Minister for Education Says Equality is a Negotiating Point, Not A Right


Minster for Education Richard Bruton was on RTE’s Morning Ireland programme on Wednesday 26th October and had some interesting perspectives on the teacher strike. Some are his/DES perspective and just that. Not necessarily right, not necessarily wrong. The ASTI also have their perspective.

Perspectives are only useful when trying to apportion blame as a means of avoiding the fact that there is a complaint that needs to be addressed. However, the more one apportions blame, the more the other side feels alienated and less likely to even want to come to a solution which they feel is ‘giving something’. It is hard to feel ‘giving’ towards someone one dislikes.

And the Department of Education REALLY dislikes the ASTI.

Bear in mind that Ministers are at the mercy of their Department. They often don’t know more about a subject than the advice their civil servants give them. It is one reason why a Minister for Education should have some background in the education profession.

So, the Minister said a few things I took issue with. Cathal Mac Coille’s questions are in bold, followed by the Minister’s response. My comments are in blue.

The most striking comment for me was the Minister effectively asserting that equal pay for equal work was a negotiating point rather than a right.

While the Minister is commenting on just education matters, the underlying principle here is that equality is a negotiating point and not a right. Clearly, I and many I know would have grave concerns if this notion was to become embedded in Government thinking.

(The quickest way through this is to scroll and just read the bits in blue and then the comment to see the context)

——

And joining us now from our city centre studio the Minister for education Richard Bruton

Good morning Minister

Morning Cathal

I said almost inevitable which I shouldn’t have said, eh, but is that how it is, at this stage does it was the first of these seven strikes by the ASTI starting tomorrow look inevitable

Well we are continuing to discuss with the ASTI today and we will be setting out which we have agreed with the other unions which includes as you know a very substantial increases for newly qualified teachers, a teacher recruited last year would get an increase by the 1st January 2018   of 6,700 that’s a twenty-two percent increase bringing their salary to 37,700 so that is substantial money but I’d have to say that this point the ASTI haven’t given any indication that they are intend to pull back from the strike tomorrow it’s hard to say at this stage that you could be optimistic.

The ‘increases’ referred to are actually a restoration closer to (but not the same as) the exiting scale. Using the word ‘increase’ is disingenuous when the DES should know that this word is a red-reg.

No Newly Qualified Teacher (NQTs) starts off on €37,700. Most NQTs are on less than full-time hours so earn only a fraction of this figure. Bear in mind, that 30% of the teaching workforce is part-time temporary.

Right, but, you are, I take it that you wont be directly involved with the talks yourself will you?

I won’t at this stage, no, we obviously…..

The key point here is ‘at this stage’. This means that he expects he will be a some stage. I think it is poor leadership not to be involved now. For sure, typically minions do the negotiating and the principal figure only appears when an added push is needed (on either side). Sometimes the principal figure only appears for the photo op.

By having the principal figures involved, there is more likely to be a quicker solution, once there is a genuine desire to negotiate. Sometime negotiations (or part thereof) are just for show. Clearly in this case, there is a genuine desire to resolve at least the current difficulties. It would be nice if the parties were more long-term in their thinking. So the Minister should be in there presenting a strategic solution rather than a mere technical one. For their part the ASTI should be willing to roll up their sleeves with a constructive mindset to work with the DES towards this end.

Ed Byrne and Richard Bruton should go for afternoon tea together to shoot the breeze and see where it goes.

But at these talks your official will be in the talks.

Now, what is the point of the talks, is there something that you think you can offer by way of clarification, by way of looking forward to whatever will succeed the Lansdowne Road agreement whatever, is there anything that you can, eh, offer or suggest or proposed that’s new that might lead to a change of heart?

Well I think there’s a substantial amount on the table as you know I mean not only is it that pay increase of up to twenty two percent, eh, but also there’s significant and new measures on promotion opportunities and there is a deal with cash in relation to the supervision and substitution….

