Feature Article
Over 90% of people want increased investment in higher education
by Bernard Harbor

91% of people who expressed a preference want increased investment in higher education, according to opinion research carried out by polling organisation Behaviour & Attitudes (B&A) for the Coalition for Publicly-Funded Higher Education.


Between 54% and 70% of all age groups said they agreed strongly with the statement ‘public investment in the higher education sector should be increased,’ with support strongest among under-25s.

91% of people who expressed a preference want increased investment in higher education, according to opinion research carried out by polling organisation Behaviour & Attitudes (B&A) for the Coalition for Publicly-Funded Higher Education.


Between 54% and 70% of all age groups said they agreed strongly with the statement ‘public investment in the higher education sector should be increased,’ with support strongest among under-25s.


Support for increased public investment was strong among all social classes, with only 8% of all respondents saying they disagreed.


Publishing the survey results at an event in Dublin last Wednesday (13th May), the Coalition for Publicly-Funded Higher Education called for a minimum investment of €199 million to be allocated for 2019 in the forthcoming Budget.


The coalition, which is made up of student bodies and trade unions representing higher education staff, said the figure was based on Fine Gael manifesto promises and the Cassells report into higher education funding, both of which said investment of €100 million a year was the minimum annual investment necessary just to keep pace with demographic changes.


The current Government’s first two budgets fell far short of this. They earmarked spending of just €101 million for higher and further education over two years: €36.5 million 2017 and €64.5 million in 2018.


The campaign coalition wants the shortfall of €99 million, plus €100 million for next year, to be allocated to higher education in 2019.


Making the case for publicly-funded higher education


The coalition also unveiled an updated policy document called Making the case for publicly-funded higher education. It argues that a 10% reduction in higher education staffing since 2008 is equivalent to a 30% cut in financial support for the sector, where modest recent increases in funding have failed to keep pace with increased student numbers.


The report is strongly critical of proposals to introduce student loans which, it says, would increase personal indebtedness in a country where household debt is the third highest in the EU, while deterring potential students from poorer backgrounds from accessing higher education.


“Far from being a radical idea, higher education systems mostly funded from public sources are the norm, while fully-free public education exists in many strong and competitive economies,” it says.




Speaking at the launch event, Fórsa lead organiser Joe O’Connor said: “It’s resoundingly clear that the Irish public place a huge value on our higher education system and the role it plays in our economy and society. We are calling on the Government to meet the minimum funding, set out in both the Cassells report and Fine Gael’s own manifesto, required to ensure that higher education in Ireland can continue to deliver on quality, access and affordability.”


USI president Michael Kerrigan said: “Since 2008 we have seen a 375% increase in the student contribution, accompanied by falling university rankings, Institutes of Technology in financial difficulties, and facilities that are not fit for purpose. Ireland invests just 1.2% of its GDP in higher education, compared to an OECD average of 1.6%. Something has to change.”


Luke Casserly, secretary of the Irish Second-Level Students' Union said: "Investing in higher education is logical on many levels. It provides a more educated workforce with greater access to higher-paid jobs, which incentivises people to work and keeps them off welfare. We must ensure that debt does not become the cost of education."


Frank Jones, deputy general secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) said that the figure of 91% support for increased public investment in higher education sends a powerful message to Government in advance of the next Budget. "Third-level education has been increasingly starved of state funding for the past decade. The public clearly knows this and the Government must now respond by increasing allocations in a real meaningful way in the next Budget," he said.

SIPTU Education division chairperson Maggie Ronayne said: “The nature and quality of employment within academia is as much an issue as increased student-teacher ratios. Years of underinvestment and reduced staffing has taken its toll on the entire third level sector. The entire sector is rife with precarious employment, outsourcing and gender equality issues and this has made it virtually impossible for workers to aspire to a decent secure job and pension.”

Survey results

B&A interviewed 1,008 people aged over 16 in 63 randomly-selected locations in April 2018. The margin of error is less than 3%.


