Most of the campaigning on zero-hour contracts and precarious work has dealt (rightly) with the retail industry, with Mandate leading the way.
The education sector, however, has increasingly been hit by very similar conditions, which is an example of the growing impact of the state’s neo-liberalism.
Part of the neo-liberal agenda is to reduce the state’s spending and its involvement in all services, essential or otherwise. This has resulted in the demise of full-time, pensionable teaching posts. In many cases, when older teachers retire their posts are divided up to create two or more posts.
To get a contract of indefinite duration (CID) a newly qualified post-primary teacher has to be employed by the same education and training board (formerly VEC) or school for two years. Again and again, however, many young teachers are let go after one year, resulting in their being on low-hour and insecure employment for years.
The modus operandi of many schools is to offer a teacher perhaps seventeen hours’ teaching per week in the first year, but in the second year only a small fraction of the hours, if any. Out of frustration, and a vague hope of eventual permanence, many post-primary teachers opt for contracts of four hours a week or, in some cases, a two-hour contract.
An example is that of a teacher from Galway who has a CID of ten hours in a school fifty miles away. The hours are in multiple subjects, and the classes are spaced out throughout the week, making the job in reality full-time, five days a week, but for ten hours’ pay.
Post-primary teachers believe this is a deliberate state policy. Principals then have more teachers for doing extra unpaid activities, in the vain hope of getting better contracts or being kept on.
Teaching, once viewed as a good, secure, lifelong career, has now become part of the growing class of jobs that can be classified as precarious employment—a feature of neo-liberal economics.
To add insult to injury, the NUI has abolished the one-year teaching diploma (HDip) and introduced a two-year master of education degree, at twice the fee—a whopping €12,000. Besides having to work free for an extra year, the students have to find their own placements in schools, where they are obliged to carry out extracurricular activities.
According to a trade union source, students are voting by not enrolling. Normally hundreds would have taken up the HDip course in each university; however, only seventy-five students in the whole country have registered for the new master’s degree to be introduced in September 2018.
Until the state’s new neo-liberal ideology is challenged, precarious employment will remain the lot of many young teachers. Insecure employment reduces the pension bill and ensures that post-primary teachers in vulnerable posts will carry out extra work without pay.
A knock-on effect for these teachers is that it debars them from getting a mortgage and buying their own home; they then become part of the housing crisis also.