Presidential Address at the opening of TUI’s Annual Congress 2016 – Tuesday 29th March 2016
Delivered by TUI President Gerry Quinn
Colleagues, we convene at our Annual Congress having spent a second year in succession campaigning, balloting, threatening and taking industrial action on a number of different fronts. At the end of my address to you at this point last year I said that TUI is a trade union on the move and let`s keep it that way. Colleagues you, and the wider membership, have been exemplary in your discipline and determination as we continue to be active and make progress. Our number of members has for the first time ever reached and exceeded 15, 000, an achievement which is in no small measure due to the strategic and collective leadership shown by you the Congress delegates. We have made advances in our different campaigns to protect our livelihoods, our profession and public education. We are committed to building on that progress and asserting our rights as teachers, lecturers, other educators and trade unionists. In doing so we are guided by our belief that education is both the soul of society and the engine of the economy.
Junior Cycle campaign
This time last year we were at the final stage of the Junior Cycle campaign before we successfully reached an agreement. The previous Minister planned the wholesale destruction of the externally assessed Junior Certificate, to be replaced by teachers assessing their own students for a school certificate. This would have created huge additional and unnecessary work, increased bureaucracy and more professional pressures and problems given the particular professional relationship between teachers and students at second-level. We achieved our key aims as set out by this Congress in motion 72 in 2013. These aims were to oppose school based assessment for Junior Cycle certification. We aimed to retain national certification and the external assessment procedures as organised by the SEC.
In addition, motion 72 set out the requirement that there be no additional workload for teachers. The Minister and the DES agreed to these demands which are enshrined in the negotiated documents. This was done firstly in May of 2015 when the negotiation teams of TUI and ASTI endorsed the document Junior Cycle Reform Joint Statement on Principles and Implementation as a basis for agreement. This document secures a national, SEC externally assessed, Junior Certificate. It also explicitly states that the various workload implications “will have to be accommodated within teacher timetables.” Later in July an appendix Professional Time To Support Implementation was agreed. This appendix makes pioneering provision for Professional Time within teachers` timetables. In total 22 hours of annual release from class contact time in order to support the implementation of the Junior Cycle. This also has the benefit of creating 1000s of additional teaching hours which can augment the teaching contracts of the 1000s of teachers on less than 22 hours.
There are additional measures to protect against additional workload. Subsequently in the Autumn TUI members involved with Junior Cycle voted strongly in favour of these documents.
A key educational idea underlying Junior Cycle Reform is Assessment for Learning or Formative Assessment. We never had a problem with that. Quite the opposite in fact, we support it and thousands of us are engaged in it all the time as we give constructive feedback for students to enable their learning. Nor are we opponents of teaching skills as well as knowledge. We already teach skills and want the system to provide for meaningful enhancement of this through syllabus development, and the provision of time and resources. However, as proven in the Junior Cycle campaign, we will never tolerate the use of any educational idea as a smokescreen for cuts and increased workloads. This is as true for our members in Third Level, Adult/Further Education and Youthreach as it is for those of us in second-level schools.
Our success in the Junior Cycle campaign was also about how we won the argument, as decided by the jury of public opinion, with regard to what is educationally suitable in the Irish cultural context. International ideas don’t necessarily export well. Also, had the state succeeded in devolving work and responsibility from the SEC to schools it would have marked a huge breakthrough for those who advocate the notion of school autonomy with its aims of increased competition, performance related pay and weakening of teacher trade unionism.
My final comments on the Junior Cycle are that I proposed and insisted on an Implementation Committee as part of the package of measures. This is achieved and will monitor the implementation of the reform and decide on interpretation of issues which arise. Critically only representatives of the unions and the DES are on this committee. We need to use this committee, which has been established, to ensure that the agreement delivers on its commitments and that there is no additional work. The lessons from the Junior Cycle campaign are the power of united action across teacher trade unions, the tactical use of strike action in combination with effective directives and winning public support with sound educational arguments.
Lansdowne Road Agreement
Colleagues, as we were balloting on the Junior Cycle proposals last Autumn, with branch meetings and regional meetings being organised to provide information, the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) between the Government and the ICTU was completed. Having already been produced by a series of meetings in Lansdowne House in the summer, during the subsequent period of time public sector unions signed up to it. The membership of some of these unions voted against but they went along with the decision of a majority of unions to accept. TUI, on the other hand, committed to continue campaigning until our issues are addressed. We will not be victims of the tyranny of the majority.
