Ireland’s school secretaries are to stage a one-day strike on Wednesday 15th September, and will gather in the capital for a national rally on the same day.
Their union Fórsa said pickets would be placed on the Dublin headquarters of the Department of Finance and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), which stand accused of blocking implementation of a Government commitment to standardise pay and conditions of school secretaries.
Most of them earn just €12,500 a year, with irregular short-term contracts that force them to sign on during the summer holidays and other school breaks.
Almost a year ago, the Government made an explicit commitment to resolve this issue. But the offer that followed falls far short of that and lacks all credibility.
It is almost a year since Tánaiste Leo Varadkar spoke on the matter in Dáil Éireann, and gave a commitment to year end the four-decade system of pay inequality, which has been criticised by parties across the political spectrum.
The dispute was subsequently referred to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) where, last July, the education department offered an increase of just 50 cent an hour, a proposal that Fórsa dismissed as ‘derisory.’
The union’s head of Education, Andy Pike, said the education department’s failure to make the expected proposals to fully standardise pay and conditions for school secretaries and caretakers had let them bitterly disappointed as they face into yet another school year of pay discrimination.
“The department’s offer fails spectacularly to meet the commitment made by the Tánaiste in the Dáil last October, when he said this four-decade pay inequality would be ended once and for all. School secretaries have again been let down by their employers and by the Government.
“They had a reasonable expectation that a solution would be in place by now. They have campaigned and made their case, which has won broad public and political support.
School secretaries have been badly let down, and feel that industrial action is now the only option open to them.
“Following Mr Varadkar’s 2020 Dáil statement, school secretaries and caretakers counted the Government among those who backed pay equality in our schools. But that is evidently not the case, School secretaries have been badly let down, and feel that industrial action is now the only option open to them,” he said.
The staff affected are employed by individual school boards of management, and are paid out of the ancillary grant provided to each school. As a result, they earn far less than the minority of school secretaries and caretakers who work in ETB schools and are employed directly on Department of Education pay scales.
Mr Pike said the employer’s offer would still leave the majority earning about €12,000 a year less than their directly-employed colleagues. Aside from pay, the proposals contained no movement on standardisation of leave, sick leave and other conditions of service. Neither did they address access to an occupational pension scheme in a similar way to directly-employed staff.
“Almost a year ago, the Government made an explicit commitment to resolve this issue. But the offer that followed falls far short of that and lacks all credibility.
“It’s totally disheartening for school secretaries who have worked above and beyond during the Covid crisis, which brought additional responsibilities to administer the pandemic response including the provision of PPE and other equipment, distance learning and complex leave and attendance arrangements,” said Mr Pike.
Fórsa is currently balloting school caretakers as they are also disadvantaged by the pay inequality. They will join the 15th September strike if the ballot result backs strike action.