by John MacGanhann
Among the most damaging effects of the cutbacks in education is the casualisation of teaching and lecturing. Ironically, this is exacerbated by the abuse of legislation intended to protect employees against abuse. Many teachers and lecturers are experiencing severe income poverty because they struggle on fixed-term – which is to say temporary – contracts in part-time positions, mere fragments of jobs.
To make matters worse, these teachers and lecturers are routinely jettisoned or have their hours, and pay, reduced from one year to the next, a situation completely at odds with the common yet completely erroneous depiction of public servants as some rare breed of protected species in terms of tenure and job security.
We estimate that 30 per cent of second-level teachers are employed on a part-time basis. Local management has, in some instances, sought to play God by varying the working hours of teachers and lecturers on an arbitrary, whimsical basis.
As if this were not enough, there has been a savage, sustained and disproportionate attack on the pay of new entrants to the teaching profession since 2011.
Newly qualified teachers enter the teaching profession after an unpaid training period of five years, soon to be six at second level. It takes an average of a further five years to secure a level of permanency. Even then, this is very often only permanency in part-time work that sees them, in many instances, earning considerably less than the average industrial wage.
In the wake of the cynical elimination of qualification allowances, a teacher who enters the profession today is automatically
22 percent down on the 2010 starting salary of a colleague with identical qualifications.
The principled struggle against casualisation and associated pay cuts that the Teachers’ Union of Ireland and other teacher unions are engaged in is one that, in the interests of this country and its young people, must be won.
A race to the bottom eventually impoverishes everybody and deprives the country of one of its most important competitive advantages: a high quality, highly regarded public education system.
TUI’s annual congress this year prioritised the plight of new entrants to the profession, committing the union to campaigning to have the divisive differential in the salaries of teachers doing the same job rescinded. The concerns of new entrants must be afforded priority in negotiations about pay and in any national agreements that may emerge.
Parents and communities also need to be aware that hundreds of teaching posts have been lost as a result of cutbacks in recent years and that the equivalent of a further 700 full-time positions have been taken out of the second-level system this September as a result of a cut to guidance-counselling provision.
Invariably it is vulnerable teachers in fixed-term positions on part-time hours who suffer first when such cuts take effect.
For students and schools, casualisation and cuts create instability. For example, they often result in students being taught by a succession of teachers in a given subject area over the course of the Junior or Leaving Certificate cycles. In terms of consistency of provision, this is undesirable, unacceptable and damaging.
In order to protect our students, our high-quality public education system and the integrity of the profession on which it relies, the TUI is seeking, as a first step, an end to the attrition that is causing casualisation.
We are asking the Department of Education and Skills to work with the education partners to put in place a system whereby teachers have an opportunity to secure sustainable jobs that allow them to develop as professionals and make an even more valuable contribution to the schools and communities that they serve.
Now more than ever, teachers need jobs, not hours.
About the author: John MacGabhann is general secretary of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, which represents more than 14,000 teachers and lecturers