In a wide ranging address to 475 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 campaign for pay equalisation, the funding crisis in Institutes of Technology and the Lansdowne Road Agreement.
TUI's Annual Congress is taking place at the Gleneagle Hotel in Killarney, Co Kerry.
The union has been engaged ‘in a number of significant and complementary campaigns’, he said. ‘Our strategy has been consistent and simple. It is based upon doing business robustly and honourably. The TUI will talk, will seek fair and sustainable resolution of issues.’
A selection of some key issues addressed during the address is set out below.
In relation to Junior Cycle we sought negotiations, took action to get them and then negotiated effectively. We secured our key objectives - the retention of state certification, external SEC assessment for state certification purposes and appropriate resourcing.
An appreciable collateral benefit of the professional time is that it represents a de facto improvement in the PTR or, put another way, an increase in the teacher allocation nationally of some 800 whole time equivalents. This will assist in increasing the hours of Part-time teachers.
Institute of Technology funding
In respect of our campaign on Higher Education we have drawn attention to the undeniable link between funding, staffing and the quality of service. It is not lost on the public or the media that the TUI has been telling undeniable truths. They are all ears whereas many politicians seem trapped in a pre-evolutionary state of ear-lessness which it to witlessness what cleanliness was once said to be to godliness. Let us be clear – higher education is in a state of crisis. Budgets cuts of 35%, staffing cuts of 10% at a time when students number have risen by 32%, tend to have this effect. The HEA recently attempted to suggest that quality has not yet suffered, implying somehow that these cuts are sustainable - even beneficial - not needing to be reversed. If the HEA believes this, it is away with the pixies. The members of this union know that the service they can offer students is suffering, that the experience of students is diminished and that a critical national resource is being shamefully depleted. They know that current workloads are oppressive and intolerable. The incoming government must, as a priority, address this crisis.
Technological Universities Bill
An incoming government will also need to amend the Technological Universities Bill, some parts of which are unacceptable. This battle is still being fought and the campaign will continue. Our focus has to be the houses of the Oireachtas. We have a clear mandate and our requirements are entirely reasonable. It is interesting to note that the HEA and DES insist that there are no forced mergers and that it is for the institutes to enlist if they choose to do so. The import of this is that we also have to intensify our efforts to influence local management. In this respect, a directive has issued that prohibits co-operation with merger activities.
Lest there is anybody who has not yet heard or understood the core issue, the moral imperative for the TUI, let me remind them. It is to secure parity of payment, to have all teachers paid on the same basis – at the pre-2011 level of payment, to end the odious discrimination against teachers who have entered the profession since 2012. This imperative informs all our actions. It is being pursued at the talks we are currently involved in with the Department. We have consistently raised the issue with our sister teacher unions, with the PSC. We raised it at the talks that led to the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) – where it was ignored. To a very large extent the failure of the LRA to address this matter was the reason that members of the TUI did not accept that agreement. This discrimination is a direct, knowing, cynical assault on the teaching profession – on the garda, on prison officers and on the fire service as well - by the DPER. It applied an additional and oppressive pay cut to these groups and to these alone. Of all, teachers were worst affected because, due to demographics, there are more of them and the value of their allowances was significant. We estimate the raw loss over a 40 year career to be of the order of €300K.
The issue of impoverishing teachers is inevitably connected to the quality of service to students. Teachers who are subject to very high standards in term of professional performance cannot afford rents, are being forced – by poverty - to give up part-time jobs, to emigrate, to moonlight. They cannot plan, have no creditworthiness, have their personal independence compromised. Why? Because government marked them out for especially punitive treatment and because employers - who have selected them at interview - treat them as galley slaves.
It will, of course, cost money to fix this matter but it will cost more if there is further delay. And that cost will not simply be monetary. It will also be the incalculable cost that will be incurred for society if government action creates a disaffected, angry, impoverished teaching force, if service to students lacks the continuity provided by invested, full-time teachers.
Separation from Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA)
An important element of the union’s strategic approach has been to maintain a clear separation between issues of key concern and the LRA. This was done in respect of the Junior Cycle and is now being done in relation to the key matters that were the subject of ballot and that are the focus of the current campaign and talks.
The LRA did not address our key concerns. As a consequence it was not accepted. Therefore, at present, we are party to the Haddington Road Agreement but not the Lansdowne Road Agreement. Now we are, as it were, approaching a crossroads.
The HRA expires at the end of June. Our members will be provided in advance of that – in May – with an opportunity to decide what happens next. If the union is not party to a collective agreement – the LRA being the only one available – particular consequences will ensue. Specifically, as provided for in the FEMPI Act 2015, an incremental freeze will apply for a two year period from July 2016 to June 2018 and restoration to the scale – in two moieties – in 2016/17 and 2017/18 - of a payment of €1539 in respect of S&S will not be made. The protection against compulsory redundancy and, its corollary, the redeployment schemes, will fall. Pay Restoration to those on €65K and over will not proceed and the HRA double-hit alleviation may be unwound. It has been intimated that the implementation of the Ward recommendations, of CL24/15, may be suspended (with prospective, not retrospective, effect) and that implementation of the Cush report (yet to issue) would not proceed. Matters addressed in the so-called Chairman’s notes to the LRA would also be affected. These include discussions regarding the terms and conditions of staff in adult education and assimilation to full lecturer scale of those who were formerly on the staff of Tipperary Institute.
