Teachers deserve equal pay for equal work

Patricia Feehily

Reporter:

Patricia Feehily

Teachers deserve equal pay for equal work

Fair play: Minister of State for Education Mary Mitchell-O’Connor claims that all teachers doing the same job should be remunerated with the same salary despite whether they started working before 20

LPT is a recently coined initialism that makes some of us uneasy. It is associated with growing discontent, deep-seated feelings of injustice and wrong, and quite a heap of disillusionment.

Nobody uses it in polite company, even the LPTs themselves, and the Government is desperately trying to keep a lid on it. Most of us don’t even know what it stands for: we don’t even know how many LPTs we have. Maybe it’s time then that we all called a spade a spade and explained that an LPT is a lower paid teacher.

Even a more obnoxious term than ‘yellow pack’, sez you, because after all, teachers are professionals and still enjoy high status in our society. But that’s what has us - and them - where we are. We’re too fastidious and too thin-skinned for any bit of gut level communication.

Thank God, then, for Mary Mitchell-O’Connor. She doesn’t do political obfuscation, and that’s for sure. A more astute or more experienced politician backed into a corner, as she was over the teachers’ pay controversy, would have activated their political instincts pronto or reached for whatever tips they got in the Carr school of communications. Mary’s reply was refreshingly honest, and whatever about the rest of you, that’s what I like to see in a politician. Long may she sit at the table!

Now I’m all for Cabinet collective responsibility. It’s a grand old tradition of parliamentary democracy and without it, I think we’d be ungovernable. Look what happened when Diarmuid Mc Murragh walked out in a huff and left us with 700 years of foreign occupation! But I’m not sure how this ‘one voice’ thing works now. Does the strongest voice prevail at the table or are they all hypnotised or under the influence of the drinks cabinet? Don’t gang up on me now, any of you. All I’m saying is that consensus is hard fought in any gathering and you’d expect a few more dissenting voices from time to time, or maybe a bit of a bust-up, followed by a few honourable resignations.

Anyway, you’d think Minister Mitchell-O’Connor was fomenting a coup d’etat rather than admitting to her discomfiture at a glaring injustice, the way the Cabinet made for the bunker with such unseemly haste, hanging Mary out to dry. But corner or no corner, her public acknowledgement that all teachers doing the same job should be remunerated with the same salary scale was the only right answer, unless she believed in discrimination and inequality and had a penchant for obfuscation.

I suppose she could have resorted to a bit of face-saving like her colleague, Transport Minister Shane Ross, and explained that sadly we don’t yet have the resources to redress the injustice. The question then of course is this: since when did we start putting a price on justice and fair play?

The teachers’ pay controversy is not going to go away, whether we are broke or not. Despite a few recent sugar-coated attempts at restitution, the blatant fact remains that there are still three different salary scales for teachers, all depending on whether a teacher started working before 2011, in 2011 or after 2011. The different scales have nothing at all to do with their qualifications or with their incremental entitlements – except that the younger teachers are now required to undergo a two years Masters’ degree compared to the one year post grad diploma demanded of their more fortunate and better paid colleagues. Sadly their increments are also proportionally affected by the pay gap. So they’ll never catch up and most of them will have lost €100,000 over the course of their careers.

By then – 40 or so years hence – all teachers will be in the same boat, but who will even want to be in that leaking vessel?

But that isn’t the half of it. Very few of those young LPTs have a permanent post. Most of them are lucky to have any post at all, so convoluted and varied is the appointments system around the country. Many of them start out filling maternity leave or career break posts, only to be thrown back on the dole queues when the period ends.

Others spend months travelling the country responding to interviews for posts variously described as ‘fixed term’, ‘temporary,’ ‘part time’, ‘substitute hours,’ ‘short term contract’ or the ultimate goal, a ‘contract of indefinite duration’ - the prized CID.

Half the time the jobs do not even exist. Principals have to advertise vacancies under Department rules, but more often than not, they have already earmarked a temporary teacher on their own staff for the position advertised. I have to admit that I’m in two minds about this. If I had taught a subject admirably or even adequately in a temporary capacity for a year and then they brought someone in off an interview, I think I’d raise Cain.

The whole thing is a mess and riddled with anomalies, and the sooner the system –including pay - is addressed and reformed, the better. Otherwise we’ll eventually end up at the bottom of the class in the international league tables, despite all the propaganda and hyperbole about becoming the best educated country in the world. To be honest if I was an LPT, I wouldn’t kill myself at the job.

I hope now that I haven’t been indulging in hyperbole myself, but this is what I have seen and this is what teachers are telling me. I don’t know why they’re telling me all this. They should be on to Brussels seeking redress.

After all, equal pay for equal work was one of the founding principles of the EU, and pay discrimination isn’t exclusively gender based. Better still they should be out there erecting a monument to Mary Mitchell-O’Connor, who not only drove over the plinth in her day, but who could, like Daniel O’Connell, drive a coach and four through any Act of Parliament, if she put her mind to it.