Northern Ireland's Education Minister John O'Dowd announced a compromise that will allow teachers who volunteered for redundancy and who will receive a lump sum severance payment to return to the classroom after a month. This agreement is in line with the deal struck with the police and prison officers earlier this year. O'Dowd explained that there were no legal means to prevent redundant teachers from seeking reemployment.
This was confirmed by the representative of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Mark Langhammer, who said that while the ATL didn't support allowing teachers who chose to take redundancy payments to return to work so soon after, they had every legal right to do so. The ATL proposed a compromise that a surrender of teaching credentials be a mandatory part of the severance deal, but that proposal was rejected by the ruling Sinn Fein government.
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."
As of now, 261 teachers have been offered the opportunity to take advantage of the enhanced severance packages that total £13.2 million. In some cases, the number of teachers looking to volunteer has outstripped the resources of some of the education and library boards. Those whose request to volunteer and were accepted were notified between March and April. They are scheduled to leave their jobs in August and will get reimbursement for up to 90 weeks of their regular salary.
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."
The voluntary redundancy scheme, which offers up to three times the amount of statutory severance pay, is an attempt by education boards to avoid mandatory layoffs of teachers in order to balance their education budgets. The funding for the severance packages is coming from the boards' regular operating budgets.