Thursday, 5 March 2020
Department of Education and Skills
School Services Staff
211. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding the ongoing crisis with school secretaries at the delay in actions that would have their pay and conditions put on a par with all other public servants; his views on this matter; and if efforts will be made towards a speedy resolution that avoids potential industrial action at schools. [2874/20]
I recognise the very important work done by these staff, and the other support staff in the running of our schools. I have spoken to a number of secretaries about their employment conditions and understand the issues they have raised.
In Budget 2020 I increased the number of secretaries and caretakers in certain schools, allowing schools with enrolments of 500-625 to fill secretary vacancies provided they have fewer than 1.5 secretaries; schools with enrolments of 626-699 to fill vacancies provided they have fewer than two secretary posts filled, and schools of 700 or more to fill caretaker vacancies provided they have fewer than two caretakers. These measures will take effect from September 2020.
In Spring 2019 I relaxed the moratorium for those C&C and ETB schools with enrolments of 700 and more which allow them to employ additional school secretaries up to a maximum of two per school. There are 91 schools in the C&C and ETB Sector who meet this criteria, based on the information currently available to this Department. This was an initial step and took immediate effect.
Schemes were initiated in 1978 and 1979 for the employment of clerical officers and caretakers in schools. The schemes were withdrawn completely in 2008. These schemes have been superseded by the capitation grant schemes. The current grant scheme was agreed in the context of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, published in 1991.
The majority of primary and voluntary secondary schools now receive assistance to provide for secretarial, caretaking and cleaning services under these grant schemes. It is a matter for each individual school to decide how best to apply the grant funding to suit its particular needs. Where a school uses the grant funding for caretaking or secretarial purposes, any staff taken on to support those functions are employees of individual schools. Specific responsibility for terms of employment rests with the school.
On foot of a Chairman’s Note to the Lansdowne Road Agreement, my Department engaged with the Unions representing school secretaries and caretakers, including through an independent arbitration process in 2015. The Arbitrator recommended a cumulative pay increase of 10% between 2016 and 2019 for staff and that a minimum hourly pay rate of €13 be phased in over that period. This arbitration agreement covered the period up to 31 December 2019.
The arbitration agreement was designed to be of greatest benefit to lower-paid secretaries and caretakers. For example, a secretary or caretaker who was paid the then minimum wage of €8.65 per hour in 2015 prior to the arbitration has from 1 January 2019, been paid €13 per hour which is a 50% increase in that individual’s hourly pay.
The increases recommended by the Arbitrator are binding and must be applied by all schools who employ staff to whom the Arbitrator’s recommendation applies.
The survey of Secretaries and Caretakers identified some schools that are non-compliant with the provisions of the 2015 Arbitration Agreement, and my Department has contacted these schools to remind them of their obligations under the agreement, as implemented through various circulars. The following links will bring you to the most recent circulars in respect of the pay increases under the 2015 Arbitration Agreement.
Officials from my Department attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills on the 9th of April 2019 to discuss the status of non-teaching staff.
In May last year officials from my Department had discussions with FÓRSA trade union representatives as part of a planned meeting. FÓRSA took the opportunity to formally table a pay claim.
This was tabled as a follow-on claim from the pay agreement for this cohort of staff which lasted until December 2019. The Department issued surveys on the 10th of July 2019 to establish the full current cost of the trade union’s claim. This is standard practice.
Officials from the Department met with FÓRSA representatives last September. Management Bodies representing the employers of schools impacted by the action were also in attendance at the meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to further explore the details of the pay claim as presented by FÓRSA and the nature of the industrial action.
On 30 September 2019 FÓRSA requested the Department to agree to use the services of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to resolve the dispute. As is normal practice the Department agreed to use the industrial relations machinery of the state in an effort to resolve this matter.
In order to address the various issues within the claim and to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution, the Department and Management Bodies are in discussions with FÓRSA under the auspices of the WRC. These talks are subject to the normal procedures including confidentiality. The talks began in the WRC in October.
Following industrial action, which commenced on 10 January, both parties have agreed to return to talks at the WRC. FÓRSA agreed to the WRC request to suspend their ongoing work-to-rule to allow the talks to progress. This suspension was effective from 21 January 2020.