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puOn Wednesday, September 19th Deputy Wallace discussed public sector allowances with the Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn and Deputies Charlie McConalogue and Mary Lou McDonald in a topical issue debate. Deputy Wallace made the point that he disagreed with newly qualified teachers receiving less allowances than their colleagues as it will create a two tier system within the profession. You can watch the debate here

Deputy Mick Wallace:This is a poor direction for the Government to take. The decision that new teachers will earn 20% less than teachers who started in 2010 will have a disproportionate impact on new entrants to the profession and will create a two-tier system in our schools. A new teacher who starts on a salary of approximately €30,000 after training for four years could earn more by pushing a wheelbarrow on a building site. The Minister for Expenditure and Reform has stated that business cases for the retention of payments were submitted on more than 800 of the 1,100 allowances notified to his Department. Perhaps he should consider the social and educational investment in the future of our children in addition to these business cases. Considerable social benefit can be gained from investing in education and, in the context of our current difficulties, most people would agree that education must be our top priority. The decision will also have enormous consequences in terms of attracting individuals to the profession. Given our increasing population and the importance of providing a high quality education system, it is imperative we attract the best candidates. The teaching profession has been an easy target in recent years. The salaries paid in 2007 and 2008 appeared inflated but the salaries our teachers now receive compare favourably with their counterparts in other OECD countries. It is not the case that they are dramatically overpaid and the job has become more difficult over the years. Discipline is an increasing challenge and we will pay a high price in the future if we do not attract the best people. Deputy Ruairí Quinn:Yesterday the Government approved a number of measures relating to public service allowances for new beneficiaries. This follows a public service review of allowances and premium payments conducted by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The main measure impacting teachers is the withdrawal of qualification allowances for new entrant teachers. The Government has decided that the payment of allowances for the basic qualifications required for entry to the teaching profession is no longer appropriate or necessary. This allowance goes back many years to the time when a distinction was made between teaching colleges and university qualifications. It is not considered justifiable to incur a permanent cost to the public service pay and pensions bill where a public servant acquires an additional qualification. The payment of allowances, such as the Gaeltacht and island allowances, are being withdrawn or altered for all new beneficiaries in the public service, including new teachers. These allowances are no longer considered the most appropriate way to meet the business needs of public service employers or the service delivery needs of Irish language speakers. Other allowances were withdrawn because they were no longer considered appropriate or necessary, such as the allowance for principals who act as secretaries to the boards of management of their schools and the allowances for principals of certain community schools for management roles in sports complexes. The view put forward by this Department, which was accepted by the Government, was that allowances held by serving staff are clearly part of pay and simply to withdraw them in the case of serving teachers would be a breach of the Croke Park agreement. Accordingly, the impact of the measures in so far as they apply to teachers will he confined to new entrants only. The Government was mindful of the impact of the abolition of the qualifications allowance on new teachers given that the allowances have come to be viewed as an element of basic pay. We therefore sought to ensure broad consistency of impact across sectors. In this context, it has been agreed that new entrant teachers will no longer receive qualification allowances but will start on a salary of €30,702, which is equivalent to the fourth point of the existing scale. They will also have the option of being paid a pensionable allowance of €1,592 for supervision and substitution, thereby bringing their starting salary to €32,294. Deputy Mick Wallace:It is said one should never waste a good recession. In this recession, a wedge has been driven between the private and public sectors. The recession was caused by the private sector, including people in my own business, but the public sector has been made a scapegoat for it. I still employ more than 50 people in the private sector and every time pay is cut to low paid public sector workers I see how it affects my business. Cutting the low paid in the public sector impacts dramatically on the private sector. Low paid workers spend all their money. They do not put it away in banks because they need every penny to live. The Government needs to think differently about this issue. The media have helped to drive the wedge between the private and public sectors. The public sector has been demonised. More than 60% of public sector employees earn less than €50,000. I agree with cutting the inflated wages of those who are overpaid, but the bulk of public servants are not madly paid. Hitting them is hitting the domestic economy which has enough problems of its own at present. Deputy Ruairí Quinn:I thank the Deputies for their supplementary comments. I have to find €77 million in savings, as Deputy McConalogue will be aware since we discussed this matter earlier today in the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection, to meet the targets set for us in the memorandum of understanding to which this Republic was committed by the previous Administration. There are no easy answers to this matter. We looked in great detail at the allowances for teachers. There is not the same kind of career structure in the public service as in the Civil Service, where those in various grades are paid a salary with increments and, upon promotion, are paid an additional salary with increments but also have new responsibilities. The allowances in the education system are extra money for doing extra tasks. Deputies have the figures for the new starting salary for entrant teachers. We looked at the Croke Park agreement and got advice on it. The advice was that unilaterally to change the salaries of people in higher levels, or across the teaching spectrum, would be a breach of the agreement. We want to negotiate a new agreement. We would bring to that new agreement the issue the Deputies have raised, which is the discrepancy between the starting salaries of new teachers and of those who started two or three years previously. This is not unique to the public sector. Those young people who are lucky enough to get jobs in the private sector are getting those jobs at reduced salaries. Deputy Wallace may testify to this from his knowledge of the private sector. Starting salaries are now much lower for people doing, effectively, the same work with the same organisations. One may say the public sector has a higher moral responsibility than the private sector. Prices have fallen, we must regain our competitiveness as an exporting nation and salary costs across the entire system are part of that. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:Then why not cut salaries at the top? Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Section 30 of the Teaching Council Act 2001 will be commenced later this year and will probably apply with full effect in the new year. A condition of that is that every teacher who gets paid from the public purse - some 76,000 and virtually all the teachers in the country - will have to be registered with the Teaching Council. To maintain their registration each year, they will have to do continual professional development, as is the case for doctors, lawyers and other professionals. Incentivising people to do further courses, which is a legacy going back as much as 50 years, has been replaced by an obligation on teachers, as on all professionals, to keep their professional competences up to date. It should not require the kind of incentivisation that has existed and is a legacy from the past that we do not need. In a year and a half or less, I hope there will be a new public sector agreement on pay and conditions. The issues to which Deputies referred will be part of that. We could not touch the existing agreement without provoking a confrontation. We explored that and we got very clear messages. It took a long time. The most reluctant signatories to the Croke Park agreement were the ASTI, TUI and IFUT. One teaching union had to vote twice to get agreement to it. Informed with that information, we had to make the choices we did. I feel neither complacent not smug about those choices. I am fully aware of their potential impact, over time, on the teaching profession. I am not a professional educationalist, but all the evidence from different education systems are ad idem on the assertion that the key factor in any education system, primary and post-primary, is the quality of the teacher. Good teachers produce good outcomes, irrespective of many of the other things. I am conscious of the potential impact down the road, when I hope we will have a different kind of agreement that will enable us to do some of the things to which the Deputies refer.

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