The Teachers Union of Ireland is to ballot its 15,000 members for a campaign of industrial action up to and including strike action on education issues ahead of the general election.

The news comes as the union protested outside the Dail against the latest Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill (FEMPI) on public-sector pay restoration which was being raised in the Dail.

The TUI along with sister union ASTI rejected the Lansdowne Road Agreement on public-sector pay.

They now object to a measure in the FEMPI legislation which would permit the Government to withhold certain payments including supervision and substitution allowances and increments - from public servants who do not sign up to a collective agreement.

TUI President Gerry Quinn described the FEMPI bill as draconian and punitive, claiming it seeks to force unions into the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

He said TUI members had rejected the LRA by a margin of 92% because they believed the agreement was oblivious to issues of grave concern within the education system following an era of austerity cuts.

Chronic underfunding

At third level, he cited issues including what he called the chronic underfunding of Institutes of Technology, which had seen a 35% cut equivalent to €190m between 2008 and 2015.

He noted the precarious employment status, income poverty and "associated exploitation" of many academic staff.

He voiced concerns about what he called critically low staffing levels (down 10%)  at a time of when student numbers have risen by 20% - resulting in larger class sizes, less access to laboratories and tutorials, as well as unacceptable workloads for lecturers.

The TUI is also concerned about precarious work for second level teachers, noting that half of second level teachers under 35 are in insecure employment, alongside colleagues paid different rates for the same work.

They also complain of increased bureaucratisation of work, the collapse of student support and middle management systems in secondary schools.

The ballot of members in Institutes of Technology will commence next week and should be complete in early December. 

There will also be lunchtime protests outside Institutes of  Technology starting next Thursday.

The ballot of second level members will take place in time to ensure a mandate for industrial action that can be activated before the general election.

Impact on students

TUI General Secretary John MacGabhann acknowledged that if there were a strike there would be an impact on students, but said they would seek to involve students as necessary partners in the protection and enhancement of educational services.

The union also plans to lobby candidates across the political spectrum ahead of the general election.

Sorces at the Department of Education pointed out that the education budget has increased in the last two budgets by €60m in Budget 2015 and €144m in Budget 2016.

The said this had permitted a cut in the pupil-teacher ratio at primary level, the employment of approximately 3,000 more teachers, and what they called the enhancement of school leadership.

They noted that the Department is also currently implementing reforms to tackle casualisation in the teacher profession on foot of a report last year by an expert Group Chaired by Mr Peter Ward SC. 

These changes will allow fixed-term teachers to acquire permanent positions more easily and quickly, and enable part-time teachers to gain additional hours.

A similar expert group looking at issues in the higher education sector is currently preparing a report.