School caretakers are to go on strike for the first time in Ireland, as part of a long-running dispute over a two-tier system of pay and conditions.
The trade union Fórsa said school caretakers would join school secretaries in a work stoppage planned for Wednesday September 15th, which is also over pay and conditions.
The union said school caretakers had overwhelmingly backed industrial action with a 98 per cent majority.
Fórsa said caretakers and school secretaries would place pickets at the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and would stage a rally in Dublin on September 15th.
The union accused both departments of blocking implementation of a Government commitment to standardise pay and conditions of school secretaries.
It said the staff affected were employed by individual school boards of management and were paid out of the ancillary grant provided to each school.
It said as a result they earned far less than the minority of school secretaries and caretakers who worked in Education and Training Board (ETB) schools and were employed directly on Department of Education pay scales.
The union said most of the caretakers earned about €13,800 a year while secretaries received €12,500.
It said most worked on irregular short-term contracts that forced them to sign on during the summer holidays and other school breaks.
The union said that almost a year ago Tánaiste Leo Varadkar gave a commitment in the Dáil to end the two-tier pay system. It said that when the dispute was subsequently referred to the Workplace Relations Commission, the Department of Education failed to follow through on this commitment.
Fórsa's head of education, Andy Pike, said the failure on the part of the department to make the expected proposals to fully standardise pay and conditions for school secretaries and caretakers "had left them bitterly disappointed as they start another school year of pay discrimination".
Mr Pike said: “The offer (made to the staff concerned) was effectively a repackaging of a previous proposal and served only to emphasise a concerted and determined opposition to the standardisation of pay and other working conditions like leave and occupational pension provision.
“The Department of Education effectively closed down discussion on any meaningful regularisation with an offer that fails spectacularly to meet the commitment made by the Tánaiste in the Dáil last October. Caretakers and school secretaries have again been let down by their employers and by the Government.”
Mr Pike said the employer’s offer would still leave the majority earning about €12,000 a year less than their directly-employed colleagues. Aside from pay, the proposals contained no movement on standardisation of leave, sick leave and other conditions of service. They also failed to address access to an occupational pension scheme in a similar way to directly-employed staff.
The Department of Education last week said it regretted the planned strike by school secretaries .
“Industrial action would impact on the day-to-day operation of schools at a time when so much effort has gone into ensuring they could open and stay open during the pandemic. The department would appeal to school secretaries and to Fórsa to defer this planned action to allow further early and intensive discussions to take place,” it said.