Dáil Éireann - Volume 550 - 20 March, 2002

Priority Questions. - Industrial Action.

  34. Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Education and Science the long-term consequences for the education system arising from the protracted dispute between the ASTI and the Government; and the initiative he plans to attempt to resolve the dispute. [9377/02]

  Dr. Woods: I regret the protracted nature of the ASTI dispute. It arises from the ASTI's insistence that it should be treated differently from any other public service union, including the other teacher unions, and to have its 30% pay claim dealt with outside the terms of the programme for prosperity and fairness and independently of the public service benchmarking process. In these circumstances, the Deputy will appreciate, the Government cannot endanger the social partnership structure, which has contributed so significantly to our current prosperity, to deal exclusively with the wishes of one trade union. As the Deputy will appreciate, all teachers including ASTI members are already to receive a 22% increase in pay plus whatever may be awarded to teachers under the benchmarking process.

  In an effort to find a solution to the ASTI's 30% pay claim the issues were referred in the first instance to the public service arbitration board. On the rejection of the findings of the arbitration [913] board by the ASTI the parties agreed to refer the matter to the Labour Court. Once again, the ASTI rejected the outcome. The essence of both recommendations was that the ASTI should pursue its further claim through the public service benchmarking body. The ASTI has steadfastly refused to engage in that process. The non-participation of the ASTI in the benchmarking process, while regretful, has not hampered the benchmarking body in carrying out a full examination of the role of the teaching profession. The report of the body will issue before by the end of June 2002.

  The current action by the ASTI in relation to supervision and substitution is part of its campaign to have its 30% pay claim addressed. The ASTI issued a directive to its members to withdraw from supervision and substitution with effect from 4 March 2002.

Additional Information.  The directive applies to supervision at break times and before and after school and to substitution by permanent teachers for absent colleagues. On Friday, 15 February the ASTI made a new set of demands in relation to supervision and substitution which were: a minimum annual rate of €2,500, that it be pensionable and available to existing pensioners in compensation for having done this for free over a number of years and that it be within the 22 hours weekly maximum teaching time.

  I met the three teacher unions on 28 February 2002. I indicated that the Government is not opposed in principle to the pensionability of supervision payments. In that regard, I offered to enter into a process at the end of the current school year to work out the details of an arrangement which would be consistent with the requirements for pensionability. I also indicated that the procedures provided by the conciliation and arbitration scheme for teachers should be used to deal with the issue of an appropriate payment rate for supervision. These procedures include independent arbitration where the parties cannot agree.

  My approach was welcomed by the Irish National Teachers Organisation and the Teachers Union of Ireland but rejected by the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland. The ASTI central executive indicated that it will not enter into any further negotiations on this matter pending the settlement of its pay claim. At a meeting of the teachers conciliation council on 12 March the TUI and INTO requested that further discussions take place on the issue of supervision and substitution. These discussions will commence shortly with the assistance of a facilitator. The ASTI confirmed that it is precluded from dealing with this matter by the decision of its executive committee.

  Mr. Creed: Deputy Shortall dealt with the legacy of the Minister in relation to disadvantaged children in primary schools and the psychological service in the previous question. Does the Mini[914] ster agree that his legacy in terms of secondary schools – in particular the voluntary sector as regards the ASTI dispute – is one of a total breakdown of relationships between the various educational partners: among teachers in staff rooms, between principals and teachers, between parents and teachers and between teachers and pupils? The likely legacy of his tenure is that teachers will make a clinical interpretation of their contractual duties and will not get involved in the voluntary activities many of them did in the past.

  Acting Chairman: Does the Deputy have a supplementary question?

  Mr. Creed: In respect of the so-called contingency plan, copies of which we have not seen, which appears to just throw money at the problem, what does the Minister think this plan has achieved given that teachers will find the Department of Education and Science offers greater remuneration to unqualified outside parties coming into schools to carry out substitution duties than to substitute teachers? Why are substitute teachers being paid some €8 per hour less? Has the Department determined the prospect of school closures yet to emerge from this dispute and what is the financial cost on a daily basis? Can the Minister confirm that it is approximately €170,000 per day?

  Dr. Woods: The problem was already present when I came into office as Minister.

  Ms Shortall: The Minister did not help.

  Mr. Creed: He aggravated it.

  Dr. Woods: I find it difficult to understand why the ASTI made a claim before the PPF for 30%. It is getting 22% already and its members will get more—

  Mr. Creed: I have asked the Minister a question about the long-term consequences of this and I would like him to answer it instead of giving us a history lesson on how the dispute emerged.

  Acting Chairman: We have a limited time for Priority Questions. The Minister, without interruption.

  Dr. Woods: The Government has already paid all bar 4% of that 22% and that remaining 4% will be paid in October. This is in addition to what the members may get from benchmarking—

  Mr. Creed: The Minister is not answering the question.

  Dr. Woods: It is hard for anyone to understand why a group which originally sought a 30% increase and has already received 22% plus a 1% once off payment as well as whatever comes under benchmarking can disrupt the schools sys[915] tem in that context. It is noticeable that 74% of the ASTI members said they wanted its submission forwarded to the benchmarking body.

  Mr. Creed: That is not the question the Minister was asked.

  Dr. Woods: That was turned down.

  Mr. Creed: What about costs? What about substitute teachers?

  Dr. Woods: I had a meeting with the three unions. Two of the unions accepted the arrangements and one union – the ASTI – did not. It said it would not move any further until the pay claim had been completed. In the meantime, the contingency plan is under way and is working quite well. There were extra costs initially because training had to be introduced.

  Mr. Creed: How much?

  Dr. Woods: The money was allocated to the individual school management boards who control the schools.

  Mr. Creed: How much per day?

  Dr. Woods: The Deputy knows the rate. It is €68 per day. If they are doing a day in training it is €100 but otherwise it is €68 per day.

  Mr. Creed: Can I ask another supplementary question?

  Acting Chairman: No, we have limited time for Priority Questions. If I allow that, we will not be able to finish a number of other Priority Questions today.

  Mr. Creed: The Minister is running down the clock so he does not have to answer these questions. He has no proposals. He is prepared to allow the education system unravel before our eyes.

  Acting Chairman: The Deputy must resume his seat.

  Dr. Woods: Both the congress of trade unions and the Government as well as every other union in the country is trying to resolve the dispute but one union will not budge. It is not me.

  Mr. Creed: That is not the answer to the question. The Minister should answer the questions he is being asked to. What about—

  Dr. Woods: We have been to the Labour Court and we have gone through arbitration and every other step.

  (Interruptions.)

[916]   Acting Chairman: Deputy Creed must resume his seat.

  Dr. Woods: The people who are coming in are doing an excellent job and deserve every credit for it in the circumstances.

  Mr. U. Burke: The Minister is being provocative.

  Dr. Woods: They are helping to keep the schools open.

  Mr. U. Burke: It is outrageous.

  Dr. Woods: If the Deputy took a piece of paper and worked it out, he would see he is way off the mark.

  Mr. Creed: The Minister is refusing to answer questions as they appear on the Order Paper.