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School secretaries to suspend work-to-rule industrial action to allow for WRC talks

Fórsa head of education Andy Pike said the talks needed to yield real and significant progress.

School secretaries outside Leinster House  in January
School secretaries outside Leinster House in January
Image: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

SCHOOL SECRETARIES IN the Fórsa trade union are suspending their work-to-rule industrial action to allow for talks at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

The work-to-rule action, which commenced on 13 January, will be suspended from 9am this morning to facilitate the WRC talks. 

Fórsa head of education Andy Pike said the talks at the WRC needed to yield real and significant progress. 

“A failure to make real and significant progress would lead to an immediate resumption of industrial action by school secretaries, because they have resolved to keep the pressure on until the issue is dealt with once and for all,” Pike said. 

The row centres around what secretaries call a “two-tier pay system”. Around 1,000 school secretaries are employed directly by the Department of Education and Skills, and could earn up to €44,711 per year, and are given pension entitlements, holiday leave and sick pay.

The majority of the country’s secretaries, however, are employed by each school’s Board of Management through an ancillary grant that is issued to each board annually by the Department to help run the school. Fórsa represents around half of this number.

These secretaries do not get the same pay as directly-employed secretaries, with some being paid as little as €12,700 a year. Most have no sick pay or pension entitlements and can be forced to go without any wages when the school closes for the Christmas, Easter or summer breaks.

Fórsa claims that it would cost €7 million per annum to give secretaries the pay they’ve requested; the Education Minister Joe McHugh previously confirmed on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke that it would cost between €5-7 million, but added that there were other complications to be considered. 

In January, school secretaries from around the country converged outside the Dáil in protest over their pay.

Government response

Commenting on the news that the industrial action has been halted, Education Minister Joe McHugh said that he welcomes the decision. 

“Secretaries and other support staff play a hugely important role in ensuring the smooth day to day running of schools and I am deeply conscious of the issues that secretaries have raised with me personally,” McHugh said. 

He said the Department of Education has previously engaged with Fórsa at the WRC and has “remained opened to returning to talks”. 

“I am glad that is now happening. The best way of resolving disputes is by sitting down together and going through the issues,” McHugh said. 

“I have always maintained that the only way this situation will be resolved is with the help of the WRC. Both sides will have their own positions, but compromise is necessary or nothing would ever be resolved.” 

With reporting by Gráinne Ní Aodha

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