Feature Article
New edition of Fórsa magazine out now

The latest edition of Fórsa magazine will start making its way to workplaces and individual subscribers this week. In the latest forsa.ie blog post Fórsa editor Niall Shanahan gives an overview of the latest edition. Read more here.

Articles A
Schools campaign to intensify
by Bernard Harbor

The Fórsa campaign for proper recognition of school secretaries and caretakers is set to intensify and escalate when schools re-open after the summer break, according to the union’s campaigns director.

The Fórsa campaign for proper recognition of school secretaries and caretakers is set to intensify and escalate when schools re-open after the summer break, according to the union’s campaigns director. Speaking at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ conference last week, Joe O’Connor said industrial action by school secretaries was in prospect for the first time.


He said that most people, including trade unionists, were not aware that over 80% of school secretaries did not enjoy public service pay rates, pension arrangements or sick pay when seriously ill.


“Now is the time to end this two-tier system and to bring all school secretaries and caretakers into the public service family, to treat them in the same way as all other members of the school community, and to finally give them public service contracts and conditions,” he said.


Joe was speaking in support of an Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) motion which, among other things, drew attention to the situation of school secretaries and caretakers.

Pension age increases priced at €26,000
by Diarmaid Mac a Bhaird and Bernard Harbor

Planned increases in the State pension age will cost workers at least €26,000, plus benefits like free travel and the fuel allowance, according to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).

Planned increases in the State pension age will cost workers at least €26,000, plus benefits like free travel and the fuel allowance, according to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).

Speaking at the federation’s biennial conference last week, ICTU’s social policy officer Laura Bambrick said workers would forego €13,000 in pensions, plus secondary benefits, for each year the Government increases the pension age.

"If they have a dependant spouse it will cost them an additional €11,500 and €1,700 for each child. This is the biggest ever cut to the social safety net for working people," she said.

In a report published ahead of the conference, ICTU called for the upcoming hikes to be reversed, saying Government plans to increase the pension age were “going too far, too fast.” It criticised the policy for forcing those approaching retirement to continue working out of necessity, even if they weren’t fit to do so.


Under the current timeline, the retirement age in Ireland will increase to 68 in 2028, making it the highest pension age in the OECD. The pension age is set to go up to 67 in 2021, after rising from 65 to 66 in 2014.


The report states that less than half of all workers have a pension to supplement their State pension. Some 90% of public sector workers are covered, compared to just 35% of private sector workers.


The report also backed the Government’s proposed new auto-enrolment system, while calling for some changes to it.

Government slammed over ‘tip theft’ law
by Bernard Harbor

The Government has been urged to reconsider its “shameful” decision to block new legislation that would oblige restauranteurs to pass on tips to their staff. 

The Government has been urged to reconsider its “shameful” decision to block new legislation that would oblige restauranteurs to pass on tips to their staff. Speaking at the biennial conference of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) in Dublin last week, Fórsa Lead Organiser Grace Williams said the decision was unfair and out of step with the public mood.


The National Minimum Wage (Protection of Employee Tips) Bill, completed its second stage in Dáil Éireann two weeks ago, and had already completed all stages in the Seanad.


But employment minister Regina Doherty said the Government would block the legislation, which would ban employers from withholding tips and other gratuities intended for staff, and oblige them to display their establishment’s tipping distribution policy.


Speaking at the ICTU conference, Grace said: “The Government looks set to block the Bill in response to the demands of employers in the sector. If so, that’s shameful and totally out of step with the public mood. When we give a tip to a waitress or waiter, it’s because we want to reward them for the service they’ve given, not because we want to boost the profits of their bosses.”


She was speaking on a motion that urged unions to intensify their efforts to work together at local level to attract young workers into unions and protect them against precarious work in emerging sectors and the gig economy.


She said the multi-union ONE Galway campaign against “tip theft” was an example of unions working together to achieve tangible results for young workers.

“The ONE Galway campaign gained national attention and achieved wide public and political support. It soon became the norm to ask hospitality workers in Galway, and across the country, whether they receive the tips they are given. This was done through active campaigning, local engagement, education, and organising together,” she said.