The talks that we are currently engaged in would be suspended in this scenario. The limited alleviation measures that apply to Posts of Responsibility under the HRA would also be suspended – again with prospective effect. However, the extension of the Grace period to April 2019 would not be affected and the amelioration of the Pension Related Deduction that is provided for in the FEMPI act would apply. The 1% pay increase due from September 2017 will also apply.
In the context of members not being covered by a collective agreement, upon expiry of the HRA, withdrawal from commitments linked to the HRA (and CPA) arises for consideration. Most obviously, this would involve withdrawal from the “flex” hours at third level, from the 33 CPA/HRA hours at second level and from the two additional hours per week applied to Youthreach and to grades in further and adult education. Additionally, it seems logical that failure to restore payment to the scale in respect of S&S would lead to withdrawal from the S&S hours. For any or all of these withdrawals to take place under union directive a ballot of members is required under law. Otherwise, the protections of the Industrial Relations Acts would not apply.
Addressing key issues
As you know, we are currently engaged in discussions with the Department on the range of issues that were not addressed in the LRA and that were the subject of ballots in December and January and a strike by members at Third Level in February. The ballots were held with a view to securing meaningful engagement about issues such as underfunding, understaffing, excessive workload, casualisation and income poverty and appropriate terms of employment. That initial objective - meaningful engagement - was secured and, as a result, the strike scheduled for 24th February did not proceed. However, it must be noted that the mandate for industrial action remains.
Choice to be made
The engagement with the Department has commenced and is ongoing. Further meetings are scheduled for the weeks following Congress. Every effort will be made by the union to make real progress. If proposals emerge they will be brought back to you, the members, for decision by way of a ballot. The logic of the situation is that were there to be such proposals and were they to be acceptable to members the quid pro quo for the Department would be that the TUI would become party to the LRA.
On the other hand, if proposals do not emerge or if any proposals that may emerge are unacceptable to members, a ballot for industrial action will be required if the union is to have a mandate to issues directives to cover the post-HRA situation.
In relation to the engagement with the Department, I want to make it clear that we are not in a position to give any guarantees other than that we will do our level best to secure worthwhile progress.
The alternative to the current strategy of the union was to do nothing and simply to await expiry of the HRA. However, that seemed to the Executive - and to members if one judges such matters by participation in ballots – not to be what the union should do. Our members have identified serious issues that demand action. The critical underfunding and understaffing of Institutes couldn’t simply be ignored. Nor could the unacceptable, casualised conditions endured by recently appointed teachers. The absence of appropriate conditions for members in further and adult education is a further affront. The moratorium on appointment to posts of responsibility is crippling school capacity to support students.
The TUI has been pro-active, has explored and, where possible, exploited the possibilities of the prevailing political environment. We have taken risks, but calculated ones. If they bear fruit so much the better but we believe that, in any event, it is important to seek to make progress, to shape events and not to have them always shape us.
From the perspective of members, we are attempting to provide a real choice by making real progress. One way or the other, the decision will be in your hands.
Tax is good for us
The implication of the election outcome needs to be fully and honestly explained and we, as trade unionists and public servants, must be honest with ourselves and with the public. If we want what our vote implies -good public services – we must recognise that currently do not have a tax take that gets this. We need to increase the tax take, not reduce it. How to do this involves political choice.
Taxation must be progressive. Its purpose must be redistributive – so that children are not imprisoned by the lot of their parents, locked into poverty. There is an assumption - often used as an argument for inequality - that those who earn most work hardest and that those who earn least work least and occupy their lowly positions because of moral turpitude. Human history says otherwise. Political systems are too frequently used to create and then to maintain inequality.
In this context we have to make choices. For example, the USC is progressive and redistributive but is popularly described as hated - by those who hate taxation that is progressive and redistributive, those same people who will make a case very readily for indirect taxation that hits them nary a blow.
Higher Education Levy
We are also warned not to breathe a word about corporation tax – lest the beast be angered and devour us. We know that our low headline rate of 12.5% is not the effective rate. We know that third level education is critically underfunded. Consider who benefits hugely from that education service. Corporations. We are repeatedly told that FDI comes our way in large part because of the rich pool of graduates. Let’s ask corporations politely but firmly to contribute modestly - a 1% levy would have yielded almost €400m in 2015.
We are also warned that we will scare away the geniuses whom we need if we don’t ameliorate tax on the well paid. There is a deep arrogance in the assumption of dependency on a small mobile elite who are motivated only by what they can earn. Teachers have genius and are largely motivated by what they can contribute. They ask for modest earnings and are upbraided for doing so.
By contrast with the express wish of the people we have blind adherence to free market ideology and the cult of low taxation by too many in government. This needs to change.
The incoming Council will have to contend with weighty issues, none more so than the commencement of Part 5 of the Act - the Investigative and Disciplinary Powers of the Council. The TUI will insist on fair and due process for everybody involved in processes under Part 5. We will not countenance exemplary sanctions designed to slake any perceived thirst for blood. Fairness and proportionality is what all concerned deserve – nothing less.