TUI President warns of threat posed to trade union movement by pay inequality

By piofficer, Friday, 7th July 2017 | 0 comments

Motion 42 on investment in education, proposed by TUI at ICTU's Biennial Delegate Conference 2017 this week, was unanimously passed.

In proposing it, President Joanne Irwin warned that pay inequality poses an existential threat to the trade union movement. Her comments are set out below.

Our motion focuses on the critical need for investment in education and how that investment should be directed.  The backdrop, as our motion states, is that ‘investment in education was severely restricted during the period of austerity’. 

It is universally accepted that there is a positive relationship between educational attainment and personal and societal wellbeing, including economic wellbeing.  If we invest in education we will have a highly skilled labour pool and high end jobs, which, in turn, creates the tax base needed to sustain a thriving society.

I will focus on one aspect of the motion - the effect of undermining the morale of educators.  It is a simple fact that if you undermine the morale of the profession you will get a damagingly high churn of teachers/lecturers/educators, fractured service for students and a breakdown of collegiality and continuity. 

81% of respondents to a recent TUI survey said that differentiated discriminatory pay rates have had a very negative effect on staff morale in their school.  In that same survey, 30% of recent entrants to post-primary teaching believe it is unlikely that they will still be in the profession in ten years’ time.  These responses indicate a real risk of a slide to chaos.

The most damaging blow to morale and the one that most fractured solidarity and collegiality was the introduction of low and discriminatory pay scales for those appointed since 2011.

Because student numbers are growing, teacher numbers are growing accordingly.  The issue, therefore, is more immediate and pronounced in the teacher unions than in other unions.

I can tell you that if unchecked and un-remedied, pay inequality inflicts damage. It destroys trust and it undermines the credibility of the affected unions and the Trade Union movement among young teachers/workers.

I can guarantee that what we are now experiencing in teacher unions you will experience in other unions before long.  It is undoubtedly necessary for us and it would be wise for you to prevent that damage rather than to suffer it.  After all, of some 28,000 new entrants to the public sector since 2011, over half are not in the education sector.

On Tuesday, we heard repeated demands that we organise, mobilise and inspire.  One speaker said we should ask young members what issues they have.  We have asked that question of our younger members and we know the answer. Pay equity.

Ask yourself the question that young teachers and other young workers are asking – why should we align to a Trade Union movement that tolerates discrimination?  What is your answer to that question?

If establishing pay parity based on the applicable 2011 pay rates is considered costly, consider the cost for the Trade Union movement of not establishing pay parity. Young workers will not be attracted to join. Density will fall.  Organisation will suffer.  Pay rates and conditions will continue to slide.  This is genuinely an existential issue for this movement, a fundamental test of solidarity, an acid test of our commitment to justice.  Pay parity is needed and I welcome the commitment given by Patricia King, General Secretary yesterday.  We need this issue addressed, and addressed now.

In teaching, the warning signs are clear.  The profession is becoming less and less attractive. The number of applications for the professional teacher training qualification – the PME (Professional Masters in Education) has halved, a dramatic drop.  Teachers of particular subjects are as rare as hen’s teeth, they cannot be found.  We are aware of instances where there are no applicants for posts in certain subject areas such as Irish, Home Economics, Modern Languages and the Sciences. Yesterday alone, we learned of one Education and Training Board that has advertised for eight teachers of Irish jobs and that to date has received no applicants.

In further and adult education, the hugely increasing, ever changing demands are viewed with bitter irony by our members who have been subject to a corrosive moratorium and discriminatory pay rates.

As this motion makes clear, our demands for our younger members are not selfish.  They are motivated by a desire to provide publicly funded, state mandated education of the highest quality to every citizen and we explicitly ask for targeting of investment towards those with greatest needs or who are suffering the most acute disadvantage.

Each and every one of our members want high-quality, inclusive education provision that is appropriately supported by public investment.

Our focus is on an education in, of, for and by the community and we see teachers, lecturers and other educators as an essential part of that community.

Please support the motion.

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