Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Yesterday there were secondary schools closed across the country. Today there are secondary schools closed across the country. It is happening for a number of reasons, including fundamentally because there was a failure to engage early and effectively on the secondary school strikes and the situation pertaining to the ASTI and the issues it had raised. The first issue relates to equal pay for newly qualified teachers. For some reason, the Government has not committed publicly to finding a pathway towards equal pay for newly qualified teachers, which would go a long way towards dealing with the issue, on which the TUI and the INTO made progress. I warned last week that the system might have wanted to punish the ASTI for staying outside the Lansdowne Road agreement and said it should resist that temptation, but it has not. We are now in a situation where feelings are becoming more entrenched and resolving the dispute could become more difficult.
The second issue, in terms of yesterday's closure of secondary schools, relates to substitution and supervision. The ASTI is looking for flexibility on the Croke Park agreement hours, on which some flexibility has been shown to the TUI and the INTO. I support the Lansdowne Road agreement and accept that everything has to be resolved under it, but there is provision in it for flexibility on the Croke Park agreement hours. Before any Lansdowne Road or Croke Park agreement was made, teachers had been engaged in extracurricular activities for a long time. There are many good teachers who are brassed off when officialdom tells them to pencil in this and that because, frankly, they have been doing it for years when it comes to sport, music, debating and cultural activities. We should keep this fact at the backs of our heads. That contribution by teachers has always been made. The issue of substitution and supervision can be dealt with if there is the will to do so and there is a way under the Lansdowne Road agreement.
My third point is that leaving certificate and junior certificate students are suffering too much. They are the real victims of this industrial dispute. We know about the centrality of the leaving certificate examinations and how difficult and challenging it is for any student in his or her leaving certificate year. The absence of contingency planning led to the closures yesterday when teachers turned up for work but the gates were locked. The argument was made that schools did not have enough supervisors to provide cover, but it was within the capacity of school managements to open the schools to examination students, particularly leaving certificate students. There would not have been health and safety issues in the teaching of leaving certificate students. That is an important point because today students are very pressurised.
A greater effort should have been made, in terms of contingency planning, to open the schools for examination students, in particular. Does the Taoiseach accept that there was a failure on the Government and management side in providing for adequate contingency measures to facilitate the opening of schools yesterday? I ask him to indicate when that issue will be resolved. I also ask him to indicate whether he is prepared to give a commitment on the issue of equal pay for newly qualified teachers in finding a pathway to a successor to the Lansdowne Road agreement.
First, I am disappointed that the strike has continued. I can confirm for the Deputy that it is not anybody's intention that the system should penalise ASTI members. There are four industrial disputes involving the ASTI and the Department of Education and Skills. In respect of the first, the question of equal pay for new entrants, this issue has been the subject of long hours of negotiations by the Department and the Minister within the Lansdowne Road agreement. The Deputy is aware of the increased opportunities to secure permanent positions and increases in pay, ranging from 15% to 22%, for new entrant teachers, as applies in the case of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, and the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI. The Minister has spoken at some length about equality and what it actually means.
Regarding supervision and substitution, the Deputy seems to be suggesting schools or their boards of management should be pressurised into supplying personnel who would have to be vetted in order that schools could open. However, he is aware that the ASTI prevented school principals from engaging in that way, which creates a difficulty. Those who are suffering most are the 220,000 students, particularly those in junior and leaving certificate examination classes who do not have their teachers teaching them. The issue arose because, as a union, the ASTI decided unilaterally to reject working an extra one hour per week. It is true that for years, in all grades of teaching and many other public services, people gave of their time voluntarily, over and above the stipulated hours. However, in this dispute teachers are turning up for work but the schools cannot open because of health and safety regulations. Money is on the table to pay those teachers who want to teach. The issue of substitution and supervision is one that could be resolved very quickly, which would mean that teachers would receive their payments, schools could open, pupils could be taught, parents would not be discommoded and teachers would also be able to do the job they set out to do.
The three remaining disputes are under negotiation. In respect of new entrant pay levels, substantial money is on the table and the benefits are available to ASTI members, tjo those teachers who need the money. We are only a few weeks away from Christmas and this is not by any means ideal. I hope the talks that are taking place will continue and that a conclusion can be reached pretty quickly in order that schools can reopen, that there will be supervision and substitution and that the payments on the table can be made to teachers. I hope the benefits achieved in the discussions that have taken place and been successfully concluded with the TUI and the INTO on new entrants' pay could also apply to the ASTI.
The two remaining disputes require further discussion.
Hoping will not solve it or get it sorted.