ONE Galway last week dismissed the Government’s approach to the Bill as being “in line with the demands from the Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) who want to retain access to tips, which they estimate make up approximately 10% of their revenue.”

Proposing the Fórsa motion, Lead Organiser Katie Morgan said trade unions were building on existing links with student organisations to become more relevant to young workers.


“We need to strengthen our links with second and third level students by increasing our collaborative working with ISSU and USI so that in a society that promotes individualism, young workers understand the importance of collectivism. The trade union movement must ensure we are relevant to them,” she said.

Mary Robinson urges anger over climate change
by Bernard Harbor

Former President Mary Robinson urged union members to “get angry and take action” over climate change when she addressed the Irish Congress of Trade Unions' biennial conference in Dublin last Wednesday (3rd July).

Former President Mary Robinson urged union members to “get angry and take action” over climate change when she addressed the Irish Congress of Trade Unions' biennial conference in Dublin last Wednesday (3rd July).

The climate justice advocate said action on an unprecedented scale was required within the next decade to avoid catastrophic climate change. But she offered citizens three ways to help.

“Make the issue personal in your life and take ownership of it; get angry with those in power and take action; and imagine the better future that we must hurry towards,” which can be cleaner, healthier, wealthier and more equal.

Ms Robinson commended ICTU for its work on a ‘just transition,’ that protects the workers and communities most exposed to climate change and measures to avoid it. And she said Ireland was “at last becoming serious about climate change.”

Calling for “solidarity between peoples and generations” she warned that the rapid and substantial actions required to avert climate disaster could “present risks to human rights, if not carefully managed.”

She said a “zero carbon future is compatible with zero poverty future” if rights are placed at the centre of climate action.

Workers would need support to reskill and access training to find new jobs, or to get early access to their pensions. She called on governments to put the necessary social welfare supports in place, and said all corporations should support this by paying their taxes in full.

Speaking in support of an ICTU Executive-sponsored motion on climate action and a just transition, Fórsa president Ann McGee called on unions to build on the work Congress had already done.


“Effective climate action will demand more than general support for the environment. It requires radical changes to the way we live and organise our economy and society. I believe that, as trade unions, we can up our game.

“I commend Congress for its emphasis on creating alternative employment for workers and communities most affected by a move towards a low-carbon economy. This is essential work that nobody else is doing with anything like the same rigour.

“But is it an adequate response? We need to build on this approach, to embrace and lead the imaginative policies and difficult actions needed to confront the single most catastrophic threat facing humanity,” she said.

Housing costs inflate living wage
by Bernard Harbor

Rent increases have pushed the ‘living wage’ up by 40 cent in the last year according to the Living Wage Technical Group, which calculates the minimum full-time earnings needed to support an acceptable standard of livin

Rent increases have pushed the ‘living wage’ up by 40 cent in the last year according to the Living Wage Technical Group, which calculates the minimum full-time earnings needed to support an acceptable standard of living.

The living wage rate is now €12.30 an hour, well above the official statutory minimum wage €9.80.

The Living Wage Technical Group, which calculates the living wage on behalf of the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, says there has been little change in overall living costs aside from rents.

It calculates that the cost of an acceptable minimum standard of living increased by an average of 2.3% for a single full-time worker without dependents over the past year.

The group says that if rents had increased at the same pace as other living costs, the Living Wage would now be lower than the 2014 rate of €11.45 an hour.

Assistant Professor of Social Policy at UCD Dr Micheál Collins said costs including food, household items, communications and income tax had fallen over the past year. But energy costs have risen.

More gender balance sought
by Bernard Harbor

Fórsa vice president Margaret Coughlan has called on unions to take action to improve their gender balance at senior levels.  

Fórsa vice president Margaret Coughlan has called on unions to take action to improve their gender balance at senior levels. Speaking at last week’s ICTU biennial conference, she also called on Congress to campaign for better public provision for elder care which, she said, was becoming an increasing burden on many workers.


Fórsa delegate Melissa Brennan said women remained under-represented in the union, despite efforts to redress the balance. “Women comprise just under 69% of our membership in Fórsa, but this is not reflected in our representative structures.


