A national one-day strike by school secretaries and caretakers, which was scheduled to take place this week, was deferred when the education department made significant concessions in a Workplace Relations Commission-brokered negotiation on Tuesday (14th September).
Fórsa said the department finally conceded that all school secretaries should be placed on the public service clerical officer scale, bringing an end to a four-decade old two-tier pay system.
The offer will also do away with the requirement for most secretaries to sign on during school breaks, as they will be able to retain existing work patterns while having their salaries paid over 52 weeks on a pro-rata basis.
The assimilation arrangements for transferring staff to new scales are to be finalised through discussions over the next couple of weeks.
The improvements, which will come into effect from 1st September 2021, will also see equalisation of annual leave arrangements on the basis of public service clerical officer provisions. The department also agreed to improve sick pay arrangements, though Fórsa will continue to pursue full equalisation with ETB-employed secretaries.
The union also said it expected the new employment conditions to be included in a model national contract for secretaries. It said the education department had stated that the administration of secretaries’ pay would be centralised, with the details to be discussed over the coming weeks.
Fórsa said work remained to be done on the details of a similar package for caretakers, but said the department had agreed that the same principles would apply to them.
Whilst no agreement was reached on the provision of pensions, the parties will try and seek a resolution of this outstanding issue in the final phase of talks on this long-standing dispute.
Fórsa’s head of education Andy Pike said the outcome represented the first concrete steps towards dismantling the two-tier pay system.
“It's not everything we wanted as we have not secured public service status, but aligning the pay rates to the proper scales is genuinely a step forward. The determination and resolve of school secretaries and caretakers has finally put the end of the two-tier pay system within our grasp,” he said.
Andy added that the department want to centralise pay arrangements but no final decision has yet been made on moving staff away from local payroll.
He said that, until this week’s breakthrough, an earlier offer from the education department would have left most secretaries on €12,000 a year less than their directly-employed colleagues, which the union had said was unacceptable. “No secretary or caretaker wanted to be on strike this week, but their willingness to take that step in a just cause was crucial to this victory.
“On their behalf, I want to thank the thousands of parents, SNAs, teachers, principals, elected representatives and others who have shown growing support and solidarity for secretaries and caretakers, who are at the heart of the school community,” he said.
The Fórsa branch committee agreed to defer the strike action for two weeks, pending confirmation of the implementation of the package.
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