On supervision and substitution, in some schools one is only talking about 100 leaving certificate students and in others, 80 or 60. While some schools may have more than 100, the Taoiseach cannot tell me that it was not within the capacity of school managers to facilitate the opening of schools to teach these students. This is a serious issue because students get lost in the debate. They are the pawns in between, but there is only one year in which a student does the leaving certificate examinations. Whether one likes, they are crucial examinations in terms of the future development of young people and their career opportunities. There is complete uncertainty and nobody can give them a clear pathway to the resumption of their courses and studies. It was within the capacity of management to keep schools open, but my suspicion is that the Department and the Government decided to bring the dispute to a head and allow teachers to go out. That is why there was no will to keep schools open and sort out the supervision and substitution issue, particularly for examination students.
If there was an issue with 500, I could accept that. However, I question the point that it was not within the capacity of schools to open to facilitate the teaching of leaving certificate students.
In respect of newly qualified teachers and equal pay, the Minister of State, Deputy English, said last week on "Claire Byrne Live" that it will happen in the successor agreement. Every Minister is nodding their head and saying it will happen. Why can the Government not say it publicly? I understand the Minister said it previously so why can the Government not say that there is a pathway to equality of pay for newly qualified teachers? It may be in the successor agreement but at least, there is a timeframe, commitment and pathway. This would go a long way towards getting this sorted.
It is not just a case of hoping it will resolve itself because it will not. It will only be resolved through continuation of the bilateral talks that are taking place between officials on both sides. As the Deputy is aware, the president of the ASTI made a comment about the WRC. Whether or not the WRC becomes involved is a matter for it. This is a dispute that must be settled. A situation where over 220,000 students and their parents are discommoded and teachers are left without pay is not a proper one. The situation pertaining to supervision and substitution resulted from the direct and unilateral action of the ASTI in the summer not to work the extra hour per week, which I regret. This matter can be resolved quickly. I hope there is a willingness to see an end to this dispute that would allow the money on the table to be paid to the teachers, the pupils to be taught and the schools to get on with their business. The remaining element of the benefits that come from the collective situation are available to ASTI teachers who need them now. I trust that the continued bilateral discussions that are taking place will lead to that conclusion quickly.
The Deputy's question is a valid one but it is one that should not have arisen. I do not accept that the Government, the Minister and the Department were lax in not dealing with this. This has dragged on for quite some time but the one hour not being worked results from a unilateral decision made by the ASTI that has affected its own members to their detriment. There is money on the table to pay them. This issue is one that could be resolved very quickly.
The Taoiseach does not accept that the Government has a responsibility for the current situation in which over 500 schools are closed. This represents 70% of the secondary school sector. A total of 250,000 students are affected. Tens of thousands of them are in examination years, including the leaving certificate. They are missing out on valuable course work and their family schedules and routines are up in the air. It also affects thousands of teachers who have made it very clear that they would rather be in their classrooms instead of on picket lines. Yesterday, they were effectively locked out of their workplaces. They are engaged in industrial action because of very legitimate concerns about their pay and conditions. Those concerns are shared across the public sector following seven years of pay cuts. The Taoiseach should know this as a former teacher. It has particularly impacted because this was one area in the public sector in which there was a large number of new recruits over the past ten years.
The issue of pay equality cannot be dodged and must be addressed. It is very simple and straightforward - equal pay for equal work. In 2016, surely the Government can accept that basic principle but not one Minister is prepared to agree to the principle of pay equality let alone set out a timetable for when it might be achieved. Young teachers are earning up to €8,000 less per year than their colleagues who were hired before 2012. Is that fair? Clearly, it is not about equality but it is obviously acceptable to the Government.
Even though gardaí have to vote on the package, last week's negotiations with An Garda Síochána surely show that the issues at play are not insurmountable. Agreement can be reached. What is required is a meaningful dialogue that sets out a clear and sensible path to the provision of pay equality. The Taoiseach knows that this cannot wait until 2018. A new pay agreement is needed. The Lansdowne Road agreement is clearly críochnaithe and must be replaced.
The issue of allowances also has to be dealt with. That would go a long way towards satisfying teachers' concerns. It is obvious that pay equality needs to be put in place sooner rather than later. Putting it on the long finger as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have done so many times in the past will not resolve the issue. Will the Taoiseach, on behalf of the Government, accept the principle of pay equality? He should accept it without equivocation. Will the Government open dialogue with the ASTI on that basis? Does the Taoiseach agree that the Lansdowne Road agreement must be replaced with a new agreement that sets out a clear timetable for having a single pay scale for all public sector workers and the restoration of allowances?
