Updated: 14/10/16 : 06:50:44
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ASTI ballot could see schools close within weeks

Schools in Sligo and across the country could be closed in two weeks time as the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) voted yesterday in favour of industrial action which could result in the closure of hundreds of secondary schools over the coming weeks.
 
The Department of Education warned last week that two out of three - or up to 525 - of the secondary schools in the country faced possible closure if union members voted for industrial action.

The schools affected are mostly ASTI-run voluntary secondary schools, which are typically privately owned and managed by church authorities.

However, a significant number of 90 or so dual-union community and comprehensive schools may also be affected.

The Minister of Education, Richard Bruton stated he was disappointed with the decision taken  by ASTI members.

A spokesperson confirmed that he has repeatedly expressed his belief that dialogue between his Department and ASTI is in the best interests of schools, parents, students and teachers. He has also expressed his willingness to extend the benefits of the recent agreement reached with TUI and INTO on new entrant pay to ASTI members in the context of the union’s cooperation with the Lansdowne Road Agreement. This agreement is worth €135,000 to a teacher over their career.

Furthermore, the Minister has also repeatedly offered that if ASTI suspend their directive on withdrawal from the Croke Park Hours while talks are taking place, the Department can in return suspend the implementation of measures associated with the union’s repudiation of the Lansdowne Road Agreement.  

The issues of concern to ASTI members can only be resolved through dialogue. Following the ballot result, the Minister hopes that the union can now engage in constructive dialogue with the Department.

ASTI president Ed Byrne said: “The ballot results demonstrate the depth of feeling amongst second-level teachers who have endured years of pay cuts and deteriorating terms and conditions. Teachers do not embark on industrial action lightly and strike action is always a very last resort.”

The union is due to issue a directive today, Friday following a meeting of its 23-person standing committee, stating when members should withdraw supervision and substitution duties.

This will trigger a race against time for school managers to recruit supervisors to take over the supervision duties of ASTI teachers.

ASTI sources have indicated that they could withdraw supervision duties after schools return from the mid-term break on November 7th. This would give schools about three weeks to prepare.

Prevented

The department also wants ASTI to confirm that school principals who are members of the union would not be prevented from operating contingency plans to take on and assign such external personnel to carry out supervision and substitution duties.

In addition, it wants assurances that ASTI members will not hinder the activities of any external personnel .

It is understood that if schools close on health and safety grounds due to a withdrawal of supervision and substitution duties, teachers would not be paid as the Department of Education would consider them in breach of their contractual duties.

The withdrawal of duties is not considered strike action. This is because teachers would be available to teach, but not to monitor break times or fill in for teachers who are sick or away on school trips.

Secondary school management bodies have been drawing up contingency plans since the summer to hire hundreds of staff to help prevent schools closing as a result of potential industrial action.

It is understood these supervisors could be paid about €20 an hour and would need to be Garda-vetted in compliance with child-safety legislation. Vetting is understood to take about three weeks, but this could be fast-tracked, according to sources.

However, school management sources say that advertising and recruiting for these posts will take several more weeks.

Under the contingency plan, the boards of management of each schools would be responsible for hiring supervisors, while the Department of Education is understood to be prepared to make funds available.