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'I won't sign on, it's demeaning': School secretaries will strike tomorrow over pay

A school secretary could be paid as little as €12,500 a year, with no holiday pay, sick leave or pension entitlements.

Image: Shutterstock/Kycheryavuy

SCHOOL SECRETARIES ARE going on strike tomorrow for one hour, before commencing a work-to-rule action indefinitely after talks over pay and conditions collapsed yesterday. 

Fórsa, which has tabled a pay claim with the government, and management bodies representing the employers of schools impacted by the action were in attendance at the meeting with the Department of Education and Skills yesterday over Friday’s industrial action. Secretaries at 250 schools in 22 counties are going to go on strike for an hour on Friday morning. 

After that they will commence a work-to-rule, which will mean that the majority of school secretaries’ interaction with the Department of Education will stop. Work-to-rule is industrial action where workers don’t do tasks that fall outside of their job descriptions (ie, tasks for which they aren’t paid).

A few hundred school secretaries are paid directly from the Department of Education, but the majority of the country’s 3,500 school secretaries are paid through the ancillary grant, which is awarded to schools by the Department annually. The Department does not recognise these secretaries as its employees. 

This means that secretaries paid through the grant can earn as little as €12,500 a year, with their hours per week decided based on how big a grant the Department awards to the school. This compares with salaries of between €24,000 and €44,711 for those paid directly by the Department. 

Fórsa met with the Department of Education to discuss these issues in May, where the union formally tabled a claim seeking public service pay scales, year-round working patterns and access to a public service pension scheme for secretaries and caretakers who are employed directly by schools, and whose salaries are funded from grants.

The Department has said that it needs school boards of management and/or principals to complete a survey on secretaries’ pay before they discuss conditions. The closing deadline for this survey, which was sent out on 2 September, is tomorrow.

As a result, Fórsa balloted school secretaries for industrial action. After a turnout of 68%, 94% voted in favour with 6% voting against taking action.

The current pay agreement provides for a 10% pay increase for secretaries from 2016 to 2019, and a higher minimum hourly rate of €13. But some secretaries say that schools aren’t implementing this increase properly. 

School secretaries Source: Fórsa

Louisa Carthy, who has been a school secretary for 16 years in Galway, began coordinating with Fórsa about pay and conditions for secretaries 11 years ago. For her, not being paid during holidays is a big issue.

“When it comes to holidays, I won’t sign on. I can’t do it. I’ll keep myself busy with other jobs so I don’t have to – face painting, window painting, and I started AirBnBing the house years ago. I just couldn’t sign on, it’s just demeaning going into the dole office. You feel so small.”

She says that although her school is very supportive, it can’t provide sick pay or pension provisions for her through the grant alone. Carthy says she won’t pay off her mortgage until she’s in her 70s on her current pay package.

She says that parents aren’t aware of this until she highlights it.

They say ‘Oh you’re off on paid holidays like teachers’. Their mouths drop when I say that’s not the case – they can’t believe I’m not getting paid during holidays. 

Carthy said that she has been told that there’s an embargo on recruiting secretaries. 

“At the end of March, we had a meeting in Galway that seven or eight TDs attended and they said they supported us. And they did nothing. I think they don’t want to stand up against [Minister for Education] Joe McHugh.”

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson from the Department of Education said:

“As is standard practice, the Department must establish the full current cost of the trade union’s claim. As the Department is not the employer of these secretaries and caretakers a survey is running until 20th September to gather as accurate information as possible on the pay and working hours of the staff in question.” 

The spokesperson said that at yesterday’s meeting, the Department told Fórsa that its claim would be “fully considered once the current costings have been determined on completion of these surveys”.

The Department reiterated its view to the union that any industrial action is premature and unwarranted, not least because the period of the current arbitration agreement has not expired. The Department called on FÓRSA to reconsider their action.

“As the Union has previously been advised, the Department remains fully open to having further dialogue with Fórsa once the survey work has been undertaken.”

Secretaries will be asking their teacher colleagues in the INTO, the ASTI, and the TUI to support them, as well as SNAs and Fórsa’s 80,000 members.

Fórsa is also holding four major protests from 8.30 – 9.30am at the following locations:

  • St Lawrence National School (Sallins National School), Sallins, Co Kildare
  • Scoil Naomh Fiachra, Illistrin, Letterkenny, Co Donegal
  • North Dublin National School Project, Ballymun Road, Glasnevin, Dublin 9
  • St Mary’s Secondary School, Irishtown, New Ross, Co Wexford.

After Friday’s action, a work-to-rule will commence where secretaries won’t engage with the Department of Education on student enrollment and other system tasks.

Secretaries will continue to use the Department system to approve payments from the Department – however this will be reviewed by striking school secretaries as the industrial action continues.

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