In a wide-ranging address to 500 delegates in Wexford this afternoon, Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) General Secretary John MacGabhann tackled a number of issues relating to education and industrial relations including pay discrimination, workload and the housing crisis.
TUI's Annual Congress is taking place at the Clayton Whites Hotel, Wexford this week.
A selection of some key issues addressed is set out below.
Pay Talks / Pay Equity
The Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA) is deeply flawed. Since the talks concluded, our members – as recommended by the Executive - voted not to accept the agreement. Since our ballot we have striven to build an increased momentum to have pay inequality addressed and to keep the unacceptability of discriminatory pay rates to the fore in public discourse. We are determined to persuade government to accept that pay parity must be established without delay. Our stance has had a clear impact on other unions which are coming round, however belatedly, to our way of thinking. We have a mandate for industrial action and the motion to be considered by the other teacher unions this afternoon will we trust bring them closer to securing a similar mandate. The issue will be front and centre until resolved and we are leading the way in pursuit of that resolution.
New entrant pay – strategy
Conscious of the need to circumvent the ground rules of the PSSA, the TUI Executive Committee adopted the strategic approach that has previously yielded results for members. We tested section 4 for elasticity and opened a debate about latent possibilities. Our stance is designed to create opportunities, to lead the demand for pay equity - an issue of fundamental importance, a moral imperative.
We make no apologies for seeking justice for our members - now. Our approach is to deal with the present government rather than a government yet unknown, unformed. We believe that 7 years of injustice has very bad but that ten years of that injustice would be much worse.
Teachers – disproportionate cuts
There is theatrical flapping of wings by government and its media apologists as they tell the nation in pained tones and with much olagóning that fixing this for teachers is expensive - the thieving magpie bemoaning the burden of having to carry back to its owner the loot it lifted. The Government, chose to take more from teachers than it did from others. It returned to the scene of the crime – not once but twice. It plundered our members’ pay more often, more steeply. Restitution therefore is more costly. Let Government regard it as the price of justice, the necessary cost of equality.
You will have noticed colleagues that there is no shortage of government ministers and spokespersons to declare that they value teachers. Not enough they don’t! Some 11% less if you are a recent entrant. So much for all the lip service and palaver. Colleagues you have reason to be wary whenever cherubic choirs of government Spinisters sing your praises.
Colleagues – remember that it was politicians who decided to impose these cuts and that it is politicians who must be made to see the error of their ways. A significant advance made because of the pressure we in TUI have exerted is that the major parties, other than Fine Gael, have explicitly accepted that pay equality must be restored. FF and Sinn Fein have indicated that they will not support a budget for 2019 that does not move in that direction.
The membership of TUI is broadly reflective of the political spectrum of the country. We have members and supporters of all parties and none in the TUI. I now ask you to bend your efforts to securing a resolution in terms of pay equality. Lobby your local political representatives – especially TDs and Senators, incumbent and wannabe. Use you party affiliation, whatever it may be, proactively to demand pay equality. Tell your party colleagues that you, your family and friends will withhold all support – financial and practical – from the party and all its candidates until and unless justice is served. Tell them that you will not organise, canvass or vote for them until they do the right thing. Tell them that with conviction and follow through on what you say.
Workload – third level flex hour
Once again this year I wish to raise the issue of workload. And let us start with the running sore that is the flex hour. Even without the flex hour, our third level members are being asked to carry an insupportable and intolerable workload. Each hour of lecturing requires a multiple of that hour in terms of preparation, research, assessment. We have an agreement with government that the second flex hour will be re-designated. That has not yet happened. However, colleagues, one way or the other, you will not be lecturing for that flex hour from September. The ballot outcome will confirm this. Government needs to wise up and honour the agreements it makes with us. We negotiated an agreement in good faith and we expect and demand implementation of negotiated agreements. If not, why would the union trust to negotiations?
