A series of rallies in Dublin, Waterford, Athlone and Letterkenny were well attended, while on social media #SupportOurSecretaries was trending high throughout the day.
The strike action was followed by a resumption of work to rule action, which was lifted this morning following a decision to return to talks facilitated by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
The dispute is over the continuing two-tier pay system that leaves most school secretaries 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.
Fórsa represents more than half of the estimated 2,000 school secretaries employed directly by their school’s board of management and paid from the school’s ancillary grant.
The remaining estimated 1,000 school secretaries are employed directly through the Education and Training Boards (ETBs), while a very small number remain employed under the pre-1978 scheme, under which school secretaries were employed directly by the Department of Education.
The vast majority of school secretaries working in Ireland are women.
The strike action won significant media coverage throughout the day, with individual school secretaries featuring prominently. Paula Harrington from Cork featured in the Irish Examiner and spoke on RTE’s Today with Seán O’Rourke programme, which included an interview with education minister Joe McHugh TD.
Eileen Barry was featured in the Irish Independent, while Maeve Hurrell, Liz Phelan, Maria Dunne and Kathleen O’Doherty spoke to RTE’s Education correspondent Emma O’Kelly for RTE's SixOne bulletin. Kathleen also spoke from the Letterkenny rally on Highland Radio, while TheJournal.ie spoke to a number of school secretaries on the day.
You can view the school secretaries campaign video here, which was shot and edited by our SIPTU colleague Paddy Cole, and a selection of photographs from pickets and the four main rallies are available on our Facebook page.
Previously, talks took place between October and December 2019. Andy Pike, Forsa’s head of Education, said the department had failed to bring forward any proposals on pay capable of resolving the issue: “The offer to school secretaries was 1.5%. An offer we can only describe as insulting. The gap between both parties clearly remains far too wide, and school secretaries had no option but to re-commence their industrial action. Regrettably, this is the the only way to increase pressure on the employer."
“Fórsa left the WRC negotiations having given a clear message to the employers that our campaign does not seek percentage pay increases. What we’re seeking is respect and recognition for school secretaries through access to the same pay and conditions as secretaries in ETB Schools. Regrettably the only way to increase pressure on the employer’s side is to escalate the industrial action.
“In the context of broader pay trends, the offer of 1.5% is derisory and falls far short of what it would take to resolve a pay disparity that successive governments have allowed to fester for four decades. Our aim in this process is to ensure school secretaries and caretakers are afforded the opportunity to work in a system that properly reflects their huge value to the school community.
“This offer doesn’t even come close to achieving that goal, and it’s possible the Government has completely underestimated the resolve of school secretaries to get a meaningful result on this,” he said.
Pay increases under the current public service agreement (which does not apply to grant paid school secretaries) come in at just over 1.75% in 2019, while CSO figures show that average weekly earnings rose by 3.9% in the private sector.
Average economy-wide pay increases of almost 4% are anticipated this year.