“Just 56% of branch executive members are women, while only 43% of delegates to our conferences are female. Just 34% of the union's executive committee are women – the same figure as our industrial and organising staff,” she said.


Margaret, who also chairs the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ (ICTU) Women’s Committee, said it was currently working on the impact of the menopause on women workers following meetings with women trade unionists from Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales.


The committee is also developing a leadership programme for female trade unionists, and has made a submission to government on childcare and early learning.

Colombian union murder rate doubles
by Bernard Harbor

Thirty-four trade union leaders were murdered in Colombia last year, twice as many as in 2017, according to Fórsa General Secretary Eoin Ronayne.

Thirty-four trade union leaders were murdered in Colombia last year, twice as many as in 2017, according to Fórsa General Secretary Eoin Ronayne.

Speaking at the ICTU biennial delegate conference last week, he said over 19 social leaders had been assassinated since the country’s new right wing president Iván Duque was elected last August, and almost 600 had been killed since a peace accord was reached in 2016.

Eoin was a member of the Justice For Colombia (JFC) ‘peace monitor mission’ to the South American country earlier this year, an initiative jointly funded by Irish and British trade unions. Fórsa’s incoming senior general secretary Kevin Callinan, who has been on previous missions, will lead a JFC delegation to the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee later this week.

Eoin said there were fears that President Duque would falter in the implementation of the 2016 peace deal, and explained that the monitor mission existed to observe the implementation of the agreement and the broader human rights situation in a country where land and wealth is held by a tiny number of people.

“In Colombia being a social leader or a trade union activist means your life is in real danger. While the former guerrilla group FARC has decommissioned its weapons, the smaller leftist ELN and the notorious right-wing paramilitary death squads continue to operate,” he said.

Fórsa contributes finances to JFC from its developing world fund, which is made up of 3% of all membership subscriptions.

Eoin compared the Colombian peace accord to the Good Friday Agreement. “It has the potential to bring about huge social, economic and political change. Land ownership, the expansion of mining operations at the expense of the rainforest and farming land, basic workers’ rights and reincorporation of 13,000 FARC fighters are some of the major issues at play,” he said.

Despite the country’s appalling human rights record, its government is sensitive to international pressure because the economy is heavily dependent on external investment.

The mission met with the Colombian equivalent of ICTU, senior officials of the two UN missions in the country, a wide range of social leaders, the FARC leadership, the ambassadors of the two peace deal guarantor countries, the British and Irish ambassadors, and opposition political representatives.

Find out more about Justice for Colombia HERE.

Also in this issue
SNA contract issues
Advice on the '72 Hours' and supervision
by Sean Carabini

As SNAs will know, there is a bank of hours that, should there be work available, SNAs can be called on to work from time to time. It's important to note that the '72 hours' is not a target. In many schools, there will be no need to work any additional time during the year.

More significantly, an SNA can only be asked to undertake work that is SNA-appropriate during this time.

Over the years we've come across some examples of work that SNAs have, on occasion, been asked to undertake that are unacceptable.

We are compiling a list of examples of these unacceptable practices. This list isn't exhaustive. We'll add to it if we discover other unacceptable and inappropriate practices.

The unacceptable practices identified so far include:
1. Gardening
2. Cleaning toilets
3. Working at the reception
4. Directing traffic
5. Laminating and shredding for the whole school
6. Painting classroom
7. Making tea/coffee for teachers and parents during meetings
8. Bar coding all books in the school
9. Cleaning the library
10. Building maintenance
11. Cleaning windows
12. Cleaning cars
13. Cleaning and mopping the floor
14. Homework club
15. Book covering
16. Cleaning
17. Administration/clerical Work (any work that would take work away from, or would normally be completed by a school secretary, including general school filing and shredding)
18. Breakfast clubs
19. Cleaning out lockers
20. Photocopying for the whole school population
21. Summer Camps
22. Music Camps
23. Sports Camps
24. Book rental scheme (including handling money for the scheme)
25. Work in school library (all aspects, including organising and scanning books, entering books onto database, etc)
26. Covering books for the whole school
27. Stamping books for the whole school

SNAs are allocated to schools to work to meet the case needs of children. It is very important for the sustainability of the role that SNAs do not undertake work that waters down their job.


