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School secretaries protesting outside the Dáil in January of this year. Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie
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School secretaries to serve notice of plans for indefinite strike from mid-November

The move was announced by trade union Fórsa, which represents more than 1,000 school secretaries.

MORE THAN 1,000 school secretaries are to take industrial action, with three one-day work stoppages planned in the coming weeks. 

The one-day stoppages are due to take place on Friday 23 October, Monday 2 November and Friday 13 November.

From Monday 16 November, the school secretaries then intend to go on indefinite strike, trade union Fórsa said today. 

Notice is to be served to schools and the Department of Education next Thursday 15 October.

The long-standing dispute between the union and the government centres on a two-tier pay system for school secretaries.

Most school secretaries are not employed by the Department of Education and, with no guarantee on set working hours, can earn as little as €12,500 annually. Secretaries who are paid by the Department of Education and Skills could earn between €24,000 – €44,711.

An offer from the department last year to resolve the issue was described as “derisory” and “insulting” by Fórsa, and the dispute rumbled on.

A survey of union members last weekend found that 80% of respondents supported strike action, including an indefinite strike. 

Fórsa’s head of education Andy Pike said the decision was taken after exhausting all other options.

“Recent engagements with the department and the minister have shown that they are not serious about bringing the long-standing unfairness for school secretaries to an end,” he said.

“This has been an especially challenging year for all school staff, students and parents in the school community. It shouldn’t have to come to this to deliver a fairer system of employment for school secretaries, but they’ve been left with no other option but to take industrial action, and demonstrate their determination to achieve a fair outcome.”

The union also expressed anger at what it said was an unwillingness from department officials to refer the matter to the Labour Court.

In a statement, a Department of Education spokesperson said the decision from school secretaries was “regrettable”. 

The spokesperson said: “Any such action will impact on the day-to-day operation of schools at this most critical time and could further disrupt tuition for students who have recently returned to school.

“Significant improvements to the pay of secretaries and caretakers have been made since 2015 under a pay arbitration agreement implemented by the Department. This provided for a cumulative pay increase of 10% between 2016 and 2019 for staff and that a minimum hourly pay rate of €13 be phased in over that period.

A survey conducted by the Department last year found that the average hourly rate paid to a school secretary is €15.49, which is in line with the hourly rate for a Grade 3 Clerical Officer.
Officials from the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and school management bodies met with Fórsa today under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission in relation to claims on behalf of school secretaries and caretakers.

“The matter is a complex one that raises significant policy, legal and Exchequer cost issues. The cost of all of the elements of Fórsa’s claim, that is, to pay secretaries and caretakers on the maximum of the scale at full-time hours, is in the region of €50 million per annum, with a further substantial cost of approximately €36m for the provision of pension.”

The spokesperson added that the Workplace Relations Commission process remains open as of today. 

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