The LRA both extends the timeframe of the HRA until June 2018 and augments its terms by threatening to broaden the parameters for the prohibition of industrial action. However, while it sets out a limited restoration of pay it disgracefully ignores the many thousands of teachers and lecturers who are exploited and discriminated against in their pay. TUI will not tolerate indifference and inaction on the burning issue of young teachers and lecturers without work or struggling to make a living. We will not tolerate pay discrimination which effects those recruited since 2012. We will not tolerate income poverty. And we will not tolerate the wanton destruction of our profession.
The LRA is also deathly silent on the many other injuries to our members including the unfair and unsustainable workloads of lecturers in the IoTs and the absence of proper contracts and conditions of many who work in Further and Adult education. No intelligent observer of TUI could have been surprised that we voted so overwhelmingly against the LRA.
At the eleventh hour of our ballot on the LRA the Government published the disgraceful FEMPI Bill 2015. This was the latest instalment in draconian anti-worker legislation but was all the more repugnant given that while it is described as a financial emergency measure we were also being told that the economy was in strong recovery. Last year in 2015 there was an 8% increase in GDP and this year it is predicted to grow by a further 5%. FEMPI 2015 threatens that if we don’t agree to the LRA then our members will receive a permanent pay cut in the form of an increment freeze. TUI responded to this disproportionate punitive threat by being the only trade union to organise a protest outside of Leinster House as the bill was passed by the Dáil. However, in saying that it is important to publicly thank our colleagues in the ASTI for joining with us on the day.
In trying to drive us into the LRA, without our grievances being addressed, grievances which include a massive 35% cut in funding for the Institutes of Technology since 2008. This means that lecturer numbers fell by 535 while student numbers increased by 21,411. We are being told to acquiesce in the mistreatment, exploitation and discrimination against our members. This we won`t do and this is why we have campaigned, balloted, held a third level strike and threatened another by the rest of our membership. In doing all of this we took advantage of the window of opportunity before the General Election and secured meaningful ongoing engagement with the DES on our grievances. These issues and grievances are across all our sectors, from the exclusion of TUI from the decision making structures of SOLAS to the implementation of the Croke Park hours to the exclusion of Youthreach Resourse Persons from the benefit in the Ward Report of a CID after two years. These negotiations are ongoing and the outcome will have to be balloted on before long and in advance of the end of this academic year. It will be the decision of our members if this outcome adequately addresses what is so sorely missing from the LRA.
Our third level colleagues are to be applauded for sacrificing a day`s pay to help achieve the current engagement with the DES. All of our other members should be congratulated for been prepared to do the same. But the DES and the new Government, whenever it is put in place, need to be reminded that the rest of our industrial action has been deferred not supressed. The future, whether it be industrial unrest or industrial peace, depends on whether they chose to continue with the destructive path of austerity or have the courage to build education with us.
The LRA is not the only major problem we face. This year there have been other ballots for industrial action in the third level and Youthreach sectors. At third level the immediate prospect of unwanted and harmful merger meant industrial action by the Cork Colleges and Tralee IT Branches. In Dublin too there were ballots and industrial action in IT Blanchardstown. In an era of brutal education cutbacks merger has become a byword for more cuts. Shortly before the General Election the Government sought to rush through the Technological Universities Bill. Despite previous communications to the contrary from the DES, the Bill contained a number of additional threats including the lack of adequate protection for terms and conditions of employment and provision for local and regional education needs. However, the Technological Universities Bill did not pass the Report Stage of the Dáil. While the relatively short time period which remained before the dissolution of the Dáil provided enough time for the Bill to pass; this was prevented by the combined efforts of TUI Branches, members and officials and opposition TDs. TUI lobbied and provided, directly or indirectly, most of the 123 amendments for opposition education spokesperson and TDs. All of this meant that the bill was not passed by the Dáil before the General Election. In the meantime TUI has balloted and received a strong third level mandate for industrial action to seek national negotiations before there is any further movement on mergers or the Technological Universities Bill. We have issued a directive prohibiting cooperation with mergers and we continue to use our mandate as necessary to oppose any unwanted merger, to oppose any deterioration of members` conditions of service and to oppose the undermining of the position of academics and the provision of regionally balanced and equitable education and training services.
