Do we let airline pilots dictate our national aviation policy?  Do we let ESB technicians decide what we as a country should do about renewable energy?   Would we think it reasonable for nurses to take strike action against Minister Reilly’s policy on health insurance?  I think not, in all these cases.

So why does nobody seem to find it unacceptable that teachers should threaten strike action to change government policy on how the examination system (in particular the Junior Certificate) should be organised?

ASTI  General Secretary Pat King said that his union members were “not prepared to implement educationally unsound proposals which are being unilaterally imposed on them. Teachers believe the Minister’s proposals will undermine education standards. They are demanding genuine consultation on their concerns. The Minister has an opportunity to make sure this happens before industrial action begins to impact on schools.”

I have no view as to whether the Minister’s proposals are educationally sound or otherwise (in fact my gut instinct is that they are unsound), but that is not the point.  The teachers are threatening industrial action to influence or dictate what is a government policy decision.  Their jobs or remuneration are, as far as I can see, not under threat.  What we are talking about is what is the best way to organise our examination system.

I agree that the Minister should talk to the teachers and gain the benefit of their experience and views.  But if, having done that, he (and his cabinet colleagues) are still of a mind to carry out the reforms, then that should be the end of it.  The role of the teachers’ unions should be to try to ensure that their members’ pay and conditions are not adversely affected by any changes, and indeed to lobby for what they believe is the best policy; but to take industrial action against legitimate government policies of which they disapprove is a step too far.