Why teaching offers precarious employment, not a secure job

'Precarious employment will ensure post-primary teachers carry out extra work for free. The knock-on effect is it debars them from getting a mortgage'

Last week, in the rare autumnal sunshine, Insider was sauntering across Wolfe Tone Bridge with a companion. On a lamppost we spied a Donny Osmond lookalike, with that synthetic cheesy smile, peering down from a Social Democrat poster.

For those readers who have never heard of Donny, he was the frontman of The Osmonds, a 1970s US sibling boy band of Mormon stock. My colleague summed the situation up in an instant: “We need a Jeremy Corbyn.”

Clearly so do the students, who took to Dublin’s streets in the rain last Wednesday to highlight the spiralling cost of getting a third-level education. Many of their cohort leave college not just with a qualification, but also with huge debts of €20,000+ - and that is before they feel obliged to complete a postgrad qualification, which has proved a truly lucrative enterprise for the university sector.

There is now an abundance of such hugely expensive postgraduate courses as young people are led to believe an MA, at the bare minimum, is a necessary prerequisite for a good job. By contrast, a teaching diploma was at least a postgrad course with a specific career in mind and essential to get a teaching job. Now the old one year H.Dip course has been transformed into a two year MA. To add insult to injury, the cost not only doubled, but the students have to find their own placements in schools, where they are “obliged” to carry out extra-curricular activities.

If student post-primary teachers imagined their teaching qualification was the road to a secure career, they were in for a rude awakening after graduating - unless of course nepotism kicks in. Teaching, once viewed as a good, secure, lifelong career, has now become part of the growing number of jobs that can be classified as precarious employment and is a feature of neoliberal economics.

Teacher help

The Mandate trade union has made much of the zero hour contracts in the retail industry; well, from Insider’s inquiries many young teachers find themselves in a very similar position.

In order to get a Contract of Indefinite Duration, a newly-qualified post-primary teacher has to be employed by the same ETB (formerly VEC ) or school for two years, and in other secondary schools for three years. However, in Galway city and county many young teachers are let go after one year, again and again, resulting in them being on low-hour and insecure employment for years.

The modus operandi of many schools is to offer a teacher maybe 17 hours teaching in the first year, but in the second year only a fraction of the hours, if any at all. Out of frustration and a vague hope of eventual permanency, many post-primary teachers in Galway city have opted for contracts of four hours a week. Insider was told of a young woman in a County Galway school with a two-hour contract. Another teacher from Galway city has a CID of 10 hours in another county school 50 miles away. The hours are in a multiple of subjects and the classes are spaced out throughout the week making the job in reality full-time five days a week for 10 hours pay.

Post-primary teachers believe this is a deliberate policy. Principals have more teachers to do extra unpaid activities, in the vain hope of getting better contracts or being kept on. So, it is not uncommon when someone retires from a full-time permanent post that the position is not advertised, rather two or even three teachers are sought to fill this person’s job.

One aspect of teaching that has hit the headlines are Microsoft Showcase Schools, where “digital books” and “tablets” replace “old fashioned” books. These schools seem so innovative and exciting, but there is the unreported side to this. Many such schools expect their teachers to “write” their own “digital books”. This is a step backwards not forwards.

teacher books computer

Experts, along with publishers have spent brainpower, effort, and time to devise a school book that can best explain a particular subject. It is totally absurd to expect individual teachers in individual schools up and down the country to try and replicate this task. Besides, it is not physically possible for post-primary teachers to write a book for each class year they take. And schools must realise that. Therefore, teachers are expected to break the copyright laws by copying and pasting books into these “digital books”. This is not “groundbreaking”; it is illegal. Teachers are personally liable and could face fines and even gaol. It seems to Insider the main one gaining from this adventure is Microsoft.

That is the lot of very many young teachers today. It is no accident. It is all part of the neoliberal agenda to reduce the State’s spending and involvement on all services, essential or otherwise. Precarious employment will eventually reduce the pension bill and ensure post-primary teachers, with insecure posts, will carry out extra work for free. The knock-on effect for these teachers is it debars them from getting a mortgage and buying their own home, they then too become part of the housing crisis.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are imbued with the same neoliberal ideological fervour prevalent throughout the EU. In Germany it was a Social Democrat-Green Party coalition (Galway Social Democrat and Green voters take note ) that introduced policies which devastated working conditions. Today Macron in France is pursuing similar plans. So, do not expect FG or FF to allow the State to play any part in solving the housing scandal.

As Dep Catherine Connolly argued in a recent Dáil debate, Government must jettison this ideology and let the State build public housing to solve the housing crisis. Sinn Féin city councillor Mairéad Farrell has expressed similar views in the Galway Advertiser over the past number of weeks.

And speaking in the Dáil, Wexford TD Mick Wallace, in forensic detail, showed why NAMA should not be involved in dealing with the housing crisis, arguing it is simply bankrolling private developers. Local authorities should be given the task of building homes. As for the burning issue of land hoarding, it should be tackled with a significant vacant site levy unlike the miniscule sanction that presently exists.

The economist David McWilliams, writing about our taxation system points out that wealth inequality in Ireland is enormous with 10 per cent of the population owning more than 40 per cent of the wealth. He argues it is taxes on unproductive propertied wealth that should be increased, not VAT that hurts working people. However, this will not happen as long as the neoliberal ideologues in the establishment are in charge. They want to divest the State of its involvement in providing homes. The private rented sector, which includes major vulture fund, will be left to profit from the housing crisis.

This brings us naturally back to the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn – the British Labour Party, of course. The Irish version is heading for the non-privatised dustbin of history. Corbyn is advocating State involvement in all areas of life, including the re-nationalisation of major industries as well as investment in housing, education and health. Yes, we need an Irish Corbyn, not an Irish Donny Osmond.

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