In November we held a successful ballot of Youthreach members against any imposition of additional or inappropriate work arising from the unilateral Youthreach Operator Guidelines.
In April 2015 Guidelines which purported to be final and for implementation were issued to Education and Training Boards. These guidelines contain no evidence of consideration by the DES of the Union`s 2010 submission. It is unacceptable that our views are ignored. It is all the more unacceptable that unilateral guidelines can be issued which have the clear potential to increase workload and to create inappropriate work. This is all the more a matter of concern given the hugely challenging circumstances in which our Youthreach colleagues work. They are to be commended and supported for their professionalism and contribution to their students and society, not taken for granted with managerialist dismissiveness. The DES must be made realise that TUI will insist on adequate consultation and negotiation as and where appropriate. We will not allow any of our members be turned into serfs whose function is to follow orders without question.
Further and Adult Education
TUI represents members in the Adult and Further Education sector, a sector which has proven to be hugely successful during its lifetime of about 30 years. Whether it`s PLC, VTOS or BTEI, TUI members are in the frontline with work which is of major social, cultural and economic importance. It is vital that teachers and the teaching profession are protected in this sector and by extension the quality of service for the students. Proper teaching contracts were appropriate and decent contracts and working conditions for all are long overdue. It is vital that education provision remains, that continuity of employment and stability of teaching are maintained and that proper conditions for educators and students are provided by a strong public education system. We have used our ballot for industrial action and the ongoing negotiations to press these issues and to seek direct TUI representation on the Board of SOLAS and the Apprenticeship Council. With regard to apprenticeships public education management bodies will have to up their game in making submissions to SOLAS.
Colleagues, the well-being of our younger members is of particular concern to us and TUI, as I noted earlier, is committed to challenging and correcting discrimination and income poverty. We are also concerned about the future of the teaching profession with regard to those graduates who may have considered a teaching career but have been dissuaded from doing so, not only because of discrimination and casualisation, but also because of the time and financial burden of a two year Professional Masters in Education followed by, on the insistence of the Teaching Council, 300 hours of probated teaching. We are for quality training and probation but we are against disproportionate time and financial demands on financially stretched students and their parents or guardians. Equally we are opposed to training and probation measures which will act as a further disincentive for those from working class communities entering the teaching profession. While the number of years required to qualify as a teacher have increased the number of years a student is entitled to receive the maintenance grant remains at four. The success of the teaching profession is based on values not valuables.
Colleagues I will turn my attention to other serious matters including pensions and sick leave on Wednesday.
Finally colleagues, much if not all of our work resonates with this the anniversary of the 1916 Rising. The 1916 watershed in Irish history had teachers and trade unionism at the heart of its planning and implementation. The principled idealism of the lost leaders is embodied in the historic and living document which is the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. For us in the TUI our agreed and written objective to develop structures and practices to promote equality and inclusion generally and in particular in the TUI has distinct echoes of the commitment in the proclamation that “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty and equal rights and equal opportunities of all its citizens”. Our own mission, as teachers, lecturers and educators, to the well-being of our students is clearly linked to the vision of the rebels to promote the prosperity and happiness of the whole nation. While the reference in the proclamation to cherishing all of the children equally has frequently been misinterpreted nevertheless the clear implication of the document is a commitment to equality and fairness. Cherishing all of the children equally refers to the vision of the United Irishmen, the predecessors of 1916, who aimed for unity between catholic, protestant and dissenter. But here too we find inspiration for education in the contemporary Irish context as we strive to create the circumstances for the original aim but also for its application to our increasingly multi-cultural society.
There are other parallels between where TUI finds itself today and the circumstances of 1916. The national independence struggle was part of a wider international stage where imperialist forces fought in what was then known as the Great War. But then, as now, the imperialist forces of the right sought to disguise their true motives with posturing about honourable intent. So there was talk about the defence of Belgium as a small nation. The irony was not lost on Ireland. Today we are faced with international forces which seek the weakening if not the actual destruction of trade unionism, but they do so using the rhetoric of a better life for all. Don’t be deceived, reject individualism, reject careerism and reject private providers, whether it be in the form of school autonomy, performance related pay or forced mergers. Support community and collegiality which are best articulated by collective trade union action for principles such as equal pay for equal work.