Schools are effectively teaching children that “it's OK to disrespect and discriminate” by continuing to unfairly treat its non-teaching staff, according to one of those workers' unions, Fórsa.
The leader of Fórsa's 12,000-strong education division, Gina O'Brien, said children and young people learned through example.
“And there are too many times, across our education communities, where the example they are given is that it's OK to disrespect and discriminate,” she said.
Ms O'Brien was referring to the continued unequal treatment of school secretaries, special needs assistants (SNAs), caretakers and other education workers.
Addressing the union's education conference in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, Ms O'Brien said the two-tier treatment of education workers was a serious industrial issue.
“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,” she said.
Fórsa's head of education, Andy Pike, called on the Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, to end the “scandal” of the unfair treatment of grant-funded school secretaries, pointing out that many school secretaries had to sign on for job-seekers benefit over Easter.
Fórsa wants school secretaries to be put on standard Department of Education pay and conditions.
Ms O'Brien said members were disappointed that the minister was unable to attend their conference and his absence "resonated" with non-teaching school staff who were “constantly undervalued and disrespected". Labour TD Jan O'Sullivan became the first minister to attend their conference in 2015 and this form of “acknowledgement” was continued by her successor, Richard Bruton.
“I understand that Minister McHugh has a busy schedule, but I have to say that his absence from our gathering is a retrograde step, which we will now have to work to rectify. Some may see us as the 'other voices' in the education system but our voices need to be valued and heard," said O'Brien.
Mr Pike said the minister's absence suggested