THE Irish secondary teachers' union has announced that members will refuse to cover for absent colleagues or to supervise playgrounds from March 4. On previous occasions such a ban led to school closures and unruly street protests by pupils.
The education minister Dr Michael Woods has expressed dismay over the decision which follows a ballot of members on a government offer of E34 (pound;21) an hour for the work which teachers have traditionally done for nothing.
"The country will be disappointed at the low turnout in the ballot which meant that just 31 per cent of members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland voted to reject the offer," he said in a strong reaction to the union's decision. Less than half the members (44 per cent) voted.
His officials and school managerial authorities are holding urgent talks about putting an alternative system in place before the action by ASTI members begins.
The intention is to give funds directly to school boards of management to hire the necessary staff.
But the managers say it will be difficult, if not impossible, to put a system in place in the time available. "In a high employment economy sourcing suitable personnel and training them will be a difficult and time-consuming task and will place heavy burdens on local school management," said their spokesperson, George O'Callaghan.
Even if people can be found to supervise playgrounds during breaktime, schools face a bigger challenge in getting teachers to substitute for absent colleagues. "It's hard enough to find part-time teachers for officially approved substitution," said Mr O'Callaghan.
The union rejected the offer partly because the money was not pensionable but also because of disappointment over the lack of progress on its two-year-old campaign for a 30 per cent pay rise.