Does an SNA have a supervision function?

The responsibility for supervision cannot be delegated to SNAs. This is clarified in Circular 30/2014, which confirms that supervision is a responsibility that lies with a teacher and not an SNA. It is, however, part of the SNA role to assist teachers with supervision but, generally, an SNA cannot be left in sole control of a class or playground.

Appendix 1 of the SNA contract clarifies this:

“Assisting the teachers in the supervision of pupils during assembly, recreation and dispersal from the classroom for one reason or another.”

This means that if a teacher is present and supervising, an SNA may assist. However, an SNA may not supervise by themselves. It's not part of their contract. There are only very limited circumstances where a school can make a case to allow an SNA to supervise.

It is particularly important to note that the Department of Education and Skills has a substitution scheme in place where a teacher is absent. There are no circumstances where, in the absence of a teacher, an SNA should be expected to take control of a class.

SNA contract issues: archive

Since April we've been publishing a special segment focussing on contract issues facing SNAs. Devised and written by Assistant General Secretary Seán Carabini, It has proved to be one of the most popular items in the Education news bulletin.

We've archived all of these items for ease of access, and will publish an updated archive in each future edition of the bulletin.

If you have SNA contract issues you'd like to see covered in the bulletin, please contact info@forsa.ie. Please include 'SNA contract issues for the news bulletin' in the subject heading.

How is the pay for part time hours calculated?
Notice periods
Panel Appeals
Displacement: Are You Doing Someone Else’s Job?
Standard contract for 2018/2019 school year
SNA allocation FAQs
The NCSE's SNA review: main points and recommendations
Q&A: NCSE Comprehensive Review of the Special Needs Assistant Scheme
Post fragmentation
I was a full-time SNA but have had my hours cut. Am I entitled to any redundancy payment?

Workplace violence code adopted
by Hazel Gavigan

A new convention and recommendation on violence and harassment at work has been adopted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a United Nations agency made up of representatives of governments, unions and employers. The new international law places responsibilities on employers and governments to tackle these issues.

The new ‘global standard,’ agreed at the recent ILO conference in Geneva after two years of negotiations, recognises the right to a world of work free from violence and harassment. Once ratified at national level, it will commit signatories to an inclusive, integrated and gender-responsive approach to the prevention and elimination of harassment and violence.

Speaking at the conference’s plenary session, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ equality officer David Joyce commended years of work by trade unionists – particularly women – to bring about this “remarkable achievement.”

He also thanked the Irish employer and government representatives for their constructive involvement. “I look forward to working together back home towards early ratification and effective implementation in Ireland,” he said.

By ratifying ILO conventions, countries make a commitment to apply them in national law and practice, and report on their application at regular intervals. Conventions generally come into force a year after the date of ratification.

Congress wants EU bargaining directive
by Bernard Harbor

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) says it will campaign for the adoption of a European Union directive on collective bargaining in order to establish a ‘right to bargain’ in Irish law. It says it will work through the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) in an effort to harmonise EU member states’ collective bargaining laws through a common directive.

In a publication launched at the ICTU conference last week, Congress also says it will seek to persuade the Irish Government to support the move.

Despite recent improvements in Irish laws governing collective bargaining, the accepted legal view is that union recognition is not enforceable under the Irish constitution since the Supreme Court has held that employers can legally refuse to recognise unions.

However, if an EU directive were adopted, ICTU believes “the supremacy of EU law would overcome any lingering doubt around the constitutionality of any legislative initiative in this sphere.”

Route to Reform: Realising the transformative effect of social dialogue and collective bargaining in Ireland also calls for rights to organise and participate in trade union activities, time off for union activities, and access to workplaces for union officials.

“There is an almost total absence of any statutory protection for penalisation on grounds of trade union membership or activity,” it says.

Workers oppose bogus self-employment
by Craig Whelan

A protest against bogus self-employment in the construction industry took place outside the site of the National Children’s Hospital at the end of last month. Around 100 members of ICTU’s Construction Committee demonstrated against the widespread misclassification of workers in the building industry.


