The Good Wednesday Agreement? 1


So I promised a solution.

And then it hit me that I promised a solution!

The fact is, from where we are, I cannot see a meaningful solution.

Tomorrow, there will be some sort of talks, and both sides may come out and give wildly different accounts of what was said and what was agreed.

But whatever is said, the root cause of the conflict will not be addressed. In part because the parties involved don’t know what is the root cause OR are not prepared to admit it even if they secretly acknowledge it.

I would like to say the preponderance of blame was on both sides, but I think there is a quicker turn-over of personnel in the ASTI than in the DES and that therefore the onus is on the Department IF it really wants to shift the line, rather than just continue to trudge along it, to do something brave. That they have more power on their side gives them more room for manoeuvre.

The fact is, the strike of 2001 never ended. And it never ended because the enmity that was created during that strike was never resolved. In fact, if anything, it was cemented, by for example, measures such as the much-disliked Teaching Council. The ASTI goofed up in the campaign, most spectacularly when the General Secretary was caught between Miriam on one side and the government-funded National Parents Council representative on an RTE debate on the other side. Since then the ASTI has played hardball on issues such as Supervision and Substitution.

But to be fair, workers should be paid for the work they do. There’s a thing!

So, Virginia, all the children in the playground do not like each other very much and refuse to play with each other.

And this cuts to the hearth of the issue; there is a fundamental lack of trust between the ASTI and the DES. Each are busily looking to defend their own positions rather than acting in a cooperative manner for the good of the system. But with losses high on the teacher front, this is understandable. With so much at stake on the government side, this too is understandable.

But it sure feels good to stick it to the other guy, don’t it!

Yet this is also the one thing that needs to be avoided.

Tomorrow, the DES will say the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) is the only game in town. They may give the ASTI an ultimatum that they need to get in the game or spend a cold and expensive winter shouting from the sidelines.

The question is whether the ASTI is prepared to do this. If they are, the question for the government is how long they are prepared to have students out of school.

Is it the government or the ASTI affecting pupils? This is merely a PR question and adds nothing to a solution.

In the end, no matter what happens, parents know that teachers will help their kids catch up. We are fundamentally decent people with a deep seated concern for our pupils. What is at stake is the integrity with which we can approach our work knowing that our colleagues are treated by the government as second and third class citizens. In a republic of all places. In 2016!

The ASTI will argue that the LRA is not acceptable for this reason and more. And I am with them on this. The agreement speaks of the power of the government over weaker citizens of the State. When we could go nowhere, we were forced to accept unequal terms under FEMPI.

Older teachers stand to gain nothing from this strike, and indeed are losing out by campaigning for younger teachers. But now is the time to right the wrong.

Yet in my arrogance I feel the government and the ASTI may need some help with this, so here goes.

Proposal

I offer this as a thinking point. It’s not comprehensive. It’s not radical. It may be pointless. You may not like it, but anyway…..

Goodwill

As a goodwill gesture, the government would agree to immediately pay S&S to ASTI members. It would also agree to honour all provisions of Haddington Road Agreement with regard to ASTI members.

LRA

The Government would edit (see below) the LRA so the ASTI can sign up to it. The ASTI would ballot it’s members to accept the LRA.

The edit would refer to a new sectoral agreement that takes account of the unique position that second level education is in at present. While there are reforms going on elsewhere in the public sector, nothing is as immense as that which is happening in second level education at present. This would be the basis for the new sectoral sub-agreement of the LRA.

The new sub-agreement would propose the establishment of a Partnership for Education which would be comprised of the DES and five sub-groups to represent Pre-School and Primary, Secondary, Informal, PLC and University levels. My focus here is obviously second level.

The mandatory components in the LRA affecting education, such as the imperative to accept whatever ‘reforms’ come down the line, would be removed in favour of agreements in the Partnership for Education.

The function of the Partnership would be to systematically work to develop a holistic plan for Irish Education.

But the key is that it would be a Partnership. It would recognise that all members had equal value in the Partnership and an equal interest in positive sectoral outcomes for the country.

It would seek to dispense with things such as the secrecy with which Ruairi Quinn commended the NCCA when the Junior Cycle Framework was first launched (it’s on video, I’m happy to dig it out if needs be). There would be no prior agendas except those designed and agreed by the Partnership. And the government would not use misleading language such as ‘repudiate’ when such is not the case, nor ‘pay rise’ or ‘increase’ when what is sought is ‘pay restoration’.

Language is always important. One section of the Good Friday Agreement went through 32 edits over a single comma.

In Finland, the Teachers’ union actively works with the government. Neither side works against each other.

That sort of thing.

Equal Pay

The ASTI would recognise that returning to equal pay cannot happen overnight. The government would recognise that it cannot continue to have different pay scales.

The government would agree with the ASTI a plan and a timeline for return to equal pay separate to the new Public Service Pay Commission.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Issues include the fact that the H.Dip no longer exists and the government would prefer not to pay for the PME at previous Master qualifications allowance levels.

But under the agreement, a partnership approach would be taken rather than a more positional approach.

Hours

The Partnership would examine the issue of sub-18 hour contracts. While more 18+ hour contracts mean fewer teaching positions, overall the positives would outweigh the negatives for both the government and teachers.

Croke Park Hours

The Croke Park Hours would be suspended until 2020. In 2020, they would form part or all of the Teaching Council’s Cosán Continuing Professional Development policy.

However, teachers could accumulate CPD hours between now and 2020 which would contribute towards their CPD requirements under the plan.

Junior Cycle

As the current Junior Cycle Framework was the one agreed with the ASTI, the ASTI for it’s part would, as a gesture of goodwill, ballot its members to accept the Junior Cycle.

As part of the on-going improvement in the Budgetary position, the government through the Partnership would begin the process of prioritising the unwinding the cutbacks in education.

The Partnership would resolve to examine the operation of the Junior Cycle after it has been fully introduced to examine issues that were unforeseen when it was introduced. Effectively, there would be an independent evaluation of the new Junior Cycle – completely separate to the NCCA – that would examine curricular, implementation and funding aspects of the programme. The Partnership would agree to proactively resolve issues revealed in the evaluation.

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These are my initial thoughts. Feel free to vent in the comment section below. I tweeted earlier in the week to most of the unions (SIPTU etc) that we can hang together or hang separately. None replied!!!

But this maxim also applies to the grown-ups in education, be they teachers or the DES. A day during the strike could be the day a kid somewhere gives up. Whose fault that would be – the ASTI for going on strike, or the government for creating the circumstances in which a union feels the only way to be respected is to strike – is irrelevant.

It is easy to get stuck in the mud, especially when one knows one has power. The hardest thing to do it to give a little, to take that first step that encourages the other side to let out a bit and move with oneself. Offers should be valid offers and not laughable like the one suggested yesterday in the Irish Times.

In the meantime, all we can do is just hope that tomorrow is not the day a kid decides to give up.

 


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