ASTI teacher Kevin Wall was on a picket line at Deerpark CBS in Cork on Tuesday 8 November. Below is an interview in which he outlines the reasons for the ASTI industrial action, provides insight into the plight of teachers today and outlines the long-term dangers for the teaching profession if nothing is done to address the current imbalance.
People Before Profit: Can you briefly outline the main reasons for the ASTI strike?
Kevin Wall: One of issues at the moment is pay equalisation, which has resulted in the seven days of industrial action that has been highlighted by the ASTI. The background to that dates back to 2011, when the Troika came in to Ireland and advised the government to impose unilateral pay cuts across the public service. They introduced a new pay scale for new entrant teachers. In 2012, they followed that up with a further 10% cut. So, effectively, in teaching at the moment, there are three different salary scales. At the time, ASTI members were part of the Croke Park agreement and subsequent Haddington Road agreement. Therefore, we couldn’t take any industrial action as long as we were bound by those agreements. So, when the Landsdowne Road agreement was presented to our members, our members democratically voted to reject the agreement [earlier this year], and, at our convention in April, a motion was passed to demand the restoration of a common basic scale for all teachers. And that is what has led to the seven days of industrial action.
PBP: Can you give some information on how teachers’ salaries are affected by the Landsdowne Road agreement?
KW: The Lansdowne Road Agreement has failed to address the inequality faced by new entrants or those who are now known as lesser paid teachers who entered after 2011. Effectively, what happens now is that teachers on point one of the scale – or the lowest point of the scale – who entered into the profession after 2012 are earning in the region of €6-8,000 per year less than somebody who started teaching on the pre-2011 scale. This can result in a differential in pay of over €200000 over the duration of a teacher’s career, which is totally unacceptable.
PBP: Have your own pay and conditions been affected as a result of Landsdowne Road?
KW: Due to our rejection of Landsdowne Road the government have used FEMPI (Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) legislation against us, so as punishment for not signing up to the agreement, the previous terms of the Haddington Road agreement where teachers receive permanent contracts after two years have been withdrawn for ASTI members – it has been returned back to four years now. Any increments that we were due at a point of moving up the scale have been withdrawn from us. The government have reneged on the S&S (Supervision and Substitution) payment and the redeployment scheme has also been removed from us, so that, if any school that an ASTI member is now in that may be over quota or closes, we face compulsory redundancies. That has been our punishment.
PBP: A lot of the media narrative around the ASTI strike centres around the notion that there is not enough money to fund teacher’s salary increases – what is your response to this?
KW: If you take the S&S issue first, the money is there on the table. It has been accounted for in the Budget. That money is there, they just won’t pay us because we haven’t signed up to Landsdowne Road. There’s no budgetary requirement there – it has been counted and costed already. On the restoration of the common basic scale, the government will argue that, if the common basic scale is restored in teaching, it will have to be restored across the public sector, which will require €1.4bn. Our argument, from a teacher’s point of view, is that, in other sectors of the public service (like nurses and Gardai), they didn’t have a whole lot of new entrants between 2011 and now – for the simple reason that there has been embargoes on recruitment in those sectors. So the teaching profession probably has the highest number of new entrants in the public service in comparison to other areas. The figures used yesterday in the media were in the region of 4,000 new entrants at approximately €6,000 per year. So they’re costing it at roughly €24m. In comparison to the fact that they found €40m for the Gardai at 23:30 last Thursday (3 November) night, I don’t think our claim is that unrealistic.
PBP: Some workers in the private sector have viewed the ASTI strike with a degree of hostility because of holidays etc. that teachers are entitled to. What would you say to those who suggest that striking teachers do not deserve to have their demands met?
KW: The usual stick that teachers are beaten with is three-month holidays in June, July and August. These holidays have always been there. We don’t set the holidays; they’re set by the department. And, if people in the private sector want to enter into teaching, then there’s nothing stopping them. We made that decision as public servants. We shouldn’t be beaten with that stick. On a financial matter, one thing I would always say is that, whether there is an economic crisis or an economic boom, teacher’s pay doesn’t deviate that much. Gardai and nurses make overtime; teacher’s don’t. Our pay is fairly standard, and yet we’re the ones that, because of the economic crisis – when maybe, people in construction were up earning €70-80,000 – we weren’t making that money, but we’re the ones paying the price for it.
PBP: Are you a new entrant? Do you have anything to gain from the strike?
KW: I’m not. I have nothing to gain from this. What we’re trying to highlight is the differentiation of pay within the staff room that is causing – I won’t say conflict – but certainly unrest and a lack of morale where our new entrants are being paid less money. For some of the teachers in this boat, it is soul destroying. They’re spending four years at college to gain a primary degree. They’re spending two years on a post-grad. Now it’s back to four years to be permanent, so that’s a ten-year stint if you go straight through. Again, another big difference in comparison to teachers is that, when you qualify to be a nurse, you have a full-time job. Teachers are on contracts of four hours, six hours, ten hours – some are sitting in staff rooms hoping somebody phones in sick so that they can make a few quid. That’s not a nice thing to do every day.
PBP: Ireland is in the midst of a teacher recruitment crisis. If salaries and conditions stay as they are currently, what do you think is likely to be the effect of this on Ireland’s educational system?
KW: The long-term effect will be that the most qualified people who do their four-year degree and do their two-year post-grad will be heading off to the UK, to Australia, to Canada and Dubai. Again, just a comparison to the nurses and the Gardai: teachers have rents to pay, they’re probably not working in their own localities. There’s no rent allowance offered to teachers; it is being offered to Gardai. There’s no return-home package for teachers that was offered to nurses. It seems to be different rules for different people.
We’re the ones here trying to protect the standard, trying to keep the best people in teaching. Another irony in the whole saga is that we’re the teachers that go into classes and teach kids about equality, and we teach kids about anti-bullying policies. And we’re being subjected to it ourselves by the government.
We’re trying to protect the integrity of teaching long-term. We understand that parents are concerned about their own kids. There are comments like ‘my son is in leaving cert/junior cert – why do they have to strike now?’, and we totally understand their position. But we have to look at the broader picture, that down the line we’re looking at protecting the profession long-term. And this has been our first chance to take a stand. I have no monetary gain in striking today; I’ve lost a day’s pay. There’s nothing in this for me; we’re doing it for the integrity of the profession long-term. It’s not a case of lining our own pockets. It’s to protect a small minority who have been targeted by this government – new entrants.
PBP: What can the general public do to support the teachers’ strike?
KW: I know there is being pressure put on the media [to provide more balance]. We could be supported by the public with more understanding if people look at it not in the short-term but in the long-term and just try and be as patient as they can with us.