When presented with the statement ‘Public investment in the higher education sector should be increased,’ the results were:

  • Agree strongly: 59%
  • Agree slightly: 23%
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 9%
  • Disagree slightly: 4%
  • Disagree strongly: 4%

‘Agree strongly’ by age group:

  • under 25 = 70%
  • 25-34 = 54%
  • 35-49 = 62%
  • 50-64 = 57%
  • 65+ = 54%

Articles A
Roscommon rally needs your support
by Bernard Harbor

Fórsa’s Roscommon Local Government branch is calling on members from across the union to support next Saturday’s protest over management’s refusal to implement a flexi-leave scheme in the council. The rally takes place in Roscommon town at 2pm on Saturday 23rd June.

Fórsa’s Roscommon Local Government branch is calling on members from across the union to support next Saturday’s protest over management’s refusal to implement a flexi-leave scheme in the council. The rally takes place in Roscommon town at 2pm on Saturday 23rd June.


A campaign of one-day strikes every Thursday and Tuesday will commence in the council tomorrow (21st June) in a dispute that’s been running for over two years.


Council management has refused to halt its effective ban on flexi-leave in defiance of two biding Labour Court recommendations, two Labour Court clarifications of its position, and one Labour Court clarification of its clarifications. The union decided to take industrial action after management refused to concede any progress in Workplace Relations Commission-brokered talks, which have been going on for weeks.


Branch chair Florie Hickey invited Fórsa members from across the country to join the protest. “We were buoyed by the outstanding support the branch received at last month’s Fórsa conference in Killarney, and now we’re looking for your support for this Rally on Saturday 23rd June,” she said.


Branch secretary Fiona Fallon said flexi-systems in other public service employments could be put at risk if Roscommon management got away with flouting agreements. “Staff in Roscommon County Council have been denied access to flexi leave since May 2017. This is Roscommon today. It could be you tomorrow,” she said.
Fórsa official Padraig Mulligan said management had not budged an inch in seven Workplace Relations Commission hearings on the matter. “We really have explored every avenue to avoid industrial action. Now we need the support of Fórsa branches as we embark on a campaign of one-day strikes,” he said.


The Labour Court last year confirmed that Roscommon council staff should have the same rights as their colleagues throughout the local government sector. Its recommendation, which was binding on both sides, pointed to the Haddington Road agreement’s provisions on flexi-leave, which say: “no change is proposed to the existing terms with regard to the amount or the use of hours to be carried over.” That protection carried into the current Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA).


Padriag said management’s intransigence, which is unprecedented in Irish local government and across the public service, was an attack on working parents, particularly working mums. “No other local authority in Ireland has attacked working parents – and particularly working mothers – in this way. It is unprecedented within the public service, and it hits lower-paid women hardest as many of them depend on the flexi scheme to balance work and caring responsibilities,” he said.

Assemble at the Sacred Heart Church car park, Roscommon Town, 2pm, Saturday 23rd June.


For updates and rally details, including branch transport arrangements, register at the Facebook event page.



SNA contract issues: Post fragmentation
by Seán Carabini - Assistant general secretary

Following the announcement of the SNA allocations for 2018/2019 in May, we've received a number of reports of post ‘fragmentation’. In this article I look at the issue of fragmentation and the rules around the circumstances where it applies. 

Post fragmentation is where a post is sub-divided into smaller units. The union has long voiced concerns with such an approach to allocations, and has advocated for as many SNA posts as possible to be full time.

What, though, does the circular say?

Each year, the Department of Education and Skills revises and reissues the circular governing allocations. This circular, 34 of 2018, can be accessed here.

Section 17 states that where a school gains an extra allocation, it should generally follow the agreed protocol. Specifically, the additional posts should be offered to existing SNAs to bring them up to full time in the first instance.

Are there circumstances where this agreed protocol is not followed?


Yes – but the circumstances are very, very limited.

A SENO may recommend that an allocation should be split in a certain way. This recommendation may not always follow the circular. It's very important to note, however, that in such cases where a SENO makes such a recommendation, it's up to the school to decide whether or not to implement it.


