Fórsa representatives today attended further negotiations with the Department of Education and School Management Bodies at the Workplace Relations Commission. Those discussions resulted in a Proposed Agreement designed to improve pay and conditions of service for School Secretaries. This agreement will now be the subject of consultation with Fórsa members through a ballot.
The key elements of the Proposed Agreement are as follows:
- Secretaries will transfer to the new Clerical Officer pay scale as soon as possible, and will assimilate to the next highest point on the scale
- Those with more than 10 years service will move to point 5 (€29,103) on the scale
- Those with more than 20 years service will move to point 7 (€31,469) on the scale
- The scale will be increased in line with public service pay awards (due under the national pay agreement Building Momentum) which means:
- Earnings will increase by a further 1% from this month
- Earnings will increase by a further €500 per annum in October
- Secretaries will receive annual increments enabling them to progress up the scale with the first increment due from 1st September 2022.
In order to address the problem of secretaries signing on during weeks when schools are closed, staff will receive additional increments to the value of the benefits claimed over the past year during weeks of layoff, and can chose this option if they prefer not to sign on and claim Jobseekers Benefit. The number of additional increments will vary depending on individual circumstances. This will be calculated on the basis of moving to the next point on the scale once the value of the Jobseekers benefit has been established. This means that the assimilation of many secretaries could be well above point seven on the scale, depending on personal circumstances. This will enable staff to avail of a shorter working year scheme with higher salaries averaged out over 52 weeks.
The benefits of the assimilation process will be backdated to September 2021 as previously agreed.
Agreement was reached on transferring secretaries (and caretakers) to the Department of Education payroll system. This is due to happen in January 2023. It's accepted that there might be a delay in achieving this, in which case the move to centralised management of staff pay could be delayed to January 2024. However, there is now a guarantee that the management of staff pay will be moved out of schools and the new arrangements administered through the centralised payroll system. Assimilation to the new pay scale will take as soon as possible if the agreement is accepted in a ballot, and will not have to wait until the payroll function is centralised.
- Secretaries would receive 22 days annual leave per annum plus the 9 paid public holidays. Annual leave must be taken during school closure weeks.
- A new maternity leave scheme has been agreed and would provide for 26 weeks paid leave based on staff claiming the statutory payment with a ‘top up’ to a maximum of an additional €150 per week over and above the statutory payment.
- A sick leave scheme forms part of the proposal based on the forthcoming statutory sick leave scheme. This would provide paid sick leave for up to three sick days in 2022. This will increase to five days in 2023, seven days in 2024 and 10 days in 2025, with 100% of normal wages to be paid.
Whilst it was not possible to agree on the application of the public service sick leave scheme Fórsa will pursue, separate to this agreement, a claim for a Critical Illness Leave provision for school secretaries which the Department will consider. This process will be concluded by September 2022.
No agreement was reached on the provision of pensions to school secretaries and therefore the agreement is silent on that issue. The proposed agreement is described as a 'full and final' settlement of the union claim, reflecting the Government view that access to the Single Public Service Pension Scheme cannot be conceded. Fórsa accepts that pension provision has not been secured in these negotiations and reserves the right to return to the issue of the lack of pension provision for secretaries working in our Schools.
The agreement makes clear that, if it's accepted, intensive work applying the same principles will commence to address the position of school caretakers.
Benefits of this agreement
We've been campaigning under the SOS (Support Our Secretaries) banner for more than three years. At each stage we have encountered significant difficulties in securing fair treatment for grant paid secretaries requiring industrial action, intensive lobbying and other efforts by our members.
We've secured access to the proper pay scale, with assimilation arrangements that will significantly improve the living standards of secretaries paid the €13 per hour national rate, who have not had an increase in pay since 2019. The transfer to the scale and the move to the Department of Education payroll is a significant change for the governance of the whole schools sector, which will remove staff pay from the Ancillary Grant system, providing welcome security of income for thousands of staff.
The arrangements for addressing weeks of lay off when schools are closed are beneficial and will ensure that staff are not penalised financially if they choose not to sign on. There are areas of this agreement that fall short of expectations, such as the meagre allocation of paid sick leave. We hope that we can secure a favourable outcome to continue discussions on the need for a critical illness scheme.
The fact the agreement does not mention pensions reflects the fact that no agreement on that issue could be reached. While these terms are a clear step forward for school secretaries we will still have further work to do to achieve full parity with secretaries employed by ETB administered schools. The proposed agreement represents the best possible terms that could be secured from the negotiations.
Information meetings and ballot
A series of information meetings will take place around the country to explain the details of the proposed agreement in advance of the consultation ballot commencing. Details of those meetings are as follows:
- Galway- Tuesday 1st March in Fórsa’s Regional Office, Galway from 7pm to 8.30pm
- Dublin- Thursday 3rd March in Croke Park Hotel Dublin from 7pm to 8.30pm
- Donegal/Letterkenny- Monday 7th March in Mount Errigal Hotel, Letterkenny from 7pm to 8.30pm
- Athlone- Tuesday 8th March in Creggan Court Hotel, Athlone from 7pm to 8.30pm
- Cork- Thursday 10th March in Silver Springs Hotel (Clayton Hotels), Cork from 7pm to 8.30pm
- Zoom Meeting - Monday 14th March, 7pm to 8.30pm
Head of Education