High Time For Equality In Our Pay Scales

A few weeks ago the TUI voted to accept the government proposals in relation to pay-scales for newly qualified teachers.  A lot of teachers I know feel cheated by this vote, they feel that it is a missed opportunity in the ongoing battle to restore pay for anyone who took up employment after 2011.

By the way, isn’t it getting a little ridiculous to refer to the colleagues who started working with us up to 7 years ago as being ‘newly qualified’? It’s almost as if the language we use is suggesting that this inequality will be a temporary thing.  

That’s simply not true. Unless we are willing to fight the government there will be no equality for our colleagues.

The longer that our ‘newly qualified’ colleagues are on an inferior scale, then the easier it is for successive governments to put the issue onto an ever-longer finger.  

In fairness, it’s easy to see where the government is coming from.  If you can get away with paying newer teachers thousands of euro each year FOR THE SAME JOB, then why wouldn’t you?  Multiply this across the education sector and the government is saving millions each year.

Each year that the government delays pay equality is a year that the government hangs onto millions of euro.  For the sake of our colleagues, we simply cannot stand quietly by and hope that in a few years things will be ok. 

So. What do we do?

The INTO recently voted to reject these proposals.  Media is reporting that they will next ballot members on industrial action. The exact form of this action is not yet decided, I believe.

As a member of the ASTI I have voted against these proposals. If you haven’t voted yet, then do so. We are asked to promote mental health in schools. Our Junior Cert curriculum promotes wellbeing. This is only lip-service as long as we don’t back up our colleagues.

If the ASTI vote against the current proposals, then the INTO & ASTI will be looking to ballot their members regarding industrial action.  I honestly believe that we need to be willing to act strongly in order to make the government realise that enough is enough.  

A Clear Voice

I was driving home last week and heard Liam Doran of the Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation debating with Matt Cooper.  Something struck me.  The nurses and midwives are very lucky to have such a well well spoken man to fight their cause.  Liam has the knack of taking whatever issues are important and presenting them in a clear way.  And that is a rare skill.  He has done a huge service to his profession in putting forward the nurses and midwives’ case.  This has served them very well in the public arena.

Unfortunately, I honestly don’t feel that we teachers are so lucky.  With all the attacks on education in the past 6 years, teachers have garnered little enough public sympathy for their cause.  There are a number of reasons why this may be the case:

  • The old joke of the three best reasons to be a teacher.
  • The perception that we clock off at 4.00 with a grand free evening ahead.
  • Everyone has an opinion about what teachers should be doing.
  • The perception that teaching is ‘chalk & talk’, that teachers are not innovators

Others can debate the validity (or not) of these reasons.  I’m more concerned with the fact that we, as a profession, have not countered these perceptions, that we have not been effective in the public sphere.

I think part of the explanation is the fragmentation of the teaching unions.

There are three Teachers’ Unions in Ireland

At the Easter Conferences of the Unions, it was mooted that the ASTI & the TUI should merge.  This idea makes a lot of sense for me, at least you would have one voice to speak with on behalf of second level.

However, a bigger problem, for me, is the fact we don’t have a publicly identifiable speaker who is as recognisable as Liam Doran.  While different presidents of all teaching unions have done well in their brief tenures, the nature of a presidency that lasts just a few years means that any president doesn’t build up the profile over time that Liam Doran has managed to do.

And what can we do about the profile of our unions or officers?

Maybe the merger of the ASTI and the TUI is a good first step, but I think we need to go a bit further than that.

  • I think that such a merger should bring a new General Secretary, one who is able to put educational issues across in a clear manner
  • The Union(s) need to adapt a more proactive stance with regards to the media.  Much of what they currently publish is legalistic, or a counter-argument to what the Minister is saying.  This doesn’t work very well.  It’s a tennis match where the other guy gets to serve all the time.
  • We could do with looking at how teachers use social media.  There is a hunger out there for debate (of the 10 top viewed posts in this blog, 9 are about education)
  • We need to increase public awareness of the challenges in teaching

The Unions have a huge job to do, but I think they need to step back and examine how they have been doing it so far.  The strategy is flawed and needs to be revised.  Otherwise the attacks by this government and its minister will continue.