The things on the table are the things the DES has agreed with the TUI. Partial equality is not equality. Secondly, the TUI agreement ABOLISHES the 10 year long-service increment, requires the TUI teachers to cooperate with EVERY new initiative from the government without question, and the promotion opportunities are not written down – because they don’t exist. In fact, the TUI agreement erodes the existing promotion system in TUI schools.

Minister, Minister you have rehearsed that on the program before and the ASTI members know all of that which is why I’m asking is there anything new in terms of language and terms of looking to the future or anything that your officials will be talking to the ASTI but today ?

Clearly this week, eh, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has appointed Kevin Duffy and the team of the Public Service Commission, eh and they’re setting to work now and they do provide a forum where all of the legitimate concerns of all of the public service unions will be, eh, have a forum for discussion and the minister has indicated there will be a successor to the Lansdowne Road Agreement so you know there is an opportunity for continuing progress by all unions including the ASTI to advance eh, the legitimate concerns they have but government has to be conscious that you know is also has to have attention to the fairness (all of a sudden the government is concerned with fairness!!) right across our system that we have to be able to support social welfare recipients we have to be able to push your staff onto the front line (Teachers are front line staff too) and that makes a real difference and part of the challenge for someone like me is, you know, I have two and a half thousand extra teachers that will next year, that would allow us have more teaching for children with special needs to extend curriculum choice for students to create leadership opportunities so this is for a real purpose to improve the education system for many people who have been under pressure.

The Public Service Pay Commission did not exist when this dispute began, and 2 years is too long to wait for the uncertain outcome of another government quango forum.

There will not be 2,500 extra teachers. There will be hours to give to 2,500 teachers. This is still something, but it will not be 2,500 NEW jobs.

Mentioning social welfare recipients is designed to distract from whom the unfairness lies. By trying to elicit the sympathy of another sector, the DES thinks it will turn the public against us.

That’s fine but the ASTI have their grievances, can I just ask about one point raised by Thomas Byrne Fianna Fail education spokesperson which in a way he didn’t mention it put it away connected with   something that Ed Byrne of the ASTI raised on   this program two days ago this is the sort of the long-term main which he accused the government of not committing themselves to what Thomas Byrne said was Richard Bruton should commit to full equality of pay for newly qualified teachers such a statement Thomas Byrne says will go a long way and helping to reassure the ASTI; now can you commit to full equality of pay for newly qualified teachers?

Well, like, do you want me to attempt to, you know I can’t to attempt to negotiate over the airwaves (the entire radio program WAS the Minister negotiating the DES position on the airwaves!!), this is one of issues that are being raised not just by teaching unions but by many other trade unions because there has been cuts for every trade union new recruits have seen, have been on lower pay scales and others and I think as IMPACT trade union pointed out it wouldn’t be fair or equal to do a sectoral deal with one particular union that left other that left other public service unions from…. Consideration (The government has already entered a sectoral deal with the TUIO and INTO, so this statement ignores the reality that the DES has created.)

That’s fair enough but I think the point Ed Byrne raised reinforced by Thomas Byrne was do you believe that as an aim that you want to get to, in other words for everybody is paid the same on, eh, an equal basis, is that is that is that something you want now, leave aside the details, is that an aim you have ?

Well this is a matter for negotiation of what are the priorities the trade unions would be coming in to discuss a numerous range of things that have occurred in recent times like one of the issues that started this dispute as you know was the ASTI decided unilaterally to stop working the so-called Croke Park hours 33 hours that facilitated meetings to be held outside of school time and and facilitating parents and students, now they unilaterally withdrew from that and that was at the start of this dispute but you have to approach all of these issues in a fair way and that’s why the Public Service commission is being put in place…. these issues can be aired…..

This is startling. The Minister for Education has basically said that equality is a matter for negotiation rather than a right.

