I.N.T.O. members are being currently given the hard sell on benchmarking by the C.E.C., the government and by I.B.E.C. However we should always remember that in the area of selling and marketing, the truth is often the first casualty. And so it is with benchmarking. Many of the claims being made about it are couched in the language of conjecture, speculation and half-truths. As a result we are asked to have faith in an unknown process and effectively suspend all scepticism in favour of wishful thinking. The time has come to expose benchmarking for what it is: A Strategic Management Device to introduce private sector criterion into our pay determination systems.
But surely the benchmarking body will be honour-bound to take a sympathetic view of teachers’ pay difficulties?
It’s time to take off the rose-tinted glasses on this one. Just look at the composition of the body itself. Four out of the six come from the world of business and senior management. The other two are ex-trade unionists, one now a banker, the other of note for his claim that teachers expect to use the C&A scheme like an ATM machine. Neither of them publicly supported us in the 86/87 campaign for a special pay increase.
Also this body will be acutely aware that while relativities are not part of this award system, the other unions will seek to benchmark their award against ours. This will strongly militate against a hoped for ‘substantial’ increase for us and reinforce the management’s demand that all increases will have to be performance related with teachers being no exception. Hence the I.N.T.O. has been consulting its members on what type of P.R.P. we would be prepared to give!
But are not Performance Related Pay /Competency Based Pay opportunities for the members to earn extra pay?
Initially the government will offer some inducement (e.g. the benchmarking award itself) to reel in support for instigating these radical new systems. However the new pay determination systems will soon siphon money away from the allocation that would previously have gone entirely on the common basic scale. In this way PRP represents only fools’ gold for desperate teachers. In time the common basic scale will be progressively eroded as will the link between basic pay and pensions. Future generations of teachers will have to jump through even more performance hoops to get extra pay. And all this sold by our union in the name of "opportunities!"
But surely the I.N.T.O. can control the type of "extra work" we take on?
Our record is not great on this one. Witness the huge increase in recent years. Also what a stressed out profession needs is a reduction in the volume of work, not the so-called opportunity of more extra work. Clearly also the extra work (e.g.: pupil profiles - now in the pipeline) will have to be done by lengthening the working hours of teachers who sign up for some aspects of PRP. This will serve to increase pressure on all teachers to do likewise in the long run.
But the I.N.T.O. is still opposed to Performance Related Pay while being for benchmarking?
Our union has recently dropped the word related from its marketing strategy. The C.E.C. are now apparently in favour of performance pay. However changing the brand name of the soap might sell it to some members but seasoned department officials will only smile, chuckle and not be fooled by rhetorical sophistry. The government agenda remains the same. They will take their cue from the PRP initiatives in Britain, N.Ireland and internationally.
But won’t benchmarking give us an award without strings attached based on past productivity?
No. The early settlers settlement was "in full and final recognition" of productivity already ceded. The terms of reference of the benchmarking body also state (echoing a recent In Touch editorial) that "It is accepted that change is a requirement.. .and not in itself a basis for improvements in pay and conditions."
Crucially also the terms of reference allow for this august body to factor in and play off our conditions of service against any pay award.
"The review should have regard to the differences between the public service and the private sector in working conditions, the organisation of work, perquisites, conditions of employment and other relevant benefits including security of tenure and superannuation benefits. Clearly the comparison will be a double-edged sword and our long holidays, nominally shorter hours and relative security of tenure will come under scrutiny and pressure. Equally these conditions will be used to depress the pay award itself.
But in effect then, benchmarking does not come from a government bearing gifts but is in reality a Trojan Horse?
How quickly our great leaders have forgotten that the whole genesis and raison d’etre of replacing the relativities based system with the new performance related ones was precisely to extract major productivity and save money in the long term. The writing was on the wall in this govt. statement to I.C.T.U. 22/12/99
"Some decentralisation of pay management to government departments and agencies is likely to be a necessary component of a more efficient pay determination system, which must also be consistent with the desired evolution in public expenditure (i.e. reducing its relative cost) This is the economic and political context of Benchmarking. Let us not forget!
What then is the alternative to the brave new world of benchmarking?
Right now benchmarking is being lauded all round in a strategic manner to isolate the A.S.T.I. Curiously, the A.S.T.I. action has already produced some leverage for the other unions. The Irish Times has called for "a helping hand" to be given to the I.N.T.O. and the T.U.I. However rather than using A.S.T.I. just for leverage we should seek to unite the power of the three teacher unions. A decisive united campaign would force a substantial award on the table without performance strings attached and rebuild our greatest strength: teachers united in action.