School secretaries consider resumption of industrial action

Fórsa’s School Secretaries branch is to immediately survey its members on the resumption of industrial action in which members were engaged in January and February this year.

The union is scheduled to meet Department of Education officials at the WRC on Thursday (1st October) to resume talks on the continuing dispute over 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.

Fórsa represents more than half of the estimated 2,000 school secretaries employed directly by their school’s board of management and paid from the school’s ancillary grant. The union has sought to have school secretaries employed under public service terms, as they apply to school secretaries employed by the Education and Training Board (ETB) schools.

The union’s head of Education Andy Pike said the decision to survey members on resuming industrial action follows correspondence exchanged this week between the union and the Minister for Education Norma Foley TD.

Andy said a letter from the minister is a cause of concern to school secretaries as it fails to deliver any commitment to make progress on any of the issues identified by the union, and failed to address a second key element of the claim that being the provision of sick pay, maternity pay and secure employment: “Clearly the minister has sought to dampen expectations in advance of the resumption of negotiations. It would appear that the Minister believes the provision of minimal paid Covid leave and access to occupational health services is more than sufficient to address our members’ claim,” he said.

Clearly the minister has sought to dampen expectations in advance of the resumption of negotiations.

Responding to the minister, Andy said this was the “bare minimum any decent employer would be expected to provide during a pandemic” and challenged the minister’s revised estimates of the cost of meeting the claim by school secretaries.

He added: “The minister’s general approach stands in sharp contrast to her party’s pre-election pledges of support. This is despite the manifesto commitments of both the Fianna Fáil Party and the Green Party to resolve the issue. Once elected it seems those commitments just don’t seem to matter anymore. It is clear that the new Government has adopted a policy even more implacably opposed to recognising the value of school secretaries than the last.”

He said the union will attend the WRC talks on Thursday but added that expectations of any progress are very low. “The position adopted by the minister would have to change significantly for there to be any prospect of the talks making progress,” he said.

Andy said the union’s School Secretary branch committee met on Saturday (26th September) to consider developments and resolved to consult members on the resumption of an industrial action campaign. “This decision reflects the fact that the commitments made to members prior to the election have not been honoured and the belief that the position set out by the minister will prevent any progress being made in the WRC negotiations later this week,” he added.

Andy said school secretary members would receive a survey from Fórsa seeking views on a resumption of industrial action. The survey will close on Friday afternoon (2nd October) with results expected on Monday (5th October).

It’s never been more important – or easier – to get the protections and benefits of union membership. Join Fórsa HERE or contact the union HERE.