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. The majority also have irregular short-term contracts that force them to sign on during the summer holidays and other school breaks.
Earlier this week, Fórsa announced 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.
The secretaries will withdraw from work on public service systems and databases as they are not recognised as public servants. They will also refuse to carry out the functions of public servants.
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.
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 secretary Kathleen O’Doherty said around 90% of our school secretaries were 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,” she said.
Last weekend, the union held demonstrations in Dublin, Athlone and Donegal, where protesters gathered outside the office of education minister Joe McHugh.