Workload - bureaucracy
A central element of the TUI’s commitment to members is our determination to protect you against the further erosion of your personal time by workload that seems always to be increasing; each increase bringing you further from your core function as a teacher/lecturer and further into the mire of bureaucracy-for-its-own-sake. We have, therefore, the phenomenon in every school, college and centre of multiple returns of data being required rather than one return put to multiple uses. Our members end up with a queasy feeling that they are working primarily for external agencies rather than for their students.
Workload – on-line availability
An associated element of workload that threatens your time is what is becoming the routine expectation of management (especially school management) that you are constantly checking your emails and texts for missives from on high. Bless your innocence if you want personal time, a break from your work, time for friends and family. Being on call is leading to a new type of slavery and perhaps a new type of celibacy as well. The best answer to management’s shrill demand for instantaneous response is your absolute silence. Don’t answer. Quell your curiosity. Tomorrow is soon enough.
Online is the new frontier and it is lawless. Avoid 24/7 virtual, incorporeal availability. There is no obligation to flatter management’s notions of its own importance by slavishly rushing to respond; there is nothing in contract that allows such command and control.
Notwithstanding occasional difficulties or misunderstandings, the plain fact of the matter is that the TUI and ASTI generally work together extremely well and effectively.
A salient point to be gleaned from the past year is the extent to which the teacher unions cooperated in relation to key issues such as new entrant pay. Evidence of that will be available to you later today in the joint motion that is to be discussed. The unions have also jointly initiated, funded and participated in the health and safety training programme that has been conducted since the commencement of the current school/academic year. Where we could do so, the unions made joint submissions to external bodies. The November 2017 Submission to the Public Service Pay Commission in respect of the Recruitment and Retention of Teachers is a notable case in point.
TUI – of central importance
To the Department and sundry relevant others we say; consult us. We are not just regular stakeholders, another interested party. We are central, critical to the entire system of public education and its quality. You can consult jockeys, trainers, bookies, punters, farriers and grooms about the horse but if the horse baulks you lose your communion money.
If you don’t consult us, you will dwell in ignorance of the important facts, deaf to the lived experience of the experts. You will reach the wrong conclusions, make the wrong decisions and damage a very fine public education service. Why would you want to do that?
Irish society is failing a rudimentary test of a civilised modern society. Children are affected by this, as we see every day in our schools. Many have had scant if any experience of that most basic facility – a home. They are consigned instead to a twilight zone where making and keeping friends is difficult and having privacy and stability impossible. The language we use becomes charged with bitter irony - Home work, Home School Community Liaison, community. This denial of their rights to children can be remedied but not if government continues to blunder with the same mulish obstinacy down the ideological path it has taken to date.
Delegates, I know that many of our members have been at the messy end of price gouging by landlords, have been humiliated by banks in their search for mortgages, or robbed blind if you they bounced from a tracker mortgage.
ICTU – Charter for housing rights
The ICTU, as the largest civil society organisation on the island, has led a campaign for a response to the housing crisis that is local authority led. In its Charter for Housing Rights the ICTU has made credible, costed proposals as to how the necessary finance for this can be raised. It has acted in concert with the National Homeless and Housing Coalition. It supports and I would urge you to support the demonstration on Saturday next, April 7th.
US – Inspirational students and teachers
The students and teachers of the US have given us reason to take heart. We know that our colleague teachers in the US must be doing something right when we witness the inspirational reaction of students and teachers to the slaughter in Florida and elsewhere. We salute the bravery, humanity and idealism of those young people. We declare solidarity with the teachers of the US whose commitment to enlightenment is so profoundly richer than the primitivism of their leader. Our duty, as educators, is utterly to oppose the brutalisation of society that the current leader of the so-called Free world promotes.
The members of the University and College Union, a sister union in the British and Irish Group of Teacher Unions, are engaged in industrial action - including, to date, two weeks of strike action - in their campaign to prevent the cessation of their Defined Benefit pension scheme.
The President of the UCU – Joanna de Groot is here with us today. I would ask you delegates to welcome her and show TUI’s solidarity with the UCU.