A school that decides to follow a SENO recommendation must specifically invoke an ‘exception’. The SENO has no power to impose a recommendation. A school must decide that it wishes to impose it.

If, like this, a school decides to assign an allocation in a way that does not follow the normal course, they must give you the written determination from the SENO. It, too, should give a reasoned explanation as to why this is being done.

Can a school change an existing allocation?

This is important and will require careful reading: In cases where a school’s allocation has not changed or has increased, the circular does not give anyone the power to cut the hours of any existing SNAs. The hours of existing SNAs can only be cut in cases where the school loses allocations.


Section 17 of the circular is quite clear on this. It describes the exceptional circumstances where the normal, seniority-based mechanism for allocating hours can be overridden. But it very clearly states that this can only be done “Where a school/ETB has an additional allocation of SNA hours/posts”.

Let’s recap: 

  • Normally, a new allocation is offered, on the basis of seniority, to SNAs who don’t have full time hours
  • In exceptional circumstances, a SENO may give a reasoned recommendation that the allocation be ‘fragmented’ differently
  • Where this happens, the power lies with the school to accept or reject it
  • If the school accepts the SENO recommendation, the SNA it affects must be given a copy of the recommendation (the SNA shouldn’t have to ask for it)
  • All of this applies only to new allocations. Nothing in the circular allows the hours of existing SNAs to be cut, except in circumstances where the overall school allocation has been cut.


Please click HERE to take part in our SNA fragmentation survey.

Job evaluation delay sparks industrial action ballot
by Niall Shanahan

Fórsa will ballot its members in library, professional management and support staff roles in the higher education sector, from next week. The ballot for industrial action, up to and including strike action, aims to secure a comprehensive job evaluation exercise for these members.

Fórsa will ballot its members in library, professional management and support staff roles in the higher education sector, from next week.


The ballot for industrial action, up to and including strike action, aims to secure a comprehensive job evaluation exercise for these members.


The purpose of job evaluation is to measure whether or not a specific post is correctly graded. It assesses the skills and responsibilities required of a particular post, rather than the individual performing it.


In a covering letter to accompany the ballot paper, assistant general secretary Stella Griffin said : “Since 2008 the higher education sector has seen a very large increase in the number of students enrolled while staff numbers fell.


“There has been a significant increase in total productivity as library, professional and support staff bore the brunt of these developments. The sector relied on the goodwill and dedication of its staff with many individuals assuming additional and more onerous duties without recompense.


“This situation was exacerbated by the failure to fill higher grade posts over the past number of years. In some cases posts were filled by agency staff on a temporary basis,” she said.


Stella also outlines the union’s attempts to secure the introduction of a job evaluation scheme since the Lansdowne Road Agreement Chairman’s Note of May 2015, which included a specific section in relation to job evaluation for library, professional management and support staff in the higher education sector.


The Institute of Technology branch executive committee is strongly recommending a vote in favour of industrial action. Stella explained that, initially, the action would be limited, and targeted, and would consist of the withdrawal of a number of functions currently carried out by library and professional management and support members.


The ballot concludes at 12 noon on Tuesday 10th July 2018.


See also: The time for job evaluation is nowDeputy general secretary Kevin Callinan writes “Further delay will hit staff morale, increase the pressure on service delivery to a critical point, and escalate the risk of industrial action” Fórsa news bulletin (Education) 20th February 2018.

More than half young workers going hungry to pay rent - Congress
More than 80% of young workers say housing will influence vote in next election.
by Irish Congress of Trade Unions

One in two young workers are struggling to cover their housing costs and are going without meals and other essentials to pay their rent according to a new survey from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

The national opinion poll of 1,500 trade union members under the age of 34 on their housing costs was conducted online between the 1st and 14th of June.


The survey was carried out by Congress ahead of the Labour Employer Economic Forum (LEEF) discussions between Government, union and employer representatives on housing.


In a statement on the survey findings, Congress said it recognises the “significant and unacceptable impact of our broken housing system on vulnerable individuals and families with young children experiencing homelessness.”


Congress is continuing to lobby TDs to commit to adopting its Charter for Housing Rights.


