Teachers to take action over Irish levy
IRELAND - Members of three teachers unions have voted in favour of industrial action, including strikes, over the government's handling of the economic crisis including the introduction of the "pension levy".
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) encouraged its affiliates to ballot members on possible strike action at the end of February, and while some unions are continuing the ballots ICTU confirmed a nationwide strike is currently scheduled for 30 March 2009.
Following criticism over the new "pension levy", described by trade unions and opposition political parties as a pay cut, ICTU proposed a three-year agreement based on a 10-point plan calling for the withdrawal of the pension levy and the use of the National Pension Reserve Fund (NPRF) as a pension protection fund.
It claimed from an industrial relations perspective the recent changes by the government, including the 'pension levy', had breached the transitional national collective agreement on pay and conditions agreed in September 2008, so unions are entitled to resort to industrial action.
On Friday, the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO), representing around 60,000 teachers, all voted in favour of industrial action.
In a joint statement the three unions said the decision showed the anger of teachers as they and other workers "expected to be treated in a fair and equitable manner and that the well off in society would contribute their fair share."
The unions added: "Teachers want government to re-enter discussions to address the economic crisis with the ICTU on the basis that the burden must be shared by all sectors of society according to their means."
Figures from INTO revealed 79% of its membership, or four out of five primary school teachers, voted in favour of industrial action although John Carr, general secretary of INTO, claimed "clearly strike action will be a last resort" and warned it could be avoided if government reconvened talks to develop an "equitable national recovery plan for the next number of years".
Meanwhile TUI also revealed the results of its ballot which showed of the more than 13,800 members eligible to vote 69.5% were in favour of industrial action, up to and including strikes.
The three unions also highlighted the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) is expected to begin balloting its members on the issue this week, although it confirmed "industrial action by teachers will be organised on a co-ordinated basis by the teacher unions in conjunction with the ICTU".
That said, the Civil Public and Services Union (CPSU) is expected to start a second wave of protests against the pension levy this week, following an initial strike at the end of February when it is estimated around 13,000 members staged a one-day strike that caused all Social Welfare Local Offices to close. (See earlier IPE article: Dáil passed pension levy ahead of first strike)
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