School Secretary and Caretaker talks at WRC adjourned until February

Department unable to commit to resolving outstanding problem of school secretaries having to sign-on during school holidays

Talks at the WRC (Workplace Relations Commission) today between Fórsa, the Department of Education and school management bodies, about a final package of measures to improve pay and conditions for school secretaries, have adjourned until 24th February.

Fórsa said the talks adjourned as it became clear that the department was not yet in a position to commit to resolving the outstanding problem of school secretaries and caretakers being required to sign on for social protection payments during school holiday periods.

Most caretakers earn around €13,800 a year, and secretaries are on just €12,500. They are on irregular short-term contracts that force them to sign on during the summer holidays and other school breaks. In October 2020 Tánaiste Leo Varadkar spoke on the matter in Dáil Éireann, and gave a commitment to end a four-decade system of pay inequality, which has 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.

The union’s head of education Andy Pike said: “Last September the department suggested they would be able to pay a sum, equivalent to the amount claimed in jobseekers benefit, through salary in order to ensure those who did not wish to sign on did not have to do so.

“However, this morning it became clear that the department has yet to determine exactly how this mechanism would work in practice. This raises doubts about the inclusion of this measure in the final agreement. Fórsa made it very clear that there could be no agreement unless action was taken to ensure the problem of lay-offs and signing-on by school secretaries and carteakers was resolved,” he said.

The WRC adjourned the talks to facilitate time for the department to develop a fully costed operational plan, to remove the requirement to sign-on, and requested that both parties return to the talks on 24th February 2022. Fórsa agreed to return to the talks on the basis that all outstanding matters should then be clarified and finalised.

Mr Pike added: “The adjournment of the talks will be a disappointment to members. We had hoped to finalise a package of measures today upon which members could be balloted. It’s important that we continue to ensure the best possible terms are secured before any ballot takes place,” he said. Mr Pike said the implementation date for the final agreement remains backdated to 1st September 2021.