School secretaries’ strike deferred following breakthrough in talks

Union claims ‘major victory’ will bring to an end two-tier pay system in use for 40 years

A national one-day strike by school secretaries and caretakers, scheduled for Wednesday, has been deferred after the Department of Education made “significant concessions” in a Workplace Relations Commission-brokered negotiation, trade union Fórsa has said.

The Department conceded that all school secretaries should be placed on the public service clerical officer scale, bringing an end to a four-decade old two-tier pay system, according to the union.

The offer will also do away with the requirement for most secretaries to sign on during school breaks, as they will be able to retain existing work patterns while having their salaries paid over 52 weeks on a pro-rata basis.

The assimilation arrangements for transferring staff to new scales are to be finalised through discussions over the next two weeks.

Fórsa’s branch committee agreed to defer the strike action for two weeks, pending confirmation of the implementation of the package and is updating members via Zoom meetings later today.

The improvements, which will come into effect from September 1st, 2021 will also see equalisation of annual leave arrangements on the basis of public service clerical officer provisions.

The Department has also agreed to improve sick pay arrangements, though Fórsa said it is still pursuing full equalisation with Education and Training Board employed secretaries.

The union also said it expected the new employment conditions to be included in a model national contract for secretaries. It said the Department had stated that the administration of secretaries’ pay would be centralised, with the details to be discussed over the coming weeks.

The union added that “work remained to be done” on the details of a similar package for caretakers, but said the Department had agreed that the same principles would apply to them.

“Whilst no agreement was reached on the provision of pensions, the parties will try and seek a resolution of this outstanding issue in the final phase of talks on this long-standing dispute,” Fórsa said in a statement on Tuesday.

Andy Pike, the union's head of education, said the outcome represented "a major victory for school secretaries after a decades-long campaign". He said up until Monday, "an unacceptable offer from the education department would still have left most secretaries on €12,000 a year less than their directly-employed colleagues".

“The determination and resolve of school secretaries and caretakers has finally put the end of the two-tier pay system within our grasp. No secretary or caretaker wanted to be on strike tomorrow, but their willingness to take that step in a just cause was crucial to this victory,” he said.

“On their behalf, I want to thank the thousands of parents, SNAs, teachers, principals, elected representatives and others who have shown growing support and solidarity for secretaries and caretakers, who are at the heart of the school community.”

The Department of Education said following “intensive discussions” at the WRC on Monday, there was “significant progress in the long running industrial dispute over pay and conditions for school secretaries outside of the ETB sector”.

“Subject to agreement on all elements of the claim, the department has offered to move School Secretaries’ pay rates to a scale which is aligned with the Clerical Officer Grade III pay scale within education and training boards on a pro rata basis with an effective date of implementation for these new pay arrangements of 1 September 2021. Pay rates will be pro rata according to a secretary’s current working pattern,” a spokesman said.

The department said it welcomed the deferral of industrial action scheduled for Wednesday “to allow for intensive talks to resume aimed at resolving the claim and agreeing a final package”.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

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