School secretaries are to take industrial action over the education department’s refusal to address a two-tier pay system that leaves most 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.
Their union Fórsa announced today (Monday) that the workers involved had backed industrial action by a margin of 94% to 6% in a national ballot conducted over the summer. The turnout was 68%.
The action will commence from 20th September, when school secretaries will engage in a short work stoppage at the start of the school day. Thereafter they will commence a significant work to rule. This action will withdraw school secretaries from work on public service systems and databases on the basis that if they are not paid or recognised as public servants. They will also refuse to carry out the functions of public servants.
School secretaries are to take industrial action over the education department’s refusal to address a two-tier pay system. The action will commence from 20th September.
The action is expected to cause significant disruption to the administration of the schools sector without affecting students or parents.
Fórsa went to ballot after talks broke down earlier in the summer. The union says education department officials refused to discuss proposals to overcome a two-tier pay system that’s been in place for more than four decades.
Union officials who attended the negotiations had hoped to discuss the substance of Fórsa’s claim for pay justice. But departmental officials refused to engage and instead proposed further work on costing the claim – despite having presented detailed cost estimates to an Oireachtas committee in April this year. Cost studies were also done in 2010, 2014 and 2018.
The problem is rooted in an antiquated and discriminatory pay regime, foisted upon school secretaries in 1978. It discriminates between a minority who are directly-employed by the education department, and have public service employment status, and a majority who are hired by school management boards, which determine their pay and conditions.
School secretaries will engage in a short work stoppage at the start of the school day. Thereafter they will commence a significant work to rule. The action is expected to cause significant disruption to the administration of the schools sector without affecting students or parents.
Speaking today, the head of Fórsa’s Education Division, Andy Pike said school secretaries had been reluctantly forced into industrial action after decades of inaction and injustice. “In recent years, school secretaries have done everything short of industrial action in their campaign for pay equality. They welcome the many pledges of solidarity they’ve received from politicians of all colours, but these are totally disconnected from the reality of the department’s position, which is to constantly stall and disengage.
“It beggars belief that another summer has been wasted on number-crunching when departmental cost estimates were passed to the Oireachtas a few short months ago. This is clear evidence that the department is not interested in addressing pay inequalities in our schools,” he said.
School secretary Kathleen O’Doherty said: “Around 90% of our school secretaries are locked out of the regularised pay system. They have low pay, no holiday pay, no sick pay, no real job security, certainly no occupational pensions, and no access to public service salary scales. It’s time this antiquated and discriminatory employment arrangement was scrapped, and replaced with a model that reflects the vast range of responsibilities and tasks school secretaries perform.”
In evidence to the Oireachtas Education committee earlier this year, Mr Pike said school secretaries were uniquely disadvantaged in the education sector, and worked under conditions that fall far short of the standards set elsewhere.
“The best a school secretary can hope for – and that’s only about 10% of the total – is to be paid the same as a public service clerical officer. Yet the routine work they carry out often far exceeds the responsibilities set out in the clerical officer job descriptions used by the Public Appointments Service,” he said.
Earlier this year, over 12,000 people signed a Fórsa petition calling for fair pay and conditions for school secretaries. The petition called on the Minister for Education and Skills to end the long-standing two-tier pay system by putting those who are employed directly by school management boards onto public service pay scales.