Teacher unions ASTI and TUI announce survey of members over possible merger

Move could pave way for single union with 40,000 teachers at second and third level.

The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) are to jointly survey their members later this month to gauge support for a potential merger which would create a single union representing almost 40,000 teachers at second and third level.

Senior officials across both unions argue that such a move would mean their members would “no longer be pitted against each other” and give teachers a stronger voice as a member of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ public services committee.

The survey of members, due to take place between April 10th and 25th, could pave the way for a formal ballot at a later date. It will ask whether members are in favour of forming a single education union, and whether there is support to continue further amalgamation work.

Meetings between the ASTI and TUI have involved an examination of both unions’ rule books and a potential structure for a new education union. The presidents of the unions have previously described the potential merger as a “seismic moment” in education.

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While the ASTI represents second level teachers only, the TUI’s membership also includes teachers in the further education and third level sectors. All members would be included in a merged union.

ASTI president Geraldine O’Brien told delegates at the union’s annual gathering in Wexford that a unified organisation would be an “entirely new union” where all member would feel included and respected.

She said there would be no more “divide and conquer” and that a merged union would allow members to act with “unity and purpose”.

Traditionally, the ASTI represented the interests of teachers in voluntary secondary schools – mostly run by religious orders – while the TUI represented teachers in vocational, community and comprehensive schools, as well as the further education and third level sectors.

The lines between the two have blurred significantly over the years, especially since a dispute in 2017 when significant numbers of members in voluntary secondary schools switched unions.

A merger, if successful, would be a remarkable turnaround from a few years ago when tensions flared between the unions amid claims that the TUI “poached” members from the ASTI during a dispute.

In 2021, the ASTI said it received €280,000 from the TUI in a process aimed at bringing an end to the row.

THE ASTI argued that more than 1,000 of its members were recruited by the TUI while it was involved in a dispute with the government in 2017.

ASTI members lost thousands of euro between frozen pay and the loss of payment for supervision duties due to its “repudiation” of the then Lansdowne Road public sector pay deal. The TUI remained inside the pay deal and its members were unaffected by financial penalties.

An article in the ASTI’s journal, Astir, in 2021 described the row as “one of the most wretched events in Irish trade union history”.

THE ASTI is understood to have initially sought compensation of about €6 million based on the loss of subscription income from teachers who left to join the TUI.

There have been several unsuccessful attempts to progress merger talks over recent decades. This latest proposal was first floated by union officials in the context of discussions over sectoral bargaining in the current pay deal in May 2022.

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