The continued unequal treatment of non-teaching school staff is effectively teaching children that it’s “okay to disrespect and discriminate,” according to the outgoing chair of Fórsa’s 12,000-strong Education Division.
Speaking at the union’s 2019 Education Conference last week, Gina O’Brien expressed disappointment that education minister Joe McHugh was unable to attend the event, despite speaking at three teachers’ conferences in the same week.
She said this resonated with non-teaching school staff, who were “constantly undervalued and disrespected.”
Gina said a number of the union’s education branches had balloted for industrial action in the last 12 months, mostly because of unequal treatment of groups of education workers.
“The children and young people they serve learn through teaching, they learn by doing, and they also learn by example. And there are too many times, across our education communities, where the example they are given is that it’s okay to disrespect and discriminate. Is that the lesson that the ‘best education system in Europe’ is content to send to our children and young people?” she asked.
Fórsa outlined a range of examples of the two-tier treatment of education workers, including:
• The exclusion of most school secretaries and caretakers from standard pay scales, working conditions and occupational pensions.
• The denial of SNAs and other non-teaching staff a voice on school boards of management
• School completion staff denied access to a reasonable retirement income because they have no occupational pension scheme
• Staff in Education Centres, who provide continuous professional development for teachers and others, but whose pay and working conditions are determined by “unfair, inconsistent local contracts far removed from the standard pubic service terms”
• Non-teaching staff in higher education who witnessed measures to ring-fence senior academic posts for women, but whose employers stubbornly refused to implement a job evaluation scheme, “the single most effective mechanism for delivering equal pay,” until a ballot for industrial action took place.
“The stubborn reality is that too many politicians and managers in our education system still believe some are more equal than others, and must stay more equal than others. There is still stark inequality in the treatment of staff within a sector committed to delivering equality in our schools and other workplaces,” said Gina.
Speaking at the conference, Fórsa’s Senior General Secretary Designate Kevin Callinan paid tribute to Gina’s role in founding and building the union’s Education Division. “At every stage, before and since the division was founded in 2012, Gina was a constant companion and source of support. Our collective achievements – creating the division, our impressive membership growth, the advances we’ve made for members – are as much down to her commitment, work and dedication as to anyones in the union,” he said.