If you are passing through Glasnevin Cemetery on the outskirts of Dublin City Centre, you may come across the noticeable yet simple gravestone of James Larkin. Engraved on it is ‘James Larkin 1876-1947, The Labour Leader’. Larkin’s Gravestone may be simple but the legacy he left behind is much more profound.
My name is Anthony Dowling, I am a secondary school teacher from Co. Meath, Ireland and I am currently working (and renting) in Dublin. I began teaching in September 2012 as a student teacher, combining work with my studies at Dublin City University. The busy schedule of school in the day and college at night was one I at first found demanding but, armed with the knowledge that I would be fully qualified for a career that I loved after two more years (the two year teaching qualification having been preceded by a three-year degree course in my favoured subjects) the time flew by.
I did not much realise it at the time as I focused on my studies, but I began my teaching career at a time of great change in our country. The economic collapse, the bailout of banks and the subsequent recession meant great changes were happening to my profession that I was not necessarily aware of. It was only after gaining employment for the first time (following countless interviews at home and abroad) on a contract of ten hours and thirty minutes a week that I suspected something was amiss. I was on less than half the hours of a full-time teacher and was being paid pro-rata. At the end of the month, I had roughly €1,100 after tax. The rent I paid for a room not much larger than a box you would fit your Christmas tree in was €550. When I took away the cost of petrol, insurance and living expenses (€150), I found that, at the grand age of 24, with a College Degree and Teaching qualification, I still needed to borrow money from parents to get by. The financial hardship was exacerbated in the summer when my contract ended and I was not paid for three months. I felt at a loss.
That is when I joined the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, the TUI. This has opened my eyes. I became aware that some teachers have had to wait for up to ten years to get a full Contract of Indefinite Duration (a CID - i.e. Permanency). In the absence of a CID, they could be randomly replaced when it came to September and back to school. I now understood how the government had targeted workers from the public sector and dramatically altered their prospects in life, cynically exploiting the economic collapse that teachers, nurses and other workers did not create.
I learned how there is a two-tier pay system in the public sector in Ireland. Somebody who entered the teaching profession after January 2011 will in the first ten years of service lose over €51,291, by contrast with a colleague who began teaching before that date. I learned that those who began teaching after January 2013 have a dramatically inferior pension and a higher retirement age than those who began before January 2013.
These arbitrary dates may seem thoughtless and irrational. This is because they are.
In Ireland, we also face a housing crisis and a rental cost problem. A colleague of mine last week went to view a one-bedroom flat in the back garden of a house in Maynooth, not far from Dublin. Potential tenants were quoted a rental price of €900 per month. It is not uncommon for people renting rooms to pay €650 - €700, per month. As a teacher starting on a contract of eleven hours, and therefore earning roughly €1,200 per month, you can see that this is not viable.
What is the alternative? Some say that you should leave your job and pursue a different career. Others say that you could leave and go to Abu Dhabi. Well, these suggestions are not viable solutions. Why leave and dodge the problem? That means that we admit defeat. No. As a member of a trade union representing teachers, I feel that we should fight against the punitive and draconian directives that have diminished our profession.
James Larkin was a great Irish/Scottish trade unionist. He set up the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) and the Workers’ Union of Ireland. He fought for the rights of all workers. He faced vitriol, was attacked by the media but stood defiant through it all. Today, certain strands of the media continue to attack his legacy. They combine with government in their effort to pit private sector workers against public sector workers, including teachers. The seek to undermine our campaign for pay equality. Erroneous figures and headlines about teachers’ pay, that do not stand up if you dig beneath the surface, are regularly published. All of this is planned to be to the detriment of our profession.
The idea of trade unionism is that there is a struggle between the worker and his employer. As trade unionists and educators, we must always strive for the best pay and conditions possible. As educators, what example would we set for our students if we did not try to eliminate pay inequality? As educators, we encourage critical thinking and equality for all. How then could we ignore inequality or meekly accept that for young workers, including teachers, entertaining the hope of starting a family is no longer a realistic aspiration, for want of adequate means? We would be failing our students if we gave such weak example.
Therefore, we will not.
As Larkin defiantly stated, “We are beaten, we will make no bones about it, but we are not too badly beaten still to fight”.
The theme of World Teachers’ Day 2019 is “Young Teachers: The Future of the Profession.” To mark the occasion, we are launching a mini-series of blogs featuring the voices and experiences of young teachers and Education Support Personnel. This is an opportunity to hear directly from young education professionals and young unionists and discover their stories: what drew them to the profession, the challenges they face and their plans for the future.
If you are a young teacher or Education Support Personnel, or if you recently joined the profession, do not hesitate to contribute to the series and have your voice heard. Please get in touch with Sonia at [email protected].