institute of Technology Tallaght and the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown, will not oblige other institutes to merge before applying for Technological University status and will ensure that merger will not be forced through by local managements in opposition to the wishes of staff and other constituencies. We also demand that the regional mission, which is central to the institute of technology ethos, will be explicitly retained and that both institutes of technology and Technological Universities will be required to continue to provide programmes from level 6 through to level 10 and, in particular, to provide apprenticeship education.
Further and Adult Education
The implementation of the Education and Training Boards Act 2013, the establishment of SOLAS and the integration of what were FÁS Training Centres into the ETB structure have created a confluence of issues for our members in the ETB sector and particularly for those in further and adult education. The Union has liaised and negotiated with the project management office established by the Department to oversee the integration of the FÁS Training Centres and staff. Inevitably, there have been difficulties and discussions regarding the mapping of FÁS grades into ETB structures. Those difficulties relate, in particular, to grades such as Adult Education Officer, in terms of how they relate to grades in the FÁS structures. Regrettably, there have been occasions when local ETBs have taken precipitate and ill-advised actions – without consulting us - that have had a consequence of exacerbating tensions. The Union is currently disputing the view that acting Adult Education Officers can be appointed without regard to the qualification requirements set out in the circular letter for the grade.