Rosemary Mallon BL referred in the High Court last week to the disciplinary process in the dispute between Wilson’s Hospital School and Enoch Burke, the schoolteacher.
She referred, if memory serves me correctly, to “stage 4” of the procedure. What is “stage 4”? What was she referring to?
I am not going to comment directly on the Enoch Burke case, not at this point anyway.
But I want to make a general point as to the environment in which teachers operate from an employment law perspective.
The school, like all schools in the State, has a great deal of assistance with respect to procedures and policies in the workplace from the Department of Education.
The Department of Education provides policies and procedures to schools to ensure discipline, dignity at work, discrimination, bullying, grievances, and so on are dealt with in accordance with the law and best practice. You will also have employee handbooks and contracts of employment.
The Department also issues circular letters, lots of them, to boards of management dealing with all kinds of things that might arise in a school on a regular basis.
Many schools will also have a body to which they pay an annual subscription/fee, depending on how many pupils in the school, and to whom they can turn for further assistance when problems arise. In the primary sector, for example, you will have CPSMA (Catholic Primary Schools Management Association) and there are similar bodies in the secondary sector.
The teaching professions also have large, strong, powerful unions such as the TUI, INTO, ASTI etc. representing teachers and other staff working in schools.
And there is a long, well-established tradition in the education sector of representation for employees, policies and procedures to reflect changes in employment law etc.
That’s not to say that in any individual case mistakes cannot be made or one party or the other may be at fault and compound matters by digging in.
But when an employee comes to me for legal advice, and I learn that they are employees in the education sector, I immediately know that the environment in which they work is not like a small employment scenario in the private sector.
I know it comes from a well organised, structured sector of the employment community and the likelihood of the employee having a justiciable claim than coming from an employment like a small, one man band outside Enfield who has one employee and a couple of part timers.