Dáil Éireann - Volume 550 - 20 March, 2002

Other Questions. - Industrial Action.

  37. Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will publish a copy of his Department's contingency plan for supervision and substitution. [9216/02]

  Dr. Woods: Contingency arrangements were drawn up by the representative management groups, the Joint Managerial Body, JMB, the Irish Vocational Education Association, IVEA, and the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, ACS, following detailed discussions with officials of my Department. The JMB, IVEA and ACS issued a document to schools setting out the appropriate contingency arrangements in their respective sectors. I am arranging with the co-operation of the managerial bodies to provide a copy of the relevant documents to the Deputy.

  Mr. Creed: Will the Minister confirm that the sole element of his involvement in the contingency plan, if there is any such plan, is merely to make money available to schools? No further thought was given by his Department to the long-term damage which is being inflicted on the education system by virtue of this dispute. Unqualified people who are coming in from outside to provide school substitution duties are being paid more than qualified teachers.

  Acting Chairman: I would remind the House that one minute is allowed for supplementary questions and replies.

  Mr. Creed: In reply to Priority Question No. 34, the Minister refused to say whether he had any plans or initiatives to resolve this dispute. Will the Minister signal the Government's intention regarding the issue of pensionability of the payments being made for supervision and substitution? The long-term consequences of a further protraction in this dispute is that teachers will take a clinical interpretation of their contractual obligations in future and will not participate in voluntary activities. Will the Minister give some signal of goodwill to ASTI members? There is a [919] move by moderate members of that union to resolve this dispute if they receive some leadership from the Department.

  Acting Chairman: I would remind the House that one minute is allowed for the supplementary question itself and for the reply. It is very difficult and we really need the co-operation of Members if we are to implement that arrangement.

  Dr. Woods: These are major national issues and it is not easy to answer them on a “Yes” or “No” basis.

  Mr. U. Burke: The Minister has made it difficult for himself.

  Dr. Woods: I met with the three teacher unions for that very reason – to show a way ahead. I received agreement that the Government was not opposed to, and would not oppose, the pensionability of the amounts. That key issue was raised again and again. Having done that, two of the unions decided to go along those lines and work with us. However, ASTI decided that in any event, even though we were doing that, its main requirement was to go back to the main underlying pay claim. Therefore, it decided it would not discuss any of those issues further with us. We are currently discussing both the rate and the pensionability with the INTO and the TUI. ASTI is very welcome to be there. The other unions would prefer it to be there and so would I, but its members say they will not attend unless basic pay is to be discussed.

  Mr. Creed: I am not here to defend the actions of the ASTI, far from it, but the dispute is bigger than the Minister, his Department or the ASTI and its leadership. Some signal of goodwill from the Minister as the leading figure in the education system should be sent to ASTI members on the issue of pensionability. I accept that the linkage they are trying to forge between two disparate issues is not sustainable, but some signal must be given to moderate ASTI members that this issue can be resolved. In the lead-in to the ASTI conference, will the Minister, in the interests of salvaging something from the secondary school system, give some signal that his Department is prepared to negotiate on the critical issue of payment levels and pensionability for supervision and substitution?

  Dr. Woods: In the time available I have tried to explain that neither I nor the Government can undermine the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and other unions in the country.

  Mr. Creed: Nobody is asking the Minister to do so.

  Dr. Woods: We cannot do that. We have invited the ASTI repeatedly – and the other two [920] teacher unions have asked it – to come to the table to put its case on bench-marking which will complete the allocation. As already stated, there will be 22% under the PPF and a possible additional percentage under the benchmarking process. I am quite confident that such a percentage will be forthcoming under benchmarking. The leadership wants to pursue that line but when one of the committees is consulted it is usually the case that it decides not to proceed in this way. That has happened on many occasions.

  I accept the general thrust of the Deputy's argument and I want to find a way to resolve this matter. I would prefer if a solution could be found. Unfortunately, however, the benchmarking process is ongoing and we cannot undermine it.

  There are processes in place to consider the issue of pensionability and also the rates payable in respect of substitution and supervision. However, the ASTI will not engage with those processes. That is the difficulty we face, despite the fact that we made this goodwill gesture. If I can find another goodwill gesture that falls within the overall PPF agreement, I will do my best to put it in place.

  Acting Chairman: We must proceed to the next question. There is a strict time limit for each question.

  Ms Shortall: On a point of order, what about related questions of which there are a number on the clár? Are they being taken together?

  Acting Chairman: There is a limited amount of time available for questions. With the co-operation of the House, I will see to it that as many Members as possible have the opportunity to ask questions.

  Ms Shortall: The Chair is giving the Minister far more latitude than Members on this side of the House.

  Acting Chairman: The Chair is anxious to facilitate as many Members as possible.

  Mr. U. Burke: May I ask a brief supplementary?

  Acting Chairman: No, we must move on.