Lansdowne Road Agreement: Vote Yes or No?

I usually have strong convictions about issues affecting the education system but I am really not sure which way to vote in the Lansdowne Road Agreement so I thought I would take the two main advocates of either side of the debate and try and make it into a balanced guide. By the end of me writing this, I hope I will come to some conclusion by the end of the article.

Voice for Teachers (VFT) is a Facebook group with over 10,000 members. According to their page, they are a group of teachers from a variety of backgrounds. They are advocating a “no” vote. The INTO is the primary teacher union led by Sheila Nunan. They represent over 90% of primary school teachers and are advocating a “yes” vote. The Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) is being sold to teachers as a step to pay restoration. I’m going to summarise some of the cuts that took place during the recession to education and then explore what changes will happen if we vote in favour of LRA. I’ll also explore the arguments from both sides as to which way to vote.

VFT have summarised the cuts that have taken place in the last number of years and I list some of them below.

  • Loss of between 18% and 32% to pay.
  • Withdrawal of qualification allowances (loss of €4,918 per year for post 2012 teachers with an honours degree)
  • No overdue benchmarking payment made to Principals
  • Pay cut of 5.5%-10% for those earning >€65,000 plus freeze of increments for three years
  • Cuts to DEIS, EAL and General Allocation Learning Support hours
  • Loss of VTT, RTT, Rural Co-ordinators, Traveller Education Centres, Refugee Education Centres, Free Bus services, Modern Language Initiative
  • Longer working week – one hour extra in school every week (six days per year)
  • Severe cuts to sick leave entitlement and maternity leave
  • No sub cover for first day of self-certified Sick Leave or other categories
  • Removal of yard duty pay
  • Cuts to capitation grant
  • Abolition of minor works grant and summer works scheme
  • Moratorium on posts of responsibility
  • Cuts to SNAs, while number of children with SEN rises, replaced by misnomer of “access” to SNA
  • New model for NEPS- less assessments, more work for teachers and principals, legal fall-out on whose shoulders in the future?
  • 15% cut to Special Education Resource Hours
  • Introduction of different salary scales depending on when one begins teaching.

The majority of these cuts do not affect teacher pay but affect a teacher’s ability to teach. The 15% cut to resource hours has had a major effect on the learning of children with various diagnoses. The cuts to capitation grants costs schools thousands of euros every year, which prevents school providing resources for helping children to learn. Lack of substitute cover for illnesses means that children have to be split between classes regularly.

What will LRA address? Let’s look at this under the categories that the INTO’s Eolas supplement listed.

Pay

According to the INTO, teachers will get extra money from the LRA. There seems to be a number of tax benefits plus a flat €1,000 rise in 2017. VFT have calculated that this will mean less than €10 a week extra in our paychecks until 2017 with no further pay restoration promises after this. The INTO would probably argue that money is money and it’s not a bad deal considering the economy is still not great.

Supervision

We get our Supervision payment back between 2016 and 2017. VFT don’t have an issue with this and neither do I. I always found this payment to be a bit of a bonus to be honest and while it is welcome to have it back, I’m not sure how much of a deal breaker it is for me.

Working Time

The INTO state that no extra working hours will be expected as a result of this deal. It doesn’t rid us of the Croke Park Hours.

Recently Qualified Teachers

The INTO state: The LRA, by applying flatrate increases, benefits teachers at the lower end of the scale. However, I note that it doesn’t mention an equal pay scale. VFT confirm this on their guide, Breis Eolas. This seems rather unfair to me. Similarly to the Marriage Equality referendum, while it didn’t affect me personally, inequality is simply not right. I think this is a fair analogy for teachers who didn’t begin their careers until after me. They’re doing the same job so shouldn’t be penalised for this.

No compulsory redundancies

There will be no compulsory redundancies as part of the deal. I don’t recall any from any previous agreement either but I could be wrong. In any case, considering we are operating under severe cuts to personnel, particularly with regards to SNAs, it would seem bizarre if there were redundancies as part of the deal.

Benchmarking claim for school leaders

Apparently this will be reviewed. That doesn’t mean it will be paid back.

…and that seems to be it (apart from some minor changes to FEMPI)

Taking all the above into account, my summary of the above is that in order to get a few euro in my pocket and my supervision money, I have to ignore that many of my colleagues will be working on a payscale that is lower than mine. It doesn’t sound like my conditions will change that much and it doesn’t sound like any of the cuts that were festooned onto our pupils will be reversed.

I have heard the argument that while it isn’t a great deal, it’s a good first step. However, I don’t have any indication from VFT or the INTO of what the next steps are.

Now, there’s the question of who should one believe. The INTO represents almost all teachers in the country and tend to be considered a “strong” union. They are generally well-respected. Despite other teaching unions urging a “no” vote, they are urging a “yes” vote. Personally, I think the second level unions are over-aggressive. Lately, however, I have found the INTO are not aggressive enough and have allowed our conditions to slip in favour of half-protecting pay. Having said this, they generally think things through well and perhaps this is a good first step and perhaps they know what the second step will be. Voice for Teachers is not a union and has no voice in negotiations. Therefore, it would be unfair to criticise their involvement. They are merely reacting to this deal in much the same way as I am trying to do. However, it is difficult to trust in group that have no face. The people behind VFT are anonymous. This is a potentially serious problem for them as anonymity gives one a voice in the shadows but not at the negotiation table. I believe if they were to reveal themselves, they would have a much stronger voice.

Looking at everything, I think I stand in the “no” camp but only because of one issue. That variable is pay equality. If all teachers were back on the same payscale as part of the agreement, I would vote “yes.”  While it would still make the agreement fairly unpalatable, it would be fair to all teachers. I’m taking it that the LRA doesn’t address conditions so that has to be a separate battle and it is probably an even more important one.

I hope this guide has been useful and not too long. By doing it, it has certainly helped me decide which way to vote. Thanks to both the INTO and VFT for their invaluable documentation, which I hope I summarised and analysed fairly.

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