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Education minister pleads with school secretaries to cancel planned industrial action tomorrow

Rallies have been organised at a number of locations including at Leinster House and at the minister’s Donegal constituency offices.

Joe McHugh pictured during a press conference today.
Joe McHugh pictured during a press conference today.

EDUCATION MINISTER Joe McHugh has appealed to the union representing school secretaries to cancel tomorrow’s planned industrial action. 

Unions and opposition parties have come out in support of school secretaries who, represented by trade union Fórsa, will engage in further industrial action at lunchtime tomorrow. 

Rallies have been organised at four locations including at Leinster House and the constituency offices of McHugh in Donegal. 

There will also be rallies at the Department’s offices in Athlone and at the People’s Park in Waterford. 

The row centres around what the union and its members say is a “two-tier pay system” as only a small number of school secretaries are employed directly by the Department of Education and Skills, while the majority is employed by each school’s Board of Management. 

It means secretaries do not get the same pay entitlements as directly employed secretaries – this includes having no sick pay entitlement and being forced to go without any wages when the school closes for summer holidays. 

Fórsa said negotiations with the Department in December lead to an offer of a 1.5% pay rise, which they called “insulting” and “derisory”, promising further strike action. 

In a statement today, McHugh said there “is still some distance” between the Department and the union and called on the unions to stand down their members until the dispute is resolved.

“I place a huge value and importance on the work and role of school secretaries and caretakers, and other support staff in the running of our schools,” he said. 

“I have spoken to many secretaries about their employment conditions and understand the issues they have raised. There has been engagement with Fórsa under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), and while the trade union has not withdrawn from the talks both sides acknowledge that there is still some distance between us.”

He said his department is reflecting on the latest discussions between the two sides and that he was disappointed that the union was proceeding with strike action. 

“I am appealing to Fórsa to reconsider their decision, to defer their action and to re-engage with the two departments at the WRC.

“We are fully open to further dialogue with Fórsa. The only way this situation will be resolved is with the help of the WRC.

“Disputes such as this can only be solved by the parties sitting around the table together and trying to reach mutually acceptable solutions. Both sides will have their own positions, but compromise is necessary or nothing would ever be resolved.”

McHugh said department officials will continue to monitor the impact this will have on schools. 

Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats have come out in support of the school secretaries, and said the Department has “failed to seriously engage” with school staff. 

“At its heart, this dispute centres on the fact that the majority of school secretaries, over 3,000, earn as little as €13,000 a year with irregular, short-term contracts and no pay during the summer holidays or school breaks,” Sinn Fein’s education spokesperson, Donnchadh Ó’Laoghaire said. 

“This is compounded by the inequality that persists between them and the few hundred school secretaries who are paid directly by the Department of Education with starting salaries of €24,000.”

SIPTU sector organiser, Karl Byrne said: “Our members working in the education sector are fully behind school secretaries in their struggle for respect and fair conditions at work.”

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