DUBLIN, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Some 19,000 Irish teachers will go on strike on Feb. 4, their union said on Friday, potentially shutting schools just days before a national election in a bid to seek commitments to end a two-tier pay scale in the sector.
In a Feb. 8 contest that pre-campaign polls suggest is too tight to call, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar's re-election hopes may hinge on whether enough voters are feeling the benefit of a booming economy that has stretched public services still recovering from an economic crash a decade ago.
Austerity measures introduced to turn the public finances around included a lower rate of pay for new entrants to second level teaching. The government has said it will need a number of budgets to close the gap but the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) said on Friday that progress was too slow.
One of the two main secondary school unions, the TUI, said over 1,100 schools, institutes of technology and technological universities would be affected by the strike.
Varadkar this week specifically decided to hold a national election on a Saturday for the first time in a century so parents would not have to organise childcare if their local school was being used as a polling station.
Elections have typically been held on Fridays in Ireland.
"We have exhausted every avenue open to us to bring this matter to resolution and have been left with no choice but to take strike action over the ongoing scandal of pay discrimination," TUI President Seamus Lahart said in a statement.
"The date's proximity to the general election affords our members a focus point to make pay discrimination a key election issue. In the coming days and weeks, candidates of all political hues should be asked to outline their views on this matter." (Reporting by Padraic Halpin, Editing by William Maclean)