IRELAND: Irish teachers taking action for a 30 per cent rise blow a rare chance to win public support. John Walshe reports.
SECONDARY teachers have failed to seize a golden opportunity to win public support in their pay battle with the Irish government.
The teachers had been rapidly losing public support for industrial action taken in pursuit of a 30 per cent pay demand. Then the government announced substantial pay rises for ministers and TDs (MPs) as well as for other "top" people such as judges.
The increases were way above what was in the national pay agreement, the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF), which applies to most public and private-sector employees.
Suddenly, the teachers' 30 per cent demand did not seem so outrageous. This view was helped by reports of other deals in the private sector which clearly breached the PPF limits.
The teachers agreed to suspend their action and go into talks at the Labour Court following an intervention by the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. The court is expected to issue its recommendations shortly.
But in the meantime, the union has drawn strong criticism over its plans to thwart schools which are trying to make up for the ten days lost during the industrial action.
Schools had been arranging classes at lunch-time and on Saturday morings to compensate for the days lost. But the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland's executive decided this was unacceptable as it would negate the effects of the industrial action.
Strictly speaking, it cannot direct its members not to engage in such classes without a ballot, but the general secretary, Charlie Lennon, is writing to the union's school stewards Ireland urging them to discourage members from doing so.
The decision has angered the National Parents' Council, a state-subsidised body which was founded to represent the views of parents of school-going children.It has issued a strong statement attacking the teachers' decision as a slap in the face to both students and teachers.
The main opposition party, Fine Gael, has also issued an uncharacteristically strong statement criticising the teachers.
Everybody is anxiously awaiting the Labour Court's recommendations. The union has called an executive meeting for March 3 and if it is not satisfied by the court's deliberations, a series of rolling strikes are likely to resume and a ban on oral exams due to start three weeks later may be imposed.
It is reported that accountancy firms, university lecturers and retired teachers would be drafted in to mark exam papers if the union's action continues into the exam period.