Strikes over school secretaries’ pay and conditions ‘an active option’, Fórsa warns

Trade union criticises ‘derisory’ offer from Department of Education in talks

File image of members of the Fórsa school secretaries branch protesting outside the Department of Education in Dublin for  fair conditions for all school secretaries. File photograph: Damien Eagers/The Irish Times

File image of members of the Fórsa school secretaries branch protesting outside the Department of Education in Dublin for fair conditions for all school secretaries. File photograph: Damien Eagers/The Irish Times

 

The trade union representing school secretaries has warned that strikes were now “an active option” in the autumn following what it said was a “derisory” offer from the Department of Education in talks aimed at revising secretaries’ terms and conditions.

The trade union Fórsa said the offer made by the Department of Education failed spectacularly to meet the commitment made by the Government several months ago to address the existing two-tier system of pay and conditions for school secretaries and caretakers.

It said that under the two-tier system some school secretaries were directly employed by and paid by the Department of Education, while the majority had their pay and conditions determined by school management boards which received grants from the State.

It said the latter arrangement left most school secretaries earning just €12,500 a year, with irregular short-term contracts that force them to sign on during the summer holidays and other school breaks.

The union’s head of education, Andy Pike, said that, under the offer proposed by the Department of Education on Friday, the top of a new five-point pay scale (ranging from €25,000 to €28,000 per year) for the school secretaries subject to the management boards was approximately €12,000 below the maximum salary for secretaries who carried out the same level of work in Education and Training Board (ETB) schools.

He said the Department of Education stated that no offer could be put forward on conditions of service or pensions and had suggested that existing or future statutory provisions would apply in this regard.

“This would leave school secretaries in exactly the same position regarding sick leave and annual leave. To summarise, this just isn’t credible.”

Phased basis

The Department of Education said on Friday that an understanding had been agreed last year on a pathway to progress the issues regarding school secretaries and caretakers and that proposals were to be developed on a phased basis.

The Department of Education said it was vital that any proposals were fully and properly costed on the basis of complete information relating to current actual numbers of workers involved and had regard to the state of the public finances and the repercussive effects the plans could have for other grant-funded groups of non-public servants.

“In this regard, the department has recently completed a further data-gathering process across the primary and post-primary sector and the returns from this exercise were analysed to underpin the development of an offer on pay. This offer was outlined to Fórsa at an engagement at the Workplace Relations Commission on Friday afternoon. It remains the intention of the parties to reach agreement as set out in the roadmap and the process will now continue with the views expressed today being considered by parties before deciding on the next steps.”

‘Let down’

Mr Pike said the Department of Education’s offer “failed, quite spectacularly, to meet the commitments made by the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar in the Dáil last year to end this four-decade pay inequality once and for all.

“School secretaries have been let down by Government again.”

“Department officials have failed to produce a solution to deliver on the commitment, and now we are facing a new school term with this matter unresolved. School secretaries and caretakers had a reasonable expectation of a solution to be in place by now. In the absence of a deal we could ballot our members on, recourse to industrial action is now an active option for us,” he added.