Congress social policy officer Dr Laura Bambrick said “This particular piece of research focused on the impact of the housing crisis on a generation of people who are sandwiched between high housing costs and low wages, to allow us take a detailed look behind snappy terms such as ‘generation rent’ and ‘delayed adulthood’.”


Congress general secretary Patricia King said: “The findings are worse than feared. Lives are being damaged and destroyed and a whole generation of young workers are now feeling alarming levels of frustration, insecurity and despondency with their housing situation. We are failing badly our young people” she said.


Patricia added: “Congress will use these stark findings to continue to put pressure on Government to take action through our ongoing housing campaign and in the upcoming social dialogue with ministers and employers.”


Key findings

  • More than half (54%) of all young workers are struggling to cover their housing costs. One in every two have had to borrow or sacrifice another basic need, such as food, heating and transportation, in order to pay their rent or mortgage in the past year. Of those young workers struggling to make the rent, one in six (17%) are unable to keep their head above water and are in arrears
  • Two in five (40%) of all young workers are spending in excess of the 30% rent-to-income ratio of housing affordability. Half of these workers are spending between €31 and €40 out of every €100 of take-home pay on rent. One-quarter are spending between €41 and €50. The other quarter are spending above €51 in every €100 net earnings, which represents one in ten of all young workers spending more than half of their wages on housing
  • Almost half (46%) of all young workers are frustrated that they remain living in their parents’ home or that they are trapped renting. One in six (18%) are very frustrated with their current living arrangements
  • One-third (33%) of all young workers are blighted by housing insecurity, with one in three having little or no confidence in being able to continue living in their current home for as long as they would wish
  • The vast majority (74%) of young workers have little or no confidence in being able to buy a home in the future should they wish to
  • More than eight in ten (84%) of all young workers say housing will influence how they vote in the next election.
Also in this issue
NCSE Review: What happens next?
by Seán Carabini

You'll be aware that the NCSE has made a series of recommendations concerning the future of the SNA role to the Department of Education and Skills.


It's important to note that these are only recommendations and nothing has been agreed. Some members have enquired as to whether or not the union has accepted the recommendations made in the NCSE report and if the recommendations are due to be rolled out in September. The answer to both of these is no.


Fórsa members are now considering the report and a joint meeting of the four branch committees of SNA representatives will take place in September to discuss the report in detail. 

Each year, at our Annual General Meetings, members come together to select branch representatives. Therefore, the consultation with the SNA representatives in September will be crucial to devising a response to the NCSE report.

SNA fragmentation survey
by Dave Sexton, organiser

With the announcement recently of the SNA allocations, we have had reports of SNA posts being fragmented. In addition, in some cases where additional hours have been allocated to the school, the hours were not offered to those already on reduced hours.


To try and get some understanding of this issue, Fórsa is conducting a survey of SNAs to investigate the problem of fragmentation, and hours not being offered to those on reduced hours if the allocation is increased.


We'd also encourage you - when hours are increased in your school and you are working reduced hours - to bring to matter the attention of your principal as early as possible, if you are interested in taking up the additional hours.


If a school get increased hours, they should first be offered in order of seniority to SNAs that do not have full-time hours. The rules governing SNA seniority can be found here.


There are limited circumstances where seniority is not followed. This can only happen where a SENO has written to a school and has recommended that the hours be allocated in a different way. An SNA has a right to ask for and see the written determination from the SENO in these cases.


If you have any queries please contact your local representative.


Please click on the link HERE to view and complete the survey.


New entrant engagement set for summer
by Bernard Harbor

Contacts between unions and officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) on the ‘new entrant’ issue will continue over the summer, according to Fórsa senior general secretary Shay Cody.


Initial engagements have taken place and DPER is continuing to gather data. Unions and management are exploring the practical issues involved in shortening pay scales for staff who joined the civil and public service after 2010.


Fórsa has called on the Government to allocate funds in October’s Budget to begin shortening new entrant pay scales next year. This would be significantly earlier than envisaged in the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA), which simply committed the Government to explore the issue.


