School secretaries ‘treated like second-class employees’ – trade union

Fórsa launches Save Our Secretaries campaign to end two-tier system in schools

 Joe O’Connor, lead organiser Forsa Trade Union with Maria Dunne, chairwoman, School Secretary Branch and Marion Jackson, treasurer at the launch of a nationwide campaign calling for respect and fair conditions for all school secretaries. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Joe O’Connor, lead organiser Forsa Trade Union with Maria Dunne, chairwoman, School Secretary Branch and Marion Jackson, treasurer at the launch of a nationwide campaign calling for respect and fair conditions for all school secretaries. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

School secretaries are being treated like “second-class” employees by the Government, with some earning as little as €12,000 a year and no entitlement to sick pay or maternity leave, a trade union has said.

Ireland’s largest public service union, Fórsa, launched the Support Our Secretaries campaign on Thursday to seek respect and fair conditions for the approximately 3,500 people working as school secretaries.

The campaign has the backing of the primary school teachers’ union, the INTO, and the two main secondary teachers’ unions, the ASTI and TUI.

Fórsa lead organiser Joe O’Connor said the union estimates that 90 per cent of school secretaries are paid through their school’s ancillary grant – leaving some with salaries as low as €12,000 a year.

He said there were school secretaries who had served their community for 20 or 30 years but who will retire into poverty without any occupational pension at all. The union says many school secretaries are struggling to pay rent or mortgages.

Many of them are forced to sign on for social welfare payments during summer and Easter holiday periods.

“There are approximately 3,500 school secretaries working in our education system. Roughly 10 per cent of those are paid directly by the Department of Education and Skills, on salaries varying between €24,000 and €44,711 a year.

“The rest – the vast majority – are subject to a system which means their pay is determined by individual school boards of management. This has led, in the most extreme cases we’ve encountered, to school secretaries earning as little as €12,700, with no entitlement to benefits such as sick pay or pension rights,” Mr O’Connor said.

Two-tier system

Fórsa said the two-tier secretarial pay system was created almost 40 years ago in 1978. This allowed larger schools to appoint school secretaries and caretakers on a full-time permanent basis. However, from 1982 on, no new appointments were allowed under this scheme.

From 1994 onwards, all new school secretaries were appointed under an ancillary grant. Fórsa said it has found secretaries working side by side in some schools under the two different payment models.

The union’s senior general secretary designate Kevin Callinan said “fundamental lack of respect” was “unjust, impractical and unsustainable”.

“The time has come to end this arbitrary, unfair and unjust system. Fórsa is calling on the Department of Education and Skills to implement measures to treat all school secretaries with fairness and respect,” he said.

Mr Callinan said school secretaries should be provided with the same basic entitlements and protections equivalent to clerical staff on public service pay scales. He said this would reflect the workload and responsibilities taken on by every school secretary in the State.

INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan, who addressed the launch of the campaign in Dublin, said the precarious nature of the work and the lack of access to sick pay and proper pension provision were “deeply unfair”.

Fórsa will lobby Oireachtas members to back a new payment model.

Information packs will be sent to all school principals and school secretaries seeking support for the campaign through an online petition, and the recruitment of more school secretaries to membership of the union.