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'Lost in the system': Some school secretaries say they're not getting their 2.5% pay increases

The Department said that they’ve received calls on the issue, where they advise secretaries on what action they can take.

SCHOOL SECRETARIES HAVE raised concerns about schools not implementing the 2.5% annual pay increases.

In correspondence released to TheJournal.ie in a Freedom of Information request, secretaries wrote to the Minister last year and this year raising a number of issues with job security, pay rates, pension benefits – and the non-implementation of a 2015 circular implementing a 2.5% pay increase annually. 

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. 

Kathleen O’Doherty, a school secretary campaigner in Letterkenny, said that even a 2.5% annual increase to someone who was on €9 or €10 an hour was “an insult”.

In January of last year, secretaries being paid through the ancillary grant got their pay increased from €11.01 an hour to €11.50. In April, it increased again to €11.79. 

But 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.”

The person also raised an issue where teachers take on extra duties for which they are paid by the Department of Education for, and school secretaries can end up doing those tasks for them. 

Another school secretary said she was hired to replace a retiring secretary on the basis that she would work through an agency for three months, but four years later she is still operating through an agency, which the secretary claims is paid around €15 an hour by the school, while the secretary is paid €12.30 an hour and has no entitlements, security, or right to a pay rise.

The secretary claims that the school has said there’s an embargo on hiring: 

I am lost in the system and need advice. 

Another secretary, who said that they had written to the Minister of Education on numerous occasions for the past two years, said “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”.

That’s three years of 2.5% pay increases that the Department has funded, for schools to pass on to their secretaries and caretakers and still. Today, school principals and boards of management are refusing to do so. What’s being done about it?

Why are some school secretaries paid less than others?

By and large, 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 sign on the dole during these periods.

In correspondence released to TheJournal.ie under the same FOI request, a secretary asked the Minister of Education:

“Please can you justify to me in a school of 360 pupils getting an Ancillary Grant of €60,00 approximately, and the part-time caretaker in the school and myself the school secretary (who has no pension scheme, no sick pay scheme and has to sign on for school closure) between us get approximately €30,000?”

Trade union Fórsa are aiming to make all school secretaries public servants in order to give them certainty in relation to their pay, their hours and future employment. After talks with the government, school secretaries are to be balloted for industrial action later this month. 

In response to questions from TheJournal.ie on how many queries it had received from school secretaries since 2015 about non-implemented pay increases, a spokesperson for the The Department of Education and Skills said:

The Department of Education and Skills receives informal correspondence by telephone in respect of grant-funded secretary and caretaker circulars, as regularly occurs with the publication of pay circulars. Advice is provided on the implementation of the circular and the appropriate steps to take. To date, there has been no formal follow-up or receipt of correspondence in writing citing specific instances of non-compliance following these telephone queries.

“The increases recommended by the Arbitrator are binding and must be applied by all schools who employ staff to whom the Arbitrator’s recommendation applies.

“Should any non-compliant practices exist, the Department would welcome being informed of them. In this regard, it is of note that the Department is also in regular contact with FÓRSA, the trade union that represents many grant-funded secretaries and caretakers.”

The Department maintains that school secretaries are not employees of the Department, and so it has “no role” in determining pay and conditions for them.

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