While the focus of the current exchanges is on how to shorten new entrant pay scales, which vary in length for different grades, unions also want to ensure that any solution is fair to those who have gone beyond the two additional points added to the start of pay scales in recent years.


Although no money is budgeted to deal with the issue in 2018, Fórsa senior general secretary Shay Cody said he wanted the implementation of an agreed resolution to begin next year.


“This is an equity issue and, while no money has been allocated to resolve it in 2018, Fórsa believes it should be possible to start funding it next year, rather than delaying until 2020 or beyond. Pay equity is a priority for all trade unions, and every bit of progress in addressing this injustice has been achieved by unions collectively, through national pay negotiations and public service pay agreements,” he said.

Life quality lags behind economic growth
by Diarmaid Mac a Bhaird

Strong growth in the European economy has not improved the quality of life for workers according to a report by EU research outfit Eurofound. Living and working in Europe says “groups within our society are being failed by the economy, the labour market and social policy.”


It says more needs to be done to establish a better work-life balance for workers across Europe.


Eurofound identified a strong recovery in European employment over the past decade. However it warns of an imbalance in opportunities across the EU, which vary depending on where you live.


The report found that 10% of workers in the EU are at risk of poverty, and it says the living wage should supersede the minimum wage to help workers living in poverty.


It also found that long-term unemployment among young people has dropped. But the Irish rate of 6% is slightly above the EU average of 5.5%.


There are recommendations on enhancing social dialogue and reporting on labour market trends to address inequality. Recommendations reference the Towards upward convergence 2017-2020 programme, which sets out Eurofound’s lobbying and activity in 10 key areas.


These include campaigns on working conditions and sustainable work, innovation and job creation, inclusivity in labour markets, and monitoring convergence in the EU.

Eurofound will publish a report on casual work and short/zero-hour contracts later this year.

Women can, and should, all strive to be leaders– Fórsa president
by Niall Shanahan

Organisations with fewer women in senior roles are losing out on the widest range of talent available to them, according to Fórsa president Ann McGee. She said organisations must not overlook the people with talent, ability and experience available to them, and told delegates that they can, and should, all strive to be leaders.


Ann was speaking at the Irish Congress of Trade Union’s (ICTU) biennial women's conference last week which took place at the Killyhevlin Hotel in Enniskillen, Fermanagh.


Ann was proposing a motion on the representation of women in public life. She said institutions that are more diverse are better able to respond to the needs of everyone in society and provide services that are more in tune with the public.


“The barriers to women’s representation are often referred to as the ‘five Cs’: care, cash, confidence, culture, and candidate selection.” Ann said a lot of existing research backs the need for measures such as flexible, family-friendly working hours for both women and men, and that these kinds of policies would help to overcome some of the existing barriers to women wishing to take on more senior roles.


Ann also called for the implementation of policies to ensure more gender equality in caring, including state-subsidised childcare. She said this was especially needed for early years childcare, in addition to subsidised quality after-school care.


Ann said that the barriers are not exclusively related to caring responsibilities. “The causes are more wide-ranging. Women often don’t feel supported or encouraged to participate, and personal confidence can be identified as a major obstacle to women,” she said.


“It’s essential to involve women in public life to take advantage of their contribution, to ensure their interests are protected and to fulfil the guarantee that the enjoyment of human rights is for all people regardless of gender. Women's full participation is essential not only for their empowerment but also for the advancement of society as a whole,” she said.


Ann called upon Congress and all affiliated unions to encourage the promotion of more women activists and officials. “Our determination to succeed is strong enough, so let there be no obstacles or barriers to women securing positions of leadership in our movement. I stand here today as an example that today’s accomplishments were yesterday’s impossibilities,” she said.



UN rep praises ICTU housing charter
by Bernard Harbor

The United Nations’ special rapporteur on the right to housing has praised the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ Charter for Housing Rights, saying it “concretises” the key elements of her global campaign on the right to housing.


Speaking at a meeting with ICTU’s Housing Committee last week, which was led by Fórsa deputy general secretary and ICTU vice-president Kevin Callinan, Leilani Farha said the Irish unions’ charter might be used as an international model.


