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School secretaries to begin industrial action this month in dispute over pay and working conditions

Most school secretaries are not paid by the Department of Education directly.

SCHOOL SECRETARIES WHO are members of trade union Fórsa are to take industrial action later this month in a dispute over pay and working conditions, it was announced today. 

The union said that its members will begin a work to rule from 20 September which will cause “significant disruption to the administration of the schools” over what it claims is a two-tier pay system. 

Most school secretaries are not paid by the Department of Education – although a small portion of them are – with Fórsa saying most are on a salary of around €12,500 a year. 

The majority are hired through a school’s Board of Management which is funded by an ancillary services grant from the department. 

As a result, those who are not deemed to be public servants do not receive pay during school closures such as the summer holidays, forcing them to sign on the live register. 

They also lose out on other benefits such as sick-pay that they would be entitled to if they were hired directly by the Department of Education. 

“This action will withdraw school secretaries from work on public service systems and databases on the basis that they are not paid or recognised as public servants,” a statement from the union said. 

Members were balloted over the summer months after talks with the department broke down. Fórsa said 94% of its members voted in favour of industrial action. 

“Union officials who attended the negotiations had hoped to discuss the substance of Fórsa’s claim for pay justice but department officials refused to engaged,” it said. 

The union’s head of education division, Andy Pike said: “School secretaries have done everything short of industrial action in their campaign for pay equality.

“They welcome the many pledges of solidarity they’ve received from politicians of all colours, but these are totally disconnected from the reality of the department’s position.”

‘Lost in the system’

Documents released to under Freedom of Information show the Department of Education has received numerous complaints from secretaries who feel they are “lost in the system”. 

In 2015, it was recommended that secretaries pay increase by 10% up until 2019, and that a minimum hourly rate of €13 would be phased in.

However, one secretary wrote at the end of last year: “Unfortunately what is happening is some school principals / board of management have not implemented the 2015 binding arbitration agreement.”

Another said they had written to the Minister of Education on numerous occasions for the past two years, and that “hardly a week goes by that I hear from another school secretary asking for my help and advice on getting her 2.5% pay increase”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the cost of proposals made by the union, including access to a state pension scheme and year round pay is currently being reviewed.

“As the Department is not the employer of these secretaries and caretakers a survey is running until 20 September to gather as accurate information as possible on the number of people in these positions in schools whose salaries are funded from state grants,” the spokesperson said.

Previous costings were based on a survey of schools conducted in 2009 and the 2015 Arbitration Agreement has been implemented in the meantime.

“Fórsa’s claim will be fully considered once the current costings have been determined on completion of the survey.”

Additional reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

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