ICTU General Secretary Patricia King was present at the protest, and delivered a letter to contractor BAM Ireland.


Bogus self-employment occurs when employers instruct staff to report themselves as self-employed, despite being regular employees for all intents and purposes.


The practice has been a concern for Congress for number of years now. Its 2015 report identified an “exponential growth” of the practice within the construction industry, and estimated that the State was losing around €80 million a year in forgone PRSI contributions as a result.


Bogus self-employment can also have profound consequences for workers. Giving evidence to an Oireachtas committee earlier this year, Patricia King said wrongly-classified workers were denied access to employment rights and welfare benefits, as employer’s PRSI is not liable on self-employed workers.


A number of private members bills that aim to tackle the problem are currently before the Oireachtas. Employment minister Regina Doherty has also brought a memorandum to Cabinet to prohibit the practice. ICTU has continued its calls for Government to act.

Unions braced for hard Brexit
by Bernard Harbor

Unions are preparing to show leadership in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which has become more likely, according to Fórsa’s incoming Senior General Secretary Kevin Callinan.


He was speaking at last week’s ICTU biennial conference, where An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also told delegates a disorderly Brexit was growing more likely. Mr Varadkar said his Government was ‘building up fiscal buffers’ to help sectors like agriculture and manufacturing in the event that Britain leaves the EU without a trade deal.


Kevin took a swipe at the “reckless and the frivolous politicians in Northern Ireland and Westminster” who advocated a no-deal Brexit at a time when political failure and the increasing precariousness of work and living standards were coming together, fatally undermining the stability of Northern Ireland’s economy and society.


“Given the hapless and volatile performance we’ve witnessed in Westminster over the past three years, it would be foolish to predict the outcome of the Brexit saga. But it is clear that the danger of a ‘no deal’ outcome, whether by default or design, has become a very real one.


“If that comes to pass, Congress will rightly be expected to show leadership in a time of great peril for the living standards and rights of the people on this island, and for the peace process we have worked so hard to achieve and advance. We don’t want to see this happen, but we are up for the challenge if it does,” he said.


Kevin told delegates that Congress would keep working to protect the backstop in the Brexit withdrawal agreement. “The Good Friday Agreement must be implemented in full, and that includes a Bill of Rights, which remains outstanding after all this time. The fine constitutional balance that holds out the right to be British or Irish – or both or neither – is also enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement.


“The reckless and the frivolous politicians who flirt with the notion of a ‘no deal’ Brexit – be they in Northern Ireland or Westminster – run the risk of undermining this and all other aspects of the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.


Kevin also called for the establishment of a social dialogue forum in Northern Ireland, saying it could help political parties work together effectively in the region’s power-sharing structures.

Climate, housing and working time tackled
by Hazel Gavigan

Housing, the climate crisis and union demands for a four-day working week were among the topics of conversation at Fórsa’s annual campaigning summer school at the end of last month. Over 50 activists attended the two-day event.

National Economic and Social Council director Rory O’Donnell spoke on a panel with housing analyst and commentator Lorcan Sirr. The key message from that session was that Ireland needs to continue the resumption of social housing construction and widen provision to affordable or cost rental public housing to tackle the current crisis.

John Barry, professor of green political economy at Queens University – who gave the keynote address at Fórsa’s recent just transition network launch – told participants that a transition to a low-carbon economy was inevitable. “It’s up to us to decide how just that transition is,” he said.

Speaking on the same topic, Louise Fitzgerald of UCD and TASC policy officer Séan McCabe emphasised the importance of an equality-focused approach to climate action.

Kate Bell of the Trade Union Congress, which is Britain’s equivalent to ICTU, spoke about ‘time theft,’ or employers who expect staff to work beyond their contracted hours.

The panel focussed on campaigning to ensure workers benefit – through reduced working time – from increased productivity arising from technological advancements. ICTU’s social policy officer Laura Bambrick, Alice Martin of the New Economics Foundation, and Fórsa campaign director Joe O’Connor also spoke.