Unions settle after two-year tussle

15th March 1996 at 00:00
Irish teacher unions have pulled off a remarkable Pounds 70 million deal with the government after two years of difficult negotiations.

One prominent economic commentator has described it as a "lesson in daylight robbery" while some educational commentators are saying it will lead to a revolution in school management.

Two of the unions are recommending that their members accept the complex package but the third is split. The negotiations started out in response to a promise from education minister Niamh Bhreathnach that she would introduce an early retirement scheme for teachers.

The finance ministry was known to be concerned at the prospect of knock-on demands from other groups of public-sector workers and sought to limit any deal. The unions then decided to broaden the negotiations to deal with longstanding claims for improved pay and allowances.

They have secured early retirement for 300 teachers a year who are "burnt out" or surplus to requirements. There is also provision for early retirement for all teachers at age 55 provided they have 35 years service; those aged 55 and over who remain teaching will get an extra Pounds 1,000 a year.

The length of the salary scale has been reduced, but specialist teachers will get increased qualification allowances. More promotion posts will be created with increased allowances.

In return the teachers must make some productivity concessions. For instance, seniority will no longer be the sole criterion to determine the most suitable candidate for middle-management posts as it is in many schools at present.

People will be chosen on the basis of competitive interview although the value of experience will be recognised. Definite duties will be attached to each post. All teachers will have to give a commitment to 15 hours per year on non-teaching duties such as parent-teacher meetings.

Their contracts do not currently oblige them to engage in non-teaching activities although surveys have shown that the vast majority work much longer than their timetabled class-teaching hours. The minister had wanted an extra six days per year but this was unacceptable to the unions.

There is also a commitment to talks to ensure common holidays and mid-term breaks. At present secondary schools, even in the same locality, frequently start terms on different dates and have different mid-term breaks. The deal is worth IRPounds 66.7 million to teachers over the next few years - equivalent to 5 per cent of the annual teachers' pay bill.

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