All three teacher unions have overwhelmingly backed a joint motion that increases the chances of industrial action if issues around pay inequality are not resolved by early May.

The Teachers Union of Ireland has unanimously backed the joint motion, which was also passed overwhelmingly by the TUI's sister unions - the INTO and the ASTI.

Teachers appointed after 2011 on lower pay and conditions who addressed the motion received a standing ovation from the 500 delegates attending the conference in Wexford.

Proposing the motion, TUI President Joanne Irwin said €83 million to restore pay equality for teachers was a mere drop in the ocean compared to the billions lavished on Irish Water in recent years.

She said it was about priorities and political choices, and urged the Government to end the lower VAT rate for the hospitality sector, and to tackle bogus self-employment that costs the state so much in tax revenue.

She said the cuts imposed on teachers were unwarranted, unfair and untenable.

Seconding the motion Tom Dixon of the Kildare branch, who started teaching in 2014, said pay inequality had already cost him €30,000.

He told delegates that he was one of the lucky ones who got sufficient hours to count as two thirds of a job - but still had to get odd jobs outside the classroom to make ends meet.

He said that when he borrowed €5,000 for a car loan, he was forced to pay it back in just one year because he did not have a permanent job.

He said that if they had to strike to achieve pay equality, "so be it".

Stephanie Hassett of the Tipperary South branch said she had qualified in 2010 and no longer felt that she was a new entrant.

She outlined working on what she called a patchwork of contracts - and described younger teachers forced to postpone moving out of home or having families.

David Waters of Dublin-Dun laoghaire branch said that he believed he would earn on average €5,000 less than older colleagues, and over a career would lose €100,000.

Sarah Doyle of Kilkenny branch said that after four years, on average she takes home just under €2,050 a month - but calculated that someone recruited before 2011 would be taking home €2,650 - around €600 per month more.

She said that while she was lucky to have a contract of indefinite duration with full hours, she was still living at home as the eldest of six children, and was wondering how she could get the independence she craved.

She told delegates that last year 29% of newly qualified teachers surveyed said they did not see themselves as being in the teaching profession in ten years time - but that figure has now risen to 46%.

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Earlier the TUI president called for equal pay to be restored for teachers recruited since 2011.

Addressing the TUI conference in Wexford, Ms Irwin acknowledged that there had been improvements in pay over the last year - including an additional €796 to each point on the salary scale since 1 September 2017.

She also noted the 1% increase in all core salary scales from 1 January 2018, the incorporation of the honours primary degree allowance for those recruited since 2011, and the completion of the restoration of Haddington Road Agreement cuts for those earning over €65,000 - also with effect from the beginning of this year. 

However, she told delegates that the union's job was not yet done as the "insult" of pay inequality and discrimination remained, which was morally wrong, patently counter-productive, regressive and damaging to the education system.

She said it appeared that the Government would only be brought "kicking and screaming" to its senses.

She said that he TUI would much prefer that they would be persuaded by the demands of justice - but that if that did not happen, "we have other means to persuade them".

During the economic crisis, the Government cut the pay scales for new entrants cross the public sector recruited after 1 January 2011.

This hit teachers particularly hard, as many also saw allowances for things like additional qualifications reduced or abolished.

Seven years on from those cuts, almost 25% of all teachers are now on lower pay than their pre-2011 counterparts.

Ms Irwin told delegates that the motion on equal pay to be debated simultaneously by all three teacher unions would show a unity of purpose, a shared focus and a determination to bring what she called "this dispiriting and unseemly chapter" to a close. 

She reminded delegates that the TUI had highlighted and prioritised the issue of equal pay at every point during pay negotiations, contrary to what the Minister for Education Richard Bruton had suggested last week.

However, she conceded that despite their best efforts, those talks had failed to address the discriminatory pay rates imposed on colleagues recruited since 1 January 2011.

She noted that TUI members had rejected the Public Service Stability pay agreement by 87% - as did the two other teaching unions.

She described the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act which gave effect to partial pay restoration under the PSSA as a "witch's brew" - which while providing for pay restoration also set out to force compliance with the pay deal through "punitive" measures including the threat of a three year pay freeze.

However, she warned that those measures included in the act would fail to gag the union. 

Ms Irwin's speech also included a pledge to oppose precarious employment, and addressed issues including opposition to peer evaluation, protection of professional time, posts of responsibility, contracts of indefinite duration, the creation of technological universities, and the re-designation of so-called "flex" hours.

Additional reporting: Emma O Kelly