Why I’m voting “no” to strike action

Everyone knows that we’re in the middle of a recession: everyone, that is, except for the INTO, the union representing Irish primary school teachers.

The McCarthy report outlined several ways that the government could save some cash in the education sector. None of the recommendations included a pay cut. However, the INTO are convincing its members that as well as the terms of the McCarthy report, we will also get another cut in our pay.

I believe we have been given an opportunity for negotiation. Should the INTO have the ability to do so, rather than refusing point-blank to accept any of the recommendations for cuts in the report, why don’t they use it as a bargaining tool against pay cuts? The advantage of this is that teachers may be seen in a more positive light by the public. No one could accuse us of not putting our “shoulder to the wheel” or “take some of the pain”.

The INTO are feeding the message that the media are giving to the general public that teachers are only interested in protecting themselves and essentially are self-serving.

Rather than threatening a strike now, here’s a chance for the INTO to take on some of the cutbacks to show our commitment to helping our economy. Let’s look at some of the things, we as teachers could live with. I’ve also added a couple of my own ideas and those of other teachers I’ve spoken to.

Staying an extra hour after school each day: Most of us do this anyway and the public will see that at last. Cost to us? Nothing.

Getting rid of A & B posts: Why not share all responsibilities out amongst the staff? A & B posts only cause an inevitable and unhelpful hierarchy in schools. Saving to the government: €67m. Saving to teachers: No hierarchal system.

Getting rid of EPV days: As nice as it was to be able to take a couple of days off during the school year, it was always a pain in the ass for the teachers left behind with a chunk of the missing teacher’s class. No substitution cover meant that there was little benefit to the school overall. Anyway, we could do courses during our extra hour in school. Saving to government: €0. Cost to teachers: €0. Cost to our public image: Very high. For some reason, we are being targeted in a negative way for this.

Lowering the number of uncertified sick days from 31: Let’s bring it all the way down to one or two… even zero. We don’t get substitute cover for the first day so most schools are asking teachers to get certificates anyway. Savings to the government: roughly €0. Cost to our public image: priceless. We’re being dragged through the mud for this despite the fact that only 3 or 4 teachers out of 30,000 took advantage.

Call the bluff of amalgamating schools: So, where are the government going to get the money to do this? I doubt it’s going to happen any time soon and they’ll be out of power a long time before they’d have the chance to do it. Cost to the government: their reputation. Cost to schools: It’s not really going to happen in this climate.

Reduce allocation to teacher training colleges: As long as it’s across the board, why not? It’s all about supply and demand. Savings to government: a few million euro. Savings to teachers: A hell of a lot of envelopes and stamps.

Absorb the NEWB into the Department of Education: To be fair, they don’t act on any of the absences.

Absorb the NCSE into the Department of Education: I can’t see any reason for this to be a separate agency.

Reduce the numbers in the Inspectorate: Until the inspectorate become an independent body with actual power, they are a pointless bureaucratic agency. While WSEs seem to still scare teachers, in reality they are meaningless exercises in ticking boxes.

Scrap the Teaching Council: I think it goes without saying that this is the most pointless of all agencies in the Irish education system.

Make all Communication electronic: I receive at least one envelope from the DES per week. Some of them are stamped with 55c but mostly they’re at least 95c. If there’s a glossy booklet inside, it’s going to be at least €1.27 for the stamp. Naturally, they also send an equivalent envelope to my chairperson. Oh.. we’d better not forget the price of printing letters, booklets and then doing it twice, once in English and once in Irish. Let’s say on average it costs 95c per week to send letters to a school, (I’m being incredibly generous). So… 95c x 30,000 schools x 52 weeks = €1.482m. Adding glossy books, CDs, etc. I would imagine it costs well over €10m per annum for this kind of stuff. If they just popped it on the web site or emailed the schools, the cost would be considerably lower. In fact, it might cost zero instead.

Change the grants structure: Not only would this save money, it would free schools up to spend their money according to their own priorities. It would also get rid of the need for pointless staff in the DES.

Ban Prefabs: If a school is full, either build a new school or build an extension. Renting prefabs, as we all know, is costing the government millions every year and no-one is happy about it except for the prefab companies.

Anyway, I think that’s quite enough for now. The government will probably save enough money there to protect our children’s education. By offering some of these things in return for no further cutbacks, the INTO will be showing leadership. They will be showing the public that one part of the public sector is willing to take a bit of pain. Then, after all this, if the government decide to carry on chopping teaching and SNA posts, then I’ll be ready to hold up my picket sign. Until the INTO decide to compromise in difficult economic times, I cannot give them a mandate to strike.

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