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School secretaries unhappy with 'an absolute joke' 1.5% pay increase offer

Talks broke down between the Department of Education and Fórsa at the Workplace Relations Commission this week.

Supporters hold a hour protest outside Glasnevin Educate Together National School.
Supporters hold a hour protest outside Glasnevin Educate Together National School.
Image: Sam Boal

SCHOOL SECRETARIES ARE unhappy with the latest offer from the Department of Education in an attempt to avoid industrial action planned for January. 

At a negotiation on Monday, the trade union Fórsa said that the Department made an offer of a 1.5% pay rise, which they called “insulting” and “derisory”. Talks are said to have broken down after this.

School secretaries are paid €11.70 an hour, but aren’t guaranteed a set amount of days’ work a year, meaning they could earn as little as €12,700 annually. Secretaries who are paid by the Department of Education and Skills could earn between €24,000 – €44,711.

“In the context of broader pay trends, the offer of 1.5% is derisory and falls far short of what it would take to resolve a pay disparity that successive governments have allowed to fester for four decades,” the union’s head of education Andy Pike said.

Our aim in this process is to ensure school secretaries and caretakers are afforded the opportunity to work in a system that properly reflects their huge value to the school community.

What secretaries earn

Most school secretaries are not employed by the Department of Education and are instead paid through the Ancillary Services Grant, which is given to schools by the Department of Education based on the number students enrolled.

As this number fluctuates, so does the annual Ancillary Grant, and so secretaries are not guaranteed a regular amount of hours or weeks’ work per year. They also aren’t automatically entitled to pensions, and some don’t get paid for the summer or Christmas breaks and must claim unemployment assistance during these periods.

Fórsa trade union, which is representing school secretaries, has carried out days of industrial action as a result – a work-to-rule where secretaries don’t use the Department of Education software that allows for teachers to be paid. 

They are asking that school secretaries, as well as caretakers, be made employees of the Department of Education. There are around 3,500 school secretaries in the country.

A national day of strike action is planned for Friday 10 January in response. 

What school secretaries are saying

Bernadette, a primary school secretary for 23 years, says that she knows of many other secretaries who do the same work as her, but are paid through the Department of Education.

“This is a two-tier system and I feel let down by the State. I have to sign on [as unemployed] during holidays, and feel the time has come for everyone to support the school secretaries.

Another secretary, Frank Considine, wrote to the Minister for Education Joe McHugh:

“I, like hundreds of my fellow school secretaries watched you and all the other TDs stand in the Dáil back in October, one after the other decrying the appalling way in which school secretaries have been treated for decades, under administration after administration, and in conclusion you stood, and acknowledged the tone of the debate, and promised that the Department of Education would finally use the services of the WRC to once and for all resolve the dispute.

The dispute, as I say, that has gone on for decades. There is only one resolution. Equitable treatment for all. Anything less is simple abuse, and exploitation.
And last night, in shocked silence, along with I am sure hundreds of others, I read of the absolutely derisory offer your officials have made. An absolute joke. Not even a pretence. Where is the engagement to resolve?

A Department of Education spokesperson said that at the WRC on Monday, the management side (ie, the Department of Education and Skills, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and school management bodies) met with representatives of school secretaries and caretakers from the Fórsa union.

“This was the latest in series of discussions under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission, arising from a claim lodged by Fórsa in respect of the staff concerned. The matter as far as the management side is concerned is still being progressed at the WRC, where talks are ongoing.

“The Department remains willing to engage in discussions on the matter and would encourage the union to continue its engagement also.”

Fórsa’s Andy Pike said: “This offer doesn’t even come close to achieving that goal, and it’s possible the Government has completely underestimated the resolve of school secretaries to get a meaningful result on this.”

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