 The ASTI didn’t unilateral anything. The 33 hours (originally agreed under the Croke Park deal) were further agreed under the Haddington Road Agreement. This Agreement was coming to an end. The government tried to FORCE the ASTI into the successor Lansdowne Road Agreement by threatening not to pay us for the Supervision and Substitution (S&S) work WE ALREADY DID (for free for 3 years). Teachers hated the Croke Park hours because the DES would not allow any flexibility in how they could be carried out. Teachers decided to vote against doing the 33 hours and voted against the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

At this point, the government decided that if we didn’t do S&S we would be considered to be in breach of the Lansdowne Road Agreement. But one cannot be in breach of something one has not agreed to!!!

Further the government stated that S&S is a core duty. But it’s not. It was due to be except they decided not to pay us for it. So they shot themselves in the foot. Added to this, some teachers were allowed to opt out of S&S – this clearly means it cannot be a ‘core’ duty if some do not have to do it. Duh!

The point is, the DES has said that if we do not do S&S, we will not be paid AT ALL. This still has to happen, but it would immediately trigger a deeper crisis. On whose side (if/or both), we’ll have to wait and see.

So anyway if asked, if asked is equality of pay for newly qualified teachers your aim your answer is in brief ?

My answer is that we have to use the resources available to provide equal treatment (but the government is not doing this) for all of the many people that have legitimate expectations of the government and that’s what we’re trying to do and so we can’t pick out one item on one unions agenda and say you know that is the sole issue on which we will make commitments we have to have a balanced approach to all of the concerns that all of the unions have that I think that’s people concede that that’s fair and equal to everyone

The school managers are saying it now seems unlikely that after because of the, the withdrawal of the ASTI from supervision that now seems unlikely that most schools will be able to open after the midterm break are you resigned to that ?

Well I think that schools may not be able to open obviously this is a decision locally that each school will take but I suppose when ASTI withdrew the supervision and substitution provision and then the ASTI decided that principals wouldn’t cooperate with the deployment of others (of course not, the DES cannot expect us to help them break our strike!!) to do that work it left it very very difficult far local management’s to keep the school open so it is difficult to see how they can keep the school’s open but there would be some situations where obviously schools will remain open if there is no ASTI membership, eh TUI workers will be working as usual and and we will see those schools remain open but those where there is mixed membership are, an ASTI principal and so on it would be very difficult for those schools to remain open

And is there a circular coming on the issue of pay when and if ASTI members refused to supervise anymore after the midterm break, is there a circular from the Department coming ?

There is I mean obviously the principles are, are clear if the industrial action of a union which is withdraws from core responsibilities that it has, ah, as an employee and that results in the closure or the ceasing of work with such   people will not be page for that day eh, there will be provision obviously for   others who are available to do the work including the substitution and, and   supervision work and that they will be paid and that is a normal approach to   industrial relations

Substitution and Supervision are not, at this point, ‘core’ duties of teachers. If am I available to teach, I should be paid for it.

Does that mean Minister that if you withdraw from supervision which is obviously you want to do for a couple of hours I don’t know how often they do it but if teachers withdraw from supervising and the school closes for days and days and days, for all of those days, will they not be paid ?

No, if, if, I mean it is normal industrial relations, eh, procedure that if the action of workers to withdraw from core elements of their workload results in eh, the operation of being able to continue then they will not be paid and that that is no different from any other industrial relations situation, I mean ASTI is taking action to withdraw the supervision and substitution to prevent principals from cooperating with alternatives and you’d have to say that this action is, is now looks likely to prevent schools being able to open and that that has consequences.

Teacher are NOT withdrawing from their ‘core’ duties except as defined unilaterally by the Department of Education.

And the position of non-union members or TUI members of those schools if when and if they are closed?

Well if other eh teachers are making themselves available to work eh, to teach and to do the supervision then they will be paid

And just to be clear about this ASTI members refused to supervisor substitute and the school closes that means from that moment they won’t be paid, is that the position?

That’s right .

 All right thank you very much Minister.

(further questions on the Dail mid-term break)

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