Ms Farha is working to build a worldwide campaign on the right to housing, which will involve local authorities, NGOs, civil society housing groups, and trade unions. Kevin said: “The view that housing is a human right underpins the campaign, which is in line with the approach adopted by Fórsa and other Irish unions.”


Ms Farha asked ICTU to promote the charter model in its European and international networks as part of the effort to build a global campaign on the right to housing. “She spoke positively about future cooperation with Congress, and agreed in principle to officially endorse the Charter,” said Kevin.


During her short time in Ireland, Ms Farha also addressed the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, where she warned of the increasing commodification of housing and the resultant destruction of communities. She said governments should take a key role in the provision of public housing.


Read the ICTU Charter for Housing Rights HERE.


Unpaid parental leave may increase
by Hazel Gavigan

The maximum unpaid parental leave entitlement of 18 weeks per child could rise to 26 weeks if the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017, which passed through the Dáil last week, becomes law. The Bill, which was put down by the Social Democrats, would also extend the threshold for parental leave from eight years of age to 12.

The maximum unpaid parental leave entitlement of 18 weeks per child could rise to 26 weeks if the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017, which passed through the Dáil last week, becomes law. The Bill, which was put down by the Social Democrats, would also extend the threshold for parental leave from eight years of age to 12.


However, it would require Government support to introduce paid parental leave as opposition parties cannot propose Bills at a cost to the state.


Speaking at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ (ICTU) women’s conference in Fermanagh last Wednesday, ICTU general secretary Patricia King said unions wanted the introduction of paid parental leave, she said Ireland lagged well behind other countries when it comes to paid family leave.


“That’s why Congress has joined with trade unions across Europe to demand swift adoption of a new EU directive on work-life balance that would enhance women’s work opportunities through provision of better family-related leave and flexible working,” she said.


If adopted, the proposed directive would lead to the introduction of paid parental leave on a similar basis to maternity and paternity leave.


Congress equality officer David Joyce commented on the current barriers to Irish working families. “With up to 50% of workers in Ireland earning less than €34,000, and almost one in five classified as low paid, it is clear that many households will be unable to avail of unpaid parental leave,” he said.


The Fórsa contingent at the women’s conference included the union’s president Ann McGee, who spoke on the representation of women in public life. National secretary Billy Hannigan spoke on gender inequality in the finance sector. Margaret Coughlan spoke on the ICTU charter for housing rights, while official Geraldine O’Brien spoke on pension inequality.

Aware issues plea for volunteers
by Roisin McKane

Do you want to help people impacted by mental health difficulties? Perhaps you have three hours a week to spare? If so, Aware urgently needs your help.

Aware is Ireland’s leading organisation working with and for people affected by mental health issues, and it provides free support, education and information.


The organisation relies heavily on the support of its team of dedicated, passionate volunteers. And it’s urgently seeking new recruits to ensure the continuation of these profoundly valuable, nationwide services.


Aware need volunteers to help in four main services – the support line, support mail, support and self-care groups and an online life skills group.


You don’t need qualifications or prior experience because volunteers receive comprehensive and continuous training.


Fórsa lead organiser Julie Healy has welcomed the initiative, encouraging all interested parties to get involved. “This is a fantastic opportunity for anyone interested in providing support to those dealing with mental health issues. Volunteering can be very rewarding, and can make a real difference in someone’s life,” she said.


“Aware is an invaluable organisation and provides essential support services to those in need. Following Fórsa’s launch of the Green Ribbon Campaign earlier this year, the importance of mental health support services was apparent amongst our members – not just for people experiencing personal difficulties, but also for their families,” said Julie.


Recruitment is currently underway with a view to having volunteers in situ by September.


Click HERE for more information on how you can get involved.

Fórsa audio bulletin episode 10
by Hazel Gavigan (audio editor)

In this episode we cover the Roscommon industrial action, concerns over plans to establish a single water facility, Fórsa retired members' benefits and more.

Presented by Hazel Gavigan and Diarmaid Mac a Bhaird.