In many cases it was about arranging parent-teacher meetings in such a way that they could be held outside school hours, which would have accommodated everybody, as well as supervision in corridors, schoolyards and so on. It is all very fine to say, "Open the schools." Boards of management are required to ensure adequate supervision and safety in corridors, schoolyards and so on. On that issue, there is money on the table to pay teachers in the morning. It was a decision taken unilaterally by the ASTI, which I very much regret. Obviously, as the Deputy is aware, in a pressurised society people have to discommode themselves or make special arrangements to attend parent-teacher meetings that are held during school hours.
The Deputy's question about equality is at the heart of what Government tries to do in terms of fairness. The Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, has focused, in particular, on creating better opportunities for people from disadvantaged areas in the school system and higher education. The recent budget contained a number of measures to deliver on this. Equality for others needs to be referred to also. The Deputy must also bear in mind the issue of equality among public servants in different parts of the country and different parts of the public service-----
----- and between public servants and those who work elsewhere or who do not work at all. We have seen developments in the past week that show the concept that one size fits everybody does not work either. Obviously, the Lansdowne Road agreement caters for this. Schools are closed today because of the withdrawal from working an extra hour in the contexst of supervision and substitution.
I hope there will be a willingness to bring this particular dispute to an end. As Deputy Micheál Martin pointed out, for those children in junior certificate classes and particularly those in leaving certificate classes this is a very important semester. It does not do anybody any good and disadvantages the students in leaving certificate classes, in particular, who need the teaching hours from teachers who are prepared to teach them. There is money to pay them, but it has resulted in a dispute because the ASTI, unfortunately, withdrew from the collective responsibility to work an extra one hour per week. In the interests of students, in particular, and paying teachers a few short weeks before Christmas, this element of the industrial dispute should be focused on immediately and sorted out.
I asked the Taoiseach to accept the principle of pay equality, but he dodged the question. I listened to the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, say it beggared belief the ASTI would engage in industrial action. What beggars belief is that the Taoiseach thinks it is okay for new teachers to work for up to €8,000 a year less than their colleagues who are doing exactly the same job. That is why the teachers are out on the picket lines. In many cases, it is not because of their own pay scales, but because they are in solidarity with new recruits.
The Government seems to be trying to ratchet up what it might see as pressure on the teachers but it is making the situation worse. The Government is not addressing the issues and it is having a detrimental impact on pupils and families. I put the question again, and it is a simple question requiring a simple answer. Is it the Government's position that there will be pay equality for all teachers within the system or not? The Taoiseach does not have to say when it will be-----
Deputy Adams referred to the question of the difference in pay, particularly for new entrant teachers. This matter is of particular concern to those who are caught in this particular trap.
The TUI and the INTO sat down with officials, in the context of the Lansdowne Road agreement, and negotiated a great deal of benefit, monetary benefit, and a strategy for the future. That means that in the case of new entrant members, their pay will increase by 15% between 31 August 2016 and 1 January 2018, from €31,009 to €35,602. An individual member recruited since 1 September 2015 will see a 22% increase in his or her pay between 31 August 2016 and 1 January 2018, from €31,000 to €37,723.
I would point out that a previous administration took away the incremental payments for graduate nurses and it has taken all these years to get that rectified, and it was rectified in negotiations with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. This is an opportunity for ASTI members, and particularly for those young new entrants into teaching, to have pay increases, of a very substantial range from 15% to 22%, which are there for them now. That is the strategy that should be adopted here. As I have said, fairness and equality across all these different categories are central to the Minister's objectives in this case.
There are four primary response agencies in Ireland; the fire service, the ambulance service, the Garda and the Irish Coast Guard. The Irish Coast Guard is the only primary response agency that is not legislated for in the State. The Irish Coast Guard is the fourth blue light service and it needs to be a stand-alone, legislated, primary response agency. The current system within which it operates impedes the growth and progress of the service as decisions are being made by managers in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport who have no direct involvement with the emergency service. A stand-alone legislated, primary response agency would have a chain of command structure filled by qualified and experienced coast guard personnel as is the case in the other three legislated primary response agencies within the State.
The main role of the Irish Coast Guard is to rescue people from dangerous seas, inland waters, mountains and caves, to organise immediate medical assistance and transport and to assist boats and ships within the State's jurisdiction. In any one year the Irish Coast Guard expects to handle around 2,500 maritime emergencies, assist approximately 4,500 people and save the lives of some 200 people. It will task coast guard helicopters on missions some 800 times, evacuate medical patients from the islands to hospitals on 100 occasions, assist other nations' coast guard services approximately 200 times and make nearly 6,000 maritime safety broadcasts to shipping, fishing and leisure craft users. The coast guard's role in our State cannot be underestimated. The crews of over 950 male and female volunteers are real life heroes. Currently, there are only three sector managers for the entire State. They have a combined job of managing all coastal units, which is a near impossible task. A minimum of another six sector manager positions and at least nine assistant sector manager positions need to be made available immediately in order to provide the support required and deserved by the coast guard volunteer coastal unit. In my own area in west Cork our coast guards in Goleen, Toe Head, Kinsale and Castletownbere are always ready to respond to calls, as are their colleagues throughout the State, to rescue cliff walkers, to search for missing persons or to assist in search operations, such as the infamous cocaine seizure in Dunlough Bay in west Cork in 2007.
I ask that legislation be enacted as soon as possible to protect the Coast Guard and ensure the future of the world class organisation which volunteers have worked so hard to develop. Following the enactment of legislation I ask that a budget be put in place to facilitate hiring additional sector managers and assistants. Will the Taoiseach assure us here today the Irish Coast Guard will retain all of its helicopter bases and mission co-ordination centres?
Nobody can disagree with the sentiment of what Deputy Collins is speaking about. The Civil Defence, mountain rescue teams, the RNLI and the Coast Guard service provide extraordinary benefits to the people. The Coast Guard service is especially relevant at this time because of the loss of an esteemed and valued member recently in County Clare. I should point out to Deputy Collins there has been an extensive and expensive budget for the Coast Guard service over recent years, with a fleet of new Sikorsky helicopters and other facilities, including the upgrading of the station on Valentia Island and number of other stations.
Speaking to some of the Coast Guard service recently, I advised them that in respect of the issues of concern to them they should submit their proposition to the Government and the Minister concerned. I agree these are men and women who give of their time voluntarily in extraordinarily difficult conditions because they wish to do so to help save lives and bring people to safety. Nobody can underestimate in that quadrant of services the courage, tenacity and commitment of ordinary people throughout the country. This is a service that is very much valued by the people. It is very much appreciated by the people and the Government will continue to support it. Twenty or 30 years ago these services were in their infancy and had very inferior facilities and capacity. It is very different now. While, unfortunately, accidents and tragedies happen at sea all of the time the Coast Guard service is one which stands up to the highest international standards and we will continue to support it.
We both agree the Irish Coast Guard is one of the most progressive search and rescue organisations in the world. This is in no small part due to the volunteer Coast Guard teams. They do this on a voluntary basis and are out there on average 10,000 man hours per year, 24-7, 365 days a year, putting their lives at risk to help others. The helicopter service which the Coast Guard provides for the State is among the most modern in the world and provides an invaluable service to the people of the country. We and they need legislation to ensure the successful future of this primary response agency. The Taoiseach has said they are very much valued, and we all know their value, but will the Taoiseach assure us the legislation will be enacted as a matter of urgency?
As I have stated, the people who give of their time voluntarily for the Civil Defence, mountain rescue teams, the lifeboat service and the Coast Guard service are to be admired for their extraordinary commitment and courage. If we decide to legislate for a voluntary group we need to consider its implications very carefully. It is fair to say the Coast Guard service is very professional and operates to very high standards in terms of its training, its use of equipment, and the on-call situation it has as volunteers. Legislating for volunteers is certainly not an exact science. Deputy Collins can take it the Government and the Minister are very amenable to discussing these issues with the Coast Guard service. I recently advised it to send in its propositions on this and in other regards. From the Government's point of view, not only do we value the service but we will continue to fund it where we can to improve the level of services and facilities it has and its capacity to do its job. The question of legislation is one for discussion and the Coast Guard service knows and understands this.
The Taoiseach, the Minister for Education and Skills and the Government have broken their agreement with the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland.
They have locked out teachers and locked out 250,000 students. There is only one industrial relations agreement between the Department of Education and Skills and the ASTI and that is the Haddington Road agreement, freely entered into by the Department of Education and teachers. Except where that agreement explicitly states otherwise, the agreement expired last 30 June. Crucially, a key area where the agreement extends into the future is that of supervision and substitution and how these are to be paid for. The agreement states that:
A gross additional payment equivalent to the 2011 lower payment rate paid for supervision and substitution will be included in the common basic scale for teachers. This will be included in two moieties with half included in the school year 2016/17 and the second half included in the school year 2017/18.
Teachers turned up for work to teach but the Taoiseach and his Minister broke their agreement by refusing to pay for substitution and supervision. They closed schools, locked out teachers and locked out students rather than honouring an agreement that they freely entered into. They are prepared to pay parents, citizens and members of another union in the same school but they are not prepared to honour the agreement they freely made with the ASTI.
Clearly this is not a question of money. It is an attempt to coerce and bully a union into a new agreement and Mussolini, Franco and their Irish blueshirt ally, General O'Duffy, would be proud of the Taoiseach and his Government today. His claim that the ASTI has unilaterally withdrawn from Croke Park hours is completely false. The Haddington Road agreement makes no provision for the maintenance of these hours beyond 30 June and, as the Taoiseach well knows, the majority of teachers do additional hours far in excess of Croke Park on an ongoing basis to support and develop students in music, arts, drama, sports, transitional year projects, etc. In any event the Croke Park hours have not been worked for months and this has not necessitated the closure of schools.
The Taoiseach and his Government are breaking the Haddington Road agreement. They are locking out teachers and using students as pawns to bully the ASTI into an agreement. Will the Taoiseach stop breaking the Haddington Road agreement, pay for supervision and substitution and allow our students and children back to school? Will he and his Government stop locking out teachers and holding students as hostages to force a trade union into an agreement to which it is not party and which union members have rejected? The Taoiseach should leave William Martin Murphy, the infamous Dublin employer who locked out workers in 1913, in his grave. He can stop the lock-out today to allow teachers and students back to work and he should allow the right to free trade unions in this country.
The Deputy is going well when he can bring William Martin Murphy and General O'Duffy into the dispute. Deputy Healy is a good student of history and must have done his homework well.
He is wrong, however, when he says the Minister and the Department have locked students and teachers out of schools. Boards of management are responsible for the opening of schools and for seeing that there is proper supervision in hallways, schoolyards and classrooms.
The Minister has not closed down schools. The issue of supervision and substitution has arisen because the ASTI unilaterally withdrew from the collective agreement to work one hour extra per week.
That one hour was for parent-teacher meetings to be held during school hours to accommodate everybody. The pay of teachers in the INTO and the TUI includes a component of over €1,500 per year for supervision and substitution, as part of a negotiated deal through the system of collective agreements.
That amount was and is available to the ASTI and would have been paid to its members but for the fact that they withdrew from that part of the agreement. I am sure Deputy Seamus Healy will agree that students should be able to go to school in what is a very important semester and that teachers should be available to teach them. The problem is not one which has been caused by the Minister, but he will what he can to assist in bringing about a solution because we all want to see schools open, teachers teaching their students and students having the opportunity to learn and do their work, particularly those who will be doing their junior and leaving certificate examinations in June next year. The leaving certificate examinations will not be long in coming around again and students will need all of the time they can get for projects and doing other work with their teachers during class hours. This is an element which is causing serious difficulty because people do not know when schools will be open again. The fact that principals were denied the opportunity to get involved in making arrangements in this regard has not helped. Money is on the table for substitution and supervision payments, one of four issues on which the ASTI is in dispute with the Department and which could be resolved.
It is clear to anybody with an independent view that the Taoiseach, the Government and the Department of Education and Skills have locked out teachers and students. The Taoiseach's claim that the ASTI unilaterally withdrew from the Croke Park agreement on working hours is completely false, demonstrably so. He has claimed in the past few days that there is no money available to pay teachers. That is also false. In the last two budgets the Minister for Finance gave back €172 million to the wealthiest 5% in the country, €120 million of which was provided in budget 2016 and €52 million in budget 2017. We know from the Central Bank's report that the wealthiest 10% in the country own assets worth over €100 billion, an increase of €35 billion on peak boom levels, and that they do not pay one cent in tax on that money. I am asking the Minister and the Taoiseach to ensure moneys will be made available. The super rich have oodles of money which, if there was the political will to do so, could be taxed at even a small rate. A 1% wealth tax on the super rich would help to pay for a huge amount of work to be done. Will the Taoiseach at least reverse the payment of the €172 million to the super rich in the last two budgets and make the money available for schools, pay and pensions restoration?
Returning to the question the Deputy asked originally about the industrial dispute arising from the withdrawal from supervision and substitution duties, money is on the table to deal with the issue.
In respect of the deal negotiated under previous pay agreements, there is a component of €1,500 per annum for teachers who involve themselves in supervision and substitution duties.
If Deputy Seamus Healy expects a board of management to open a school without providing for adequate supervision of students or staff, it will not do so because of health and safety regulations.
I trust that the bilateral discussions which are under way and about which Deputy Healy knows will bring about a speedy conclusion to this particular industrial dispute between the ASTI and the Department.