Hundreds of teachers who will receive lucrative redundancy packages this summer can return to the classroom after just one month.
Under the enhanced package announced by Education Minister John O’Dowd in January at least one teacher is set to receive more than £100,000 to leave their teaching post this August.
The six-figure sum is comparable with payouts made to police officers who stood down under Patten and the current redundancy scheme being offered to prison officers targeted by paramilitaries at the height of the Troubles.
Mr O’Dowd has said that “it is not lawful to prevent a teacher who has received redundancy compensation from seeking to return to employment”.
Calls have been made for the loophole in employment legislation — which could see teachers receive in excess of £90,000 for voluntary redundancy and return to £36,000 teaching posts — to be closed.
Mark Langhammer, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said: “ATL do not support the re-employment of teachers who have just volunteered for redundancy, although there is nothing illegal about this in employment law.
“At a time when only around one in eight of Northern Irish qualified teachers secures employment on qualifying, we believe such revolving door re-employment is unconscionable.
“We have proposed that, where redundancies are voluntary, that compromise agreements are used so that those volunteering for a redundancy package also sign up to relinquish their teacher registration number.”
Lagan Valley DUP MLA Jonathan Craig, who sits on the education committee, backed ATL’s proposals and accused Sinn Fein of double standards. “I am surprised that the minister has not tried to work in a clause of a minimum time to return to work after taking an enhanced redundancy package,” said Mr Craig.
“After all, it’s a minister of the same party that criticised police officers for taking enhanced redundancy packages and returning back to work in a similar guise.”
He added: “I find it amazing and wonder why the minister is not working alongside unions to find an acceptable compromise on this issue?
“Personally, I think anyone who takes an enhanced package should be excluded from teaching for two or three years.”
A freedom of information request by the Belfast Telegraph shows 261 teachers have, to date, been offered the enhanced redundancy package across the five education and library boards at a cost of £13.2m. The South Eastern board is expecting to fork out £5.7m to make 91 teachers redundant at an average £62,636.
But some of the boards were unable to accommodate every teacher who applied for the scheme that offered up to 90 weeks’ salary. Principals were exempt from the package.
The highest pay-out will be £101,800 to a teacher in the Western Education and Library Board, according to the FOI figures.
Teachers were notified between the end of March and the end of April if they had been accepted for voluntary redundancy. Anyone who accepts it is able to return to the workplace a month later.
But the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation believes the majority of teachers will not seek re-employment. Senior official Nuala O’Donnell said: “The majority of the ones we have been speaking to are close to retirement age and do not intend to go back into teaching. The ones who are considering returning would possibly be looking for half weeks which aren’t suitable for other teachers.”
On January 17, the |Department of Education announced that authorities would be able to offer compensation of up to 90 weeks' salary — three times the amount of statutory redundancy pay — to teachers made redundant at August 2012. The funding is coming from existing budgets. It is intended to remove the need for compulsory redundancies.
The redundancies and the packages across the boards
BELFAST EDUCATION AND LIBRARY BOARD:
Number of redundancies: 24 (anticipated)
Cost of enhanced redundancy package: £581,567 (for 10 positions to date)
Average payout: £58,156.70
Highest payout: £84,231
Lowest payout: £6,997.82
NORTH EASTERN EDUCATION LIBRARY BOARD:
Number of redundancies: 56
Cost of enhanced redundancy package: £2,190,872.58
Average payout: £39,122.72
Highest payout: £67,860.04
Lowest payout: £9,330.43
SOUTHERN EDUCATION LIBRARY BOARD:
Number of redundancies: 49
Cost of enhanced redundancy package: £2,798,115.58 |(approx)
Average payout: £57,104.40
Highest payout: £94,000
Lowest payout: £10,000
SOUTH EASTERN EDUCATION LIBRARY BOARD:
Number of redundancies: 91 (anticipated)
Cost of enhanced redundancy package: £5.7m (to date)
Average payout: £62,637.36
Highest payout: £96,149.70
Lowest payout: £17,176.47
WESTERN EDUCATION LIBRARY BOARD:
Number of redundancies: 41
Cost of enhanced redundancy package: £1.923m
Average payout: £46,902
Highest payout: £101,800
Lowest payout: £9,700