Fórsa welcomes ‘breakthrough moment in a decades-long inequality’ and says early progress essential to avert planned industrial action
Fórsa trade union, which represents more than 1,000 school secretaries in primary and secondary schools nationwide, has welcomed comments made in the Dáil today (Thursday) by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, confirming the current Government’s objective to regularise employment, terms, conditions and pension rights for school secretaries.
The comments come the day after the union confirmed it would serve notice of industrial action next week to over 1,000 individual schools and the Department of Education and Skills (DES). The continuing dispute with the DES is due to a long standing two-tier pay system that leaves most school secretaries earning just €12,500 a year, with irregular, short-term contracts that force them to sign on during the summer holidays and other school breaks.
This is something of a breakthrough moment in a decades-long inequality which school secretaries and caretakers have been striving to correct for many years.
During leader’s questions, in response to a question by independent TD Seán Canney, the Tánaiste said: “The government really does value the essential work that’s done by school secretaries and school caretakers. Very often the school secretary is the first person you meet on the way in to a school, and the caretaker is the last person to leave in the evening.
“Schools would not operate without them, and I think that the role they play in our education system is as important as that played by school teachers, SNAs and school principals.
“For that reason, it is the objective of this government to regularise their employment, their terms and conditions and their pension rights as well. But that can only be done going forward, it can’t be done retrospectively,” he said.
The Tánaiste added that regularising the terms of employment for school secretaries would need to be done by agreement and by engagement and said officials in the department were considering Fórsa’s request for a referral of the dispute to the Labour Court.
Responding to the Tánaiste’s comments, Fórsa’s head of education Andy Pike said: “This is something of a breakthrough moment in a decades-long inequality which school secretaries and caretakers have been striving to correct for many years.
“Now that we have this commitment on the Dáil record, our question is how soon will officials act to make this a reality for these vital school staff? Our members have readied themselves for industrial action.
They’ve heard all manner of political promises before. A solid commitment from the Government is a genuine breakthrough, but we will need to see progress, and we will need to see it soon, if the planned industrial action is to be averted,” he said.
School secretaries plan to hold three one-day work stoppages on Friday 23rd October, Monday 2nd November and Friday 13th November, this will be followed by an indefinite strike commencing from Monday 16th November. Notice is to be served to schools and the DES next Thursday (15th October).
The Tánaiste added that regularising the terms of employment for school secretaries would need to be done by agreement “and by engagement” and said officials in the department were considering Fórsa’s request for a referral of the dispute to the Labour Court. He described the plans for industrial action as “regrettable.”
Watch: The exchange between Seán Canney TD and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar on the question of school secretaries can be viewed HERE. See segment recording 11.58 to 12.58. The relevant question in that section is posed by Seán Canney TD at 22m:19s.