Thursday 23 November 2017

Bruton's tough line on teachers could backfire in the end

Editorial COmment

WITH the Government widely seen to have capitulated in a desperate last minute attempt to stop last Friday's Garda strike, Enda Kenny's administration now seems to be adopting a hard line stance with teachers in the ASTI.

The tough line with teachers appears to be as much about saving face as it is about saving the rapidly unravelling Lansdowne Road Agreement amid a torrent of new claims from the public sector unions.

Whether the Government will be successful in its attempt to fend of the unions remains to be seen but, in the ASTI's case at least, it looks set to be a long, hard and bitter battle.

So far the early points look to have gone to the Government with Richard Bruton managing to successfully spin the narrative that the strike was over ASTI teachers' simple refusal to work the 33 additional hours other public sectors staff agreed to under the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements.

The truth of the matter - which is yet to really filter into the public debate - is more complex. The crux of the issue, as far as ASTI members are concerned, is that the Government reneged on a promise to restore payments for supervision and substitution duties in order to try and force them to accept the terms of the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

Where the big problem lies for the ASTI is in terms of public support. While a majority of the public appeared supportive of the union's strike over equal pay for new teachers - an easy concept for a union to sell - the dispute over the supervision payments is more complex and much harder to explain to a sceptical public

So far the Government is doing a better job selling its line to the media. An extra hurdle for the ASTI in winning the battle for public sympathy is that - unlike say gardaí, doctors or nurses - most people, having attended school, think they know exactly what a teacher's job entails.

At time of print there was no sign of the stand-off being resolved. The longer the strike rumbles on and schools remain closed, the more support for the ASTI will wane.

What this will do for the ASTI members' resolve remains to be seen. The Government will be praying that it breaks the back of the teachers' morale but it could have the opposite effect.

The ASTI has seen what the garda unions achieved by forcing the Government into a corner and so it may escalate action. If, for example, the Leaving Cert itself was threatened with cancellation, could the Government be forced to roll over?

Though the public may not back the teachers, they will have powerful support from the other public sector unions who are now fighting for new deals like those won by the Gardaí.

Enda Kenny may not want to admit it but the Lansdowne Road Agreement is dead in the water and a new deal must be negotiated.

If the Government sees off the ASTI challenge, it will mean all public sectors unions could be seriously weakened when talks on the successor to Lansdowne begin. None of the unions will want that to happen and, as such, they will surely back the ASTI.

The twin crises of the Garda and teachers strikes could have been resolved months ago but the Government failed to recognise just how serious the situation was. Now that they have belatedly realised the seriousness of the situation let us hope that calmer heads prevail. None of us - especially students - can afford for this strike to be a long, drawn out process.

Wexford People

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