Fórsa to ballot school secretaries on new employment proposals ​

Fórsa trade union is to ballot its school secretary members on a set of proposals designed to regularise their employment terms and conditions. The draft proposals, which follow the union’s lengthy campaign for pay equality for school secretaries, were finalised today (Thursday) at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

The proposals include a new pay scale aligned with civil service grade III clerical officer, an agreed method of assimilation into the new pay scale, alternative arrangements to the current practice of signing on for social protection payments during school holidays, a centralised payroll system and standardised arrangements for maternity leave, sick leave and annual leave. Fórsa said that while the proposals did not include any substantial progress on pensions, the union reserved the right to press the case for suitable pension arrangements in the future.

Terms for grant funded school caretakers were also part of the negotiations. However, the proposals acknowledge a deficit of data on working terms and conditions for caretakers. The WRC proposals nevertheless commits to ‘intensive engagement’ on regularising pay and conditions for caretakers should the proposals on school secretaries be agreed and implemented.

The negotiated proposals marked a timely departure from antiquated arrangements for grant paid school secretaries.

Fórsa’s head of Education Andy Pike said the negotiated proposals marked a timely departure from antiquated arrangements for grant paid school secretaries, a system first established in 1978: “For more than four decades most school secretaries found themselves employed under terms that left them on low pay, with irregular short-term contracts that force them to sign on during the summer holidays and other school breaks.

“We’ve been campaigning under the SOS (Support Our Secretaries) banner for more than three years. At each stage we have encountered significant difficulties in securing fair treatment for grant paid secretaries requiring industrial action, intensive lobbying and other efforts by our members.

“We’ve secured access to the proper pay scale, with assimilation arrangements that will significantly improve the living standards of school secretaries, and it provides welcome security of income for thousands of staff. Equally, the arrangements for addressing weeks of lay off when schools are closed are beneficial and will ensure that staff are not penalised financially if they choose not to sign on.

“The proposed agreement represents the best possible terms that could be secured from the negotiations, but there are areas of this agreement that fall short of expectations, particularly on pensions. Nevertheless, the proposals represent a great leap forward in modernising the terms for school secretaries, who play a crucial role in the day-today life of the school community. Fórsa’s school secretaries can now consider these proposals and cast their vote on how we proceed,” he said. Andy said the union would be recommending approval of the proposals in the ballot, as they represent the best terms that can be achieved through negotiations.

Fórsa will be be recommending approval of the proposals in the ballot as they represent the best terms that can be achieved through negotiations.

In October 2020 Tánaiste Leo Varadkar gave a commitment in the Dáil to end the system of pay inequality experienced by school secretaries, which had been criticised by parties across the political spectrum. Last September a national one-day strike was deferred after the education department made significant concessions in a WRC-brokered negotiation.

Andy said a ballot of its members would commence in the coming days, and the union will provide a detailed analysis of the proposals. A series of information meetings will take place as follows:

  • Galway- Tuesday 1st March in Fórsa’s Regional Office, Galway from 7pm to 8.30pm
  • Limerick – Wednesday 2nd March, The Strand Hotel, Limerick, from 7pm to 8.30pm
  • Dublin- Thursday 3rd March in Croke Park Hotel Dublin from 7pm to 8.30pm
  • Donegal/Letterkenny- Monday 7th March in Mount Errigal Hotel, Letterkenny from 7pm to 8.30pm
  • Athlone- Tuesday 8th March in Creggan Court Hotel, Athlone from 7pm to 8.30pm
  • Cork- Thursday 10th March in Silver Springs Hotel (Clayton Hotels), Cork from 7pm to 8.30pm
  • Zoom Meeting – Monday 14th March, 7pm to 8.30pm

Further information about the proposals is available in this special bulletin issued to Fórsa school secretary members this evening.