Fórsa has sought the commencement of talks on a new special needs assistant (SNA) national contract.
The public service agreement Building Momentum contains provision for a review of the national SNA employment contract and a review of the obligation for SNAs to be available for an additional 72 hours each year.
The additional hours will be the main focus of the discussions. Under the terms of the agreement talks must conclude by October.
The union has advised the education department that there are several aspects of the contract that should be reviewed and updated. The union plans to present evidence that the 72 hours obligation is widely misused by many schools.
Fórsa’s head of education Andy Pike says the 72 hours obligation is one of the last vestiges of the period’s austerity measures.
The additional hours were introduced under the 2011 Croke Park agreement, and Fórsa’s head of education Andy Pike says it’s one of the last vestiges of the period’s austerity measures.
“The evidence available shows that many schools are not using the hours for the purposes specified in the 2011 circular to support students with additional care needs.
“The obligation is seen by some schools as an obligation, entitling employers to roster SNAs to carry out work, regardless of the nature of that work. We’re aware of several cases where staff are rostered to be on school premises when there is no work whatsoever for them to do,” he said.
Andy said post-primary school staff attending work in the month of June are too often assigned inappropriate and sometimes demeaning tasks which fall well outside the remit of the statutory framework for allocating SNAs to schools.
“This occurs in circumstances where there are no students with additional care needs on the school premises, and where there is no suitable work for SNAs to do,” he said.
The obligation serves as a barrier to staff development and we believe the time has come for it to be abolished.
He said Fórsa data suggests SNAs experience significant difficulty in accessing credit for courses, and other learning activities, as many schools refuse to allow the additional hours to be used for continuing professional development, and noted the union’s disappointment that the 500 SNAs who recently graduated from the first SNA national training programme at UCD, were not necessarily entitled to any credit for time spent completing the course.
“It’s Fórsa’s belief that the continuation of the 72 hour obligation will not benefit students or staff. The obligation serves as a barrier to staff development and we believe the time has come for it to be abolished,” he said.
The union is currently preparing a submission ahead of talks and will include a range of contract issues including the required probationary period, working hours, breaks and holiday periods, pension and retirement issues, working away from school premises, ensuring all assigned work is appropriate to the SNA grade, and sick leave.