Impact trade union calls for end to two-tier pay system for school secretaries

Secretaries’ rates of pay mainly determined by individual boards of management, union says

A trade union representing more than 10,000 staff working in education has backed a call to eliminate a two-tier system of payment for school secretaries working in both primary and secondary schools across the country.

Delegates at Impact’s education division conference in Cork unanimously backed a motion from its school secretaries’ branch highlighting the discrepancy in payments to school secretaries depending on whether they are paid by the Department of Education or by the school board of management.

Impact deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan highlighted the issue to Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton when he pointed out that thousands of school secretaries had been fighting for equality on the issue for more than 20 years.

“Impact fully supports our teacher colleagues in their efforts to unwind pay inequities introduced during the crisis. But if you want to see the real scandal of two-tier systems and low pay in education, just look around this room,” Mr Callinan told Mr Bruton.


“The position of hundreds of school secretaries and caretakers in grant-funded posts, earning substantially less and on inferior conditions than colleagues doing the same work on public service scales, is another glaring inequality in our school system,” he said.

Pay parity

Today delegates unanimously backed a motion from the Impact school secretaries’ branch calling on the union to engage with the Department of Education to ensure parity for all non-teaching staff, some of whom are paid directly by the department while the majority are paid by the individual boards of management.

Eileen Barry, secretary of the school secretaries' branch, said there had been a complicated tiered system of pay in operation for school secretaries since the early 1980s where individual boards of management determine the pay and conditions of the school secretary.

Ms Barry pointed out that boards of management pay school secretaries out of what is known as the ancillary grant which was also used to buy “toilet rolls, disinfectant and other assorted items you’ll find in the cleaning cupboard – stuff you probably don’t think about all that often”.

“And so it is with school secretary pay. For too many employers, it’s stuff they don’t think about all that often. That’s not good enough. School secretaries work in isolation, and keeping them away from one another is a great way of keeping them isolated when it comes to fair and equal pay.”

Pay increase

Ms Barry said the Department of Education had agreed following arbitration in 2015 to provide money for a 2.5 per cent pay increase each year for the next four years, and while the department had paid the increase to directly employed secretaries, boards of management had withheld payment from its employees.

Ms Barry was supported by Impact staff member Barry Cunningham, who said that devolving power over pay to individual schools reduced transparency and gave rise to unfair and erratic pay systems where non-teaching staff were treated as second-class citizens.

He said non-teaching staff were treated as public servants only when it came to the issue of pay cuts but the union was in the process of recruiting more school secretaries and he pledged that the union would not rest until it had achieved parity for all school secretaries.

The campaign was also backed by Impact education division cathaoirleach Gina O’Brien, who pointed out that the school secretary was the first person anyone met on entering a school. “Yet many still linger on grant-paid arrangements. This condemns hundreds of our colleagues to low pay.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times