Irish fight for huge pay rise

3rd November 2000 at 00:00

Teachers' stand will stab Celtic Tiger in the foot, reports.

SECONDARY teachers have thrown down the gauntlet to the Irish government over pay and are taking action that will close schools for seven days this month.

Their union, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, is demanding a 30 per cent pay rise immediately but the government is to face them down in what promises to be a bitter dispute.

The government has little option. If it agrees to the union's demand, it will face a flood of claims from other public-sector groups. Such a concession would also mean the end of national agreements which have delivered moderate pay rises and improvements in infrastructure for more than a decade.

These agreements have helped to fuel the "Celtic Tiger" economy, reversing decades of emigration and driving down unemployment. But success has rapidly pushed up house prices as well as salaries for some groups such as those in financial services and computing. Teachers feel they have contributed to the growth but are not benefiting from it.

They voted nine to one in favour of a range of actions which could include blocking next June's exams. This month they are going on strike for one day on November 14. On six oter days, they plan to stop standing in for absent colleagues and supervising playtimes. Managers say that pupils will have to be kept at home.

The association's action is putting pressure on other teacher unions which are trying to stick with the new national agreement.

The association was not a party to the negotiations as it left the Irish Congress of Trade Unions earlier this year over pay. Under the new agreement, all teachers are getting an 8.5 per cent rise this month, 5.5 per cent next October and 4 per cent the following October.

However, inflation has risen much faster than expected to 6.2 per cent, with the result that the deal is under strain. The government has been forced to consider more tax and pay improvements for public-sector workers, but even this is not enough for the ASTI.

The deal also allows for teachers and other public-sector workers to seek additional rises under a new benchmarking mechanism where pay would be evaluated by reference to comparable groups.

The two other teacher unions are now under pressure from members to take industrial action and the government urgently needs to find a forum where meaningful talks can take place without sparking off a chain of other pay demands.

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