Teachers' Conciliation and Arbitration: Motion (Resumed).

Wednesday, 18 December 1985

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 110 No. 9

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The following motion was moved by Senator Mullooly on Wednesday, 11 December 1985:

That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government (a) to re-assert their commitment to the agreed procedures of Conciliation and Arbitration for teachers and (b) to enter into immediate [1038] discussions with the three teacher unions.

Debate resumed on Amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Seanad Éireann” and substitute the following:

“notes that in keeping with the Government's adherence to the agreed provisions of the Scheme of Conciliation and Arbitration for teachers, steps are being taken to convene a meeting of the Teachers' Conciliation Council to discuss the 25th round of pay increases and other pay-related matters.”

Mr. Lynch: Information on Michael Lynch  Zoom on Michael Lynch  I mentioned when I was speaking last week certain aspects with regard to the arbitration system and how it was set up. In this case the public service arbitrator awarded teachers a 10 per cent pay increase in two phases. The first phase of the award was to take effect from 1 September 1985 and the second phase from 1 March 1986. This 10 per cent was half of what the teachers sought in their submissions to the Government. The public service arbitrator who was appointed by the Government is chairman of the teachers' arbitration board. Following the hearing of a claim it is his duty to decide on the amount of an award, if any, to be made and to present his recommendations in a report to the Government.

Both the Government and the unions concerned have always considered themselves bound by the recommendations of the arbitrator. In the present case, however, the public service arbitrator drew up his draft report in accordance with established practice and supplied copies to the parties. However, contrary to established practice, some person or persons decided for their own purposes to leak the terms of the draft report to the media. All the indications are that the leaks came from Government sources. I would ask the question: why? Obviously, it was to prepare the ground publicly to scrap arbitration awards or to test the [1039] teachers' reaction. The teachers' reaction was simply one of fury. They have been appalled at the devious underhand attempts to leak the terms of the award. They feel that they have been insulted by the Minister lecturing them on the morality of their claim.

It prompts me to ask the question: who was immoral? The teachers, who went through the normal channels to present a claim and abided by the guidelines laid down, or the people who broke confidence and leaked the terms of the draft? On 19 August, the Minister, in a singularly inept and offensive attack on public service unions and the teachers' unions in particular, made the demand that those organisations who publicly clamour for increases should address themselves to the morality of what they are about. I do not believe that it was a slip of the tongue. It seemed at the time to be a deliberately calculated insult by the Minister or her mentors.

I would ask this House to stop and think: who prepares the children for their first holy communion, confirmation, teaches them their prayers and inculcates in them a love of God and country? Who has kept the idea of the Gaelic Ireland alive? Who has nurtured the youth of Ireland in the skills of Gaelic football and hurling? Who but the teachers? This is hardly the work of an immoral band of people.

The one-day strikes and rally in Croke Park and the march to Leinster House were supported by the vast majority of teachers. They were not led by their executives into hasty action, as the Government would like us to believe. They led their executives. Teachers, old and young, travelled from all parts of the country at their own expense and at the loss of a day's pay. They feel very hurt and insulted by the Government's attitude towards them. The children have suffered also. Is this the kind of confrontation the Government want in our schools?

As I mentioned last week, there has been peace in our schools for countless years. The teachers are a peaceful and [1040] conservative group of people. They are being driven out of their schools and on to the streets by Government action. Twenty thousand teachers sat in the Hogan Stand listening to their executives. They vowed that their campaign will continue until justice is done. It is a curious twist of fate that the headquarters of the GAA, in the founding of which the teachers played such a noble part, should be the scene of their protest against unjust treatment by this Government. As the arbitrator said, it would be unjust to single out the teachers and reduce their award. To my knowledge teachers have co-operated in all the educational advances proposed by the Department of Education over the years and, indeed, have initiated many of them themselves.

We have an educational system in Ireland of which we can be proud. It is one of the most advanced in Europe. Yet, at the same time, as figures to date will prove it is the most underfinanced educational system in Europe, with the highest teacher-pupil ratio. Savage cutbacks in education have put great strain on those involved in the educational process. The teacher-pupil ratio has not been lowered for many years. What used to be an annual audio-visual grant is now given every fourth or fifth year. Grants for the repainting of schools have been abolished. Caretakers and school secretaries are not being replaced. Necessary repairs to buildings are now engulfed in governmental red tape for years with the result that many fine schools all over the country are decaying at an alarming rate. There is a serious shortage of remedial teachers and career guidance counsellors for the pupils in our schools.

Teachers have a further problem on their hands at present, and they have had this problem for a number of years. Corporal punishment, which I do not fully approve of, was abolished with the stroke of a pen by a former Minister. A code of discipline which was promised has never, to my knowledge, replaced corporal punishment. It is against that background that I speak in support of the motion.

[1041] I come from an area in North Meath where we are awaiting a school extension to our post-primary school and gymnasium which had been promised as far back as 1969. We are awaiting a replacement roof in our national school. The school was only built a few short years ago but the roof has deteriorated to such an extent that teachers have to use umbrellas— believe it or not — in a classroom. We are awaiting new schools in the town of Ceanannus Mór, in the village of Bobber and in Castlepollard. It is in this mood of frustration that teachers find themselves today in serious conflict with this Government.

Our motion is very clear and specific. It simply calls on this Government to re-assert their commitment to the agreed procedures of conciliation and arbitration for teachers and to enter into immediate discussions with the three teachers' unions. When I look at the amendment tabled by the Government parties I fail to understand why they feel it is necessary to table such an amendment.

Minister for Education (Mrs. Hussey): Information on Gemma Hussey  Zoom on Gemma Hussey  In the motion and the amendment to the motion reference is made to the agreed procedures of the Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme for Teachers. In this connection I would like to say a few words on the purpose of the C and A Scheme and how it operates.

The present C and A Scheme dates from 1973 and is a common scheme covering teachers in national, secondary, vocational, comprehensive and community schools. This scheme replaced three separate schemes which had been set up in the 1950's for national, secondary and vocational teachers.

The purpose of the scheme is to provide means for dealing with claims and proposals relating to the salaries and other emoluments payable to whole-time serving pensionable teachers in national, secondary, vocational, comprehensive and community schools.

The parties to the scheme are the three teacher unions — INTO, ASTI and TUI — the managerial authorities of national, [1042] secondary and vocational schools and the Ministers for Education and the Public Service.

It is stated in paragraph 2 of the scheme that its existence “does not imply that the Government have surrendered or can surrender their liberty of action in the exercise of their constitutional authority and the discharge of their responsibilities in the public interest.”

There is provision in the scheme for the process of conciliation and the process of arbitration.

With regard to the conciliation process, there is a conciliation council at which all parties to the scheme are represented. Claims or proposals relating to the pay of teachers may be submitted by parties to the conciliation council. If agreement is reached, such agreement is recorded in an agreed report of the council and the report is submitted to the two Ministers. I should mention that the council can only make recommendations and it is a matter for the Ministers to decide whether to accept or reject such recommendations. Agreed recommendations of the council have invariably been accepted by the Ministers.

If agreement is not reached on a claim, disagreement may be recorded in an agreed report of the council. If the subject of the claim is listed among those items which may be arbitrated under the scheme, the claim may be referred to the Arbitration Board for Teachers.

All of the parties to the scheme are represented on the Arbitration Board. The chairman of the board is an independent person, normally a Senior Counsel, who is appointed by the Government, on the nomination of the Ministers, in agreement with the other parties to the scheme. Also on the Arbitration Board there are two representatives of the Labour Court, one of whom represents employer and the other employee interests.

When the board has considered a claim the chairman submits a report on the claim to the two Ministers. The report of the board is, in effect, the report of the chairman.

Under the terms of the C and A [1043] Scheme the Government have three months from the date of receiving the signed report to decide whether to implement or modify or reject the findings of the Arbitration Board. If at the end of that period of three months payment has not been authorised, the scheme requires that the Government introduce a motion in Dáil Éireann proposing rejection or modification or deferment of a final decision until the budget for the next financial year is being framed.

It is against the foregoing background that the motion and the amendment fall to be considered. I would urge on all concerned that the most important requirement at this point in time is that everything possible should be done to facilitate a resolution of the current dispute with the teachers unions. This applies to the Government and to myself as Minister for Education. It applies also to this assembly and I believe that the views I have expressed accord with the feeling on both sides of the House. It applies to the teacher unions and to the teachers. It applies to everyone with the interest of education at heart. I, and the Government, are firmly dedicated to the resolution of the dispute. I am satisfied, therefore, that the least said about the situation at this time the better. The House will be aware that a meeting of the Teachers' Conciliation Council took place on Monday last and that it has since been agreed that the Minister for the Public Service and myself should meet the teacher unions. I am hopeful that our meeting, which has been arranged for 2 January, will bear fruit.

Mrs. Honan: Information on Tras Honan  Zoom on Tras Honan  I welcome the Minister's short speech here this evening. It is better to put the claim for who is responsible for the current dispute at the door of the Minister and the Department and not on the teachers. I appreciate what the Minister is saying: that the least said at this delicate time the better. But, at the same time, I must say a few words. This upset need not have taken the path it took. The teachers themselves, and certainly [1044] the people around them, will not forget this uspet for some time. They did not want to take the days off and they did not want to march. The teachers we are dealing with are, on the whole, a responsible body. They did not intend at any time to stand up to the Minister and the Government. I would worry that if they accept what is now being said and this possible change of heart, they may yet be conned in the end. Again they are showing their goodwill in accepting the Minister's change of thinking. The move this evening certainly takes heat out of some very sad weeks that have gone by. The teachers' cause was just and from day one the Government knew — and if they did not there are very foolish people in the Government — that they would find themselves in the end having to talk to the teachers. I suppose using the word “having to talk” or saying that any group should make a Government do anything may be too severe. It would be much better if the decision taken around Cabinet this week was taken some weeks ago. We would have had less upset.

There has been a great deal of propaganda and talk in recent weeks about the hours teachers work and the soft jobs they have. I could not support the view that they have short hours in class and long holidays. If I were to single out any group as being very committed to their jobs after the nurses of this nation, I would have to single out the teachers. Their claim started in 1982.

There were many meetings with the conciliation council. The three teacher unions talked to the Department but no offer whatsoever was made to the teachers' side. The claim was referred to independent arbitration. Maybe this is where the hassle started, because the very concept of the negotiation machinery was being challenged. This award to the teachers is the outcome of that negotiation machinery and the direct result of the independent third party investigation of a claim with arguments on both sides. At no time — and I repeat again at no time — did those teachers intend to teach this present Government a lesson. I would not feel as strongly as I do here [1045] this evening — and for some weeks past — if I felt that that was what the teachers were trying to do. We must remember that they have a greater role in this nation than they had in past times. I am quite sure that the Minister, as a parent as well as a Minister of this Government, would agree with me that there is probably a greater responsibility on teachers today because of the change in the situation in many homes. There are many homes in this country where the pupil has only the teacher to turn to. That might sound soft when it is being said, but that is the reality of the Ireland outside this House.

With regard to arbitration there were private letters to Ministers. The point of the arbitrator's letter was clarified and it confirmed his position. He felt that needed to be done because of media comments. This letter was used again by some person to suggest that he had changed his mind. In the letter he said that as was mentioned in the arbitrator's report he recognised the position of the State finances but in the final analysis it was the Government's decision whether or not to honour — and pay — the award. He further stated that this did not alter his recommendation. A day or two later he stated that his letter was private and was only clarifying the position and not altering his original recommendation. Figures are thrown around again about the cost of this award. They should be put on the record. This is not over at all yet, and having listened to the Minister's speech I do not know what the teachers are going to get. I appreciate that she could not tell us this evening when she intends to talk to the teachers.

Let us put this right again. Figures are being thrown around here by the Government back-up boys and the Press indicating that the cost of this award is in the remainder of the year 1985 £7.9 million, when actually the net cost is £4 million. There is a figure of £53 to £60 million for the year 1986 when actually the correct figure is £26 million net. Let us get the record right before we do any more. Let us get the figures right, too. We also have been told that the Irish teacher is being paid much more than his EC counterpart. [1046] We have not been told that it takes that same teacher 26 years to reach his maximum salary when he is 50 years of age. While we are being told about the money they have in the EC there is no record of the number of pupils per teacher in the classroom.

There has been much comment by Ministers and, indeed, by the Taoiseach about who started this strike. The leaks were directly responsible for the sadness that followed them. I do not know who leaded the document. There was some leak again in the past few days. The unions of which the teachers are members could not ignore these remarks. They have to respond. There were comments about the two days off for the protests. Everyone of us here who has reared children knows well that two days less schooling is not going to make one whit of a difference to a child. The teachers are being accused also of not taking into account the finances of the nation. We all know here about the finances of the nation. We will know it better when the budget figures come before us shortly. I want to quote the arbitrator's report which reads:

Full regard has been taken of the economic state, but this cannot mean that the claim should be rejected. Such an approach would constitute an unjustified discrimination against the teachers as distinct from all other professional grades in the public service.

Let us all be quite clear on what the teachers are asking for. They are not asking for more money than their counterparts in other Departments. They are only asking for parity with others of their grade.

Deputy Mary O'Rourke asked in the Dáil that the teachers should be met. I am glad that the Minister now thinks it fit to meet the teachers. I hope that the whole position will work out well. I feel sad that the situation has reached the stage it has. They did not want to march, but somebody decided to be tough. I am not saying it was the Minister who decided to be tough. Perhaps it was some of her advisers who made the decision. I [1047] am not supposed to criticise them. Where do we go?

Senator Mullooly last week, and Senator Kirwan also, asked for this meeting. I am glad, even in this week before Christmas, that commonsense has prevailed. I hope I will be proved wrong but I feel there is nothing here to say that the teachers are going to get their due. There is no politics in this where I am concerned and that is a bit unusual for me. I see the role of teachers in this nation, particularly in the housing estates, as greater and tougher than it used to be. They have commitment to their jobs. They are only asking to be brought into line with their counterparts in other sections of the economy. I appeal to the Minister to grant them their award. We are all worried that after 35 years the whole machinery seems to have been ignored. It was a crazy step, with due respect to the Minister through the Chair to ignore the advice given in the arbitration award. I ask the Minister again to replace the chairman. We have learned a hard lesson. I hope that more talking will be done and that you will award the teachers what they are due. The teachers did not intend taking that line, but they were driven to it. I appeal to you this Christmas week to grant the teachers their award.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  I am somebody who might be described as having an average exposure to teaching and teaching problems in that scarcely one year has passed since I was a practising teacher. I have been vice-chairman of a vocational education committee, I have sat on numerous boards of management and, therefore, I can claim to have a fairly thorough and intimate knowledge of the strains, stresses and tensions, both financial and otherwise, that confront teachers. Nowadays teachers face stresses, strains, tensions and pressures that heretofore were not the lot of their predecessors. What we have to do in this debate is to be as detached, as objective and as unemotive as possible and to address ourselves to the facts as they are.

[1048] We must look at the special pay award which arrived on the desk of the Minister for the Public Service on 5 December 1985. The award is barely two weeks on the Minister's desk and we have already had pre-emptive strikes, marches, objections and emotionally supercharged debates in this House and in the other House. We have had a lot of disruptive action. We have heard many emotive phrases about leaks. It has been implied in this House that the leak has come, if not from the Minister, then from some Government source. Despite the fact that it came through the airwaves of Radio Telefís Éireann on 7 August, the educational correspondent of The Irish Times, Christina Murphy, stated on 14 November: “This correspondent understands that the source certainly was not the Government”. That was from an objective independent analyst whose job it is to objectively analyse evidence of all matters pertaining and relating to education.

Senator Lynch used the words “underhanded and insulting” in relation to the leak. That is the type of remark that should not be made in this House nor in any forum without adequate evidence of the fact that it came from a Government source. On 14 August the Government issued the public pay guidelines. On 19 August, as a result of this so-called leak, the secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland was quoted in the papers as saying that the teachers unions were having meetings with their British counterparts on the mechanics of selective strikes and that if they went ahead they would be aimed at Mr. Boland's and Mrs. Hussey's constituencies. The Minister said that the Government do not have the money to pay. That is a fact. The Government do not have the money to pay any of the other 59 special awards that are now waiting in the pipeline to be discharged, dealt with and paid. The net loss to the Government by way of revenue is a mere £24 million. It is the gross cost that has to be addressed, and the gross cost of this claim is £60 million. It is very significant in any economic context but it is particularly significant in [1049] terms of the public sector pay talks that are currently underway. This £60 million, if paid, would represent a 2 per cent increase in the pay of every single public servant in Ireland. Therefore to wave it aside with a flash of the hand and to say that it is of little consequence is facile and simplistic in the extreme. It would have profound implications for public pay.

It is also understandable that the Government would try to have this pay award dealt with within the framework of current on-going negotiations with regard to the public service pay agreement. One of the liabilities or handicaps of teachers is that there are too many of us; I say “us” because I am also one of them. There are 40,000 teachers in all. When one looks at the 1985 bill of £724 million one sees that teachers' pay represents 80 per cent of the total education budget. Something has to suffer when you are dealing with limited resources. I would dearly hate to see curriculum development or any other of the many facets currently being developed by the Minister suffering to any degree. The teachers unions will be the last to subscribe to that view. I make my remarks as a teacher. There was an over-hasty and spontaneous reaction to the initial divulgence of this award. The Government have not yet decided what has been done in this regard.

I, along with all the Members of the House, welcome the commitment by the Minister to meet the unions face to face on 2 January 1986. It is one of the many problems and one of the many special awards with which the Government have to deal. It is the reverse of the position that pertained in 1980 when a special tribunal on teachers' pay made a recommendation of 7 to 17 per cent increase. On that occasion the teachers threatened to strike. I understand that there was an all-night meeting with the then Minister, Deputy John Wilson. At that time the teachers eventually triumphed and got a special pay award of 12 to 34 per cent. That was on top of the national wage agreement that operated at that time. Some people say the teachers are well paid; others say they are not well paid. [1050] Teachers are reasonably paid; they have an average wage. A 20-year-old graduating from a college of education as a primary teacher starts off with a salary of £9,749 per year. A secondary teacher with an honours degree and a higher diploma gets £10,360 per year. A teacher with a post of responsibility can rise to £17,049 per year.

Mrs. Honan: Information on Tras Honan  Zoom on Tras Honan  After 30 years.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  Principals of schools can rise to a maximum of £24,000 per year. I take the point made by Senator Honan that very often teachers are castigated and derided by virtue of the fact that they are alleged to teach for only 180 days in the year and that at times there is not adequate cognisance of the amount of extra curricular duty and activity. The total professional commitment which they give on every occasion is something that is relevant in rural Ireland where they are expected to be involved in every community organisation. One of the problems of teachers is that it takes them 23 years — and not 26 years, as Senator Honan said — to reach the maximum of the scale. It seems to be a long time.

One of the problems to which the teachers should be addressing themselves is the burden of taxation, which hits everybody across the PAYE sector and largely nullifies the salaries they receive. I know that some teachers find it difficult to make ends meet. I appreciate that at times it is difficult for teachers to see their pupils passing through their hands, entering third level and being able to avail of third level grants — I am not saying free, gratis and for nothing but at the expense of the taxpayer — while they themselves at times are unable, by virtue of financial pressure, to send their own children to such colleges without incurring some considerable liability. But I do not think that the type of action that has been undertaken in this case is the answer to their problem.

I was visited by teachers' unions and I had to address them to the fact that we have now gone from a situation where we had 21 per cent inflation down to 5 per cent inflation. Petrol prices have come [1051] down 6 per cent in the last 12 months. Our balance of payments are on the right side. The nuts and bolts and components of the economy are beginning to come right. A pay increase now of £10 in real terms means only £3 into one's pocket. The consequences for the economy in terms of blowing the lid off it again would totally negative the consequent advantages. It is a shortsighted objective to go head, neck and heels for a 10 per cent award in view of the fact that within a relatively short period of time spiralling inflation will more than cancel out the consequent effect.

Furthermore, I take exception to the remarks made in relation to the Minister. I heard Senator Mullooly saying it was more about pay, about standards and about resources for education. I would say again, as Senator Bulbulia said, that no other Minister has devoted more to capital expenditure than the present Minister for Education. No other Minister has tackled outstanding problems in relation to curriculum development, and in relation to other areas such as the need to regionalise education, than the present Minister. We have had unprecedented, imaginative initiatives.

In relation to my county, this month last year the Minister opened the new vocational school on Achill Island, there is a new vocational school in Belmullet, a new vocational school in Castlebar, a commitment to a new regional technical college in Castlebar, 12 new primary schools underway at present and a new community school committed for Ballinrobe. This is the type of commitment that counters very effectively the nebulous criticism from anybody who would dare to slight the Minister. The Minister is a lady who has a knowledge of the job, who has a grasp of the job, who is forward thinking, imaginative and, I am sure, has the necessary understanding and ability to deal competently with the problem that now confronts her.

Mrs. Robinson: Information on Mary Robinson  Zoom on Mary Robinson  I wish to speak briefly and with restraint on this motion. The Minister in her own brief contribution [1052] called for a certain restraint and sensitivity. She said:

I would urge on all concerned that the most important requirement at this point in time is that everything possible should be done to facilitate a resolution of the current dispute with the teachers' unions.

I am sure that on all sides of the House there would be agreement with that. But my main point in contributing to this debate is to say that it is by no means the only issue. Even at this delicate stage we must be aware of the importance of the broader framework issue which is at the back of the dispute as it is called. As a society we cannot place enough emphasis on the importance of both safeguarding and confirming the role of conciliation and arbitration machinery. It has served us well down the years. It has frequently meant that it is the union side which has had to take the hard decisions and accept them because they are as a result of arbitration. It is of incredible value as a way of getting a kind of social contract, of getting agreement because the ground rules are laid and adhered to. In any society, if you do not accept the ground rules, value the importance of them and ensure that they are adhered to, you take an enormous risk. The Minister might well say that nobody has broken the ground rules here because, as has been pointed out, the agreement only reached her desk at a date in December and has the three months to run. We all know that. That is a debating point that can very well be made.

Since early August we have had a very worrying situation. In this House, without being too political about it, we can reflect on that situation. It is probably more important for us to address this motion than the specifics of the teachers' dispute for the very good reason, as the Minister pointed out, that she is going to have negotiations in very early January on the specifics. On the values and the broader framework, it is probably more important in Ireland in 1985, going into 1986, that we adhere to the ground rules and the machinery than at any time in [1053] the last 35 years, because it has never been so clear what the dimension of the problems is. Senator Higgins referred, very honestly and speaking as a teacher, with considerable courage to the extent of the problems that we face. I would agree in large measure with the points he made. We cannot run away from them or be superficial about them. We have enormous problems on the budgetary side. We have enormous problems in meeting any pay commitments, and we have to be aware of that. But we also have problems as a society of how we move and actually make progress.

What happened? I do not even want to talk about the details of who was right, who leaked, and who made a speech that he or she might not have made in August if they were being very wise about the position. What I am talking about is the undermining of an important process. There is no doubt at all that the trade union leadership of the teachers' union reflect the grass roots on this. There is very real hurt, annoyance and fury at the grass roots level, not so much at the actual cost which is included in that 10 per cent but because that side of the bargaining process had been negotiated over a period of years, that the claim had been taken step by step, submitted to the independent arbitrator and that it had as they knew, been ruled upon at that stage. It was being said (a) that they were immoral in insisting upon it and (b) that it could not be paid. There is actually a distinction to be drawn between the ability of the Government to pay and the importance of safeguarding, validating and confirming the conciliation and arbitration process. They are two different things. The importance is to confirm the process and confirm it in the sense of accepting an award which emerges from the process. If at that stage the situation warrants it, it is possible to consider opening discussion on phasing in, for example, what is agreed to have been awarded by the arbitrator.

I am saying this as a lay observer. I am not really a teacher, though I do teach part time at third level. I do not claim to be somebody with an expert minute [1054] knowledge of this particular dispute. I have the kind of knowledge that most Members of the House have. I follow it in the media and have met the teachers unions' representatives. I have received some information from that side. I have also received some information, as I am sure other Members of the House have. It is likely that the Minister will now enter into a discussion with the tachers' unions and one of the issues that may be on the table is the question of a possible phasing in of the arbitration award. I do not know, but if that is the case then we as a society have paid a very high price since August for reaching that position.

Important representative unions who have accepted the ground rules, who have played them and who have brought members along with a time lag involved in playing them, saw that being undermined. The whole trade union movement saw it. It actually sends the kind of tremor through the system that we cannot afford. I believe firmly — and I share Senator Higgins' point and, I am sure, so does the Minister — that we have to take very hard decisions over the next few years, particularly those of us who have jobs and who are in secure employment. Let us not run away from that. It is absolutely vital that we take very hard decisions, and that means the trade union leaders are going to have to sell very hard decisions to their own members. But you do not get that kind of debate going or any willingness to listen if you undermine or erode the only possible established system. It is extremely important that we confirm it. One step in the process is to re-appoint an arbitrator, either the existing arbitrator or some other arbitrator. That confirms a willingness to accept the process.

The Minister in her brief speech outlined the arbitration machinery. She referred to the fact that there is a custom — it is certainly the position with the outgoing arbitrator — that the arbitrator is a senior counsel. I would like to reflect a little bit on that arbitration process and on the hearing before the arbitrator, because a lawyer is basically trained either to accept a brief or, in the case of [1055] the arbitrator, to listen to the evidence and to come to an independent decision.

One of the issues we could look at in this dispute is how well the Government case was presented to the arbitrator and how clearly was it brought home what the Government were going to say afterwards. Putting the evidence before the arbitrator is one thing, because then you make your case strongly and cogently and adduce your facts and figures. The arbitrator, as an independent lawyer with legal training, assesses the evidence and comes to a decision. But if you have not done your homework before the arbitrator you cannot afterwards say “We are changing the rules. We will not play the game. We are invoking the clause allowing the possibility of a motion before the Dáil because we cannot afford to pay this”. Nothing has been decided, but all these issues have been raised. It is the raising of these issues and the undermining of the process of conciliation and arbitration that I have been very concerned about. I believe it certainly affects the teachers' unions. It has also affected the whole trade union movement at the worst possible time in our development of the country and with the particularly difficult decisions we have to face into.

I agree with Senators Higgins and Honan who made the point that it would be a tragedy if one of the short term effects was that was that we did not see early progress on the positive side of development in education. I pay tribute to the Minister for the initiatives she has taken in the area of the curriculum and for at least beginning a process in relation to the devolution of powers. These are very important issues which should be discussed, because they require very considerable discussion and consultation before there can be any beginnings of a draft of a possible Bill or decision-making process on it. Therefore, the lead time is long. At the moment the process is not commenced because there is no willingness for a discussion. That is very sad indeed. For that reason, as well as the other reasons, I hope there will be an [1056] early resolution of this dispute in the context of validating the framework so that we can ensure that there is a willingness to enter into broader negotiations on established ground rules, the only basis for our society to cope with these powers.

There is another value which has been touched on by Members who have contributed and that is the commitment and dedication of individuals teachers. I do not really disagree with the analysis of Senator Higgins on this point. I would agree with his estimate that to a considerable section of the people — those who are unemployed, dependent on social welfare and those in low-paid jobs — teachers seem to be well paid and secure and to have good hours and reasonable perks. Teachers feel that their income has been eroded, that they cannot do for their children what teachers were able to do a decade or a decade and a half ago. That is also true. The erosion is not as abrupt or as harsh as it would for somebody who becomes redundant or finds that they no longer have security of employment or the pay that they had. Nonetheless, there has been an erosion for teachers as for other income groups.

We have had and still have in Ireland something of inestimable value, and that is the dedication and commitment of teachers — I am not saying all teachers but we have a high proportion of dedicated teachers. Here I would simply refer to my own subjective impression — I could not call it an analysis — in talking quite a bit at seminars or discussion groups in other countries — in the United States in particular and in Britain to a certain extent — about problems in relations to schools stemming from a lack of commitment by teachers. It is a horrendous problem where the approach of the teacher is completely different from our broad perception. We must be very aware of this. It is probably the most fundamentally important contribution to education and it must be continued and not in any way undermined or eroded.

I did not want to refer to or in any way complicate a delicate situation but I want to emphasise very strongly the importance of the machinery of conciliation and [1057] arbitration, the importance of building on the ground rules that we have for resolving these disputes, not undermining them, and of facing up to the fact that we are going to have to make very hard decisions indeed. Those of us in employment are going to have to face up to the fact that over the next half decade at least in Ireland we will face a continuing erosion of our incomes. But we are lucky because if we are in employment it will be gradual rather than the kind of sudden shock or harsh reality which so many of our fellow citizens have to cope with.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  It is important that the opportunity would be afforded of putting the Labour Party position on the record of the House. As spokesperson on education I had the opportunity of meeting the general presidents and the general secretaries of the three teachers' unions to discuss the whole issue of teachers' pay and the dispute that has arisen. I had that opportunity together with other members of the Parliamentary Labour Party. The discussions ended in an understanding between the members of the parliamentary party and the teachers' unions on our position on the issue, what we wanted and what our views were. We should put that position on the record of the House.

Bill Norton, a Labour Minister, established the system of conciliation and arbitration for the public sector. The use of conciliation and arbitration machinery for the processing of claims has always been supported by my party. The present claim has gone through those established machineries. Therefore, as I have stated in public statements previously, the integrity of the arbitrator's award must be accepted by us. To do anything else would be to devalue and, indeed seriously damage the mechanism that was so carefully built up over the years and that has been in this case rigidly adhered to. It is a cause of deep concern and sincere regret that we have already experienced disturbances in classroom work at this relatively early stage in the negotiations and in the processing of this claim. The claim [1058] is still before the Government and still subject to machinery. The time is available for the decision to be arrived at.

The causes of the interruptions, therefore, are a source of grave annoyance to politicians and parents. The sources of that aggravation are a cause of dispute. However, a matter on which there is agreement around this House is that some of the blame must be levelled at some Cabinet Ministers whose attitudes I do not think have been helpful in the whole processing of the claim. I welcome the decision to defer further work stoppages until the deadline for a Cabinet decision has been arrived at. This decision will be welcomed by all concerned. Many Senators, particularly Senator Robinson just now and Senator Higgins before her, outlined again the difficulties faced by Government in meeting this award. Those difficulties cannot be minimised by anybody nor can they be ignored. This reality has been accepted by the public at large and I believe by the majority of teachers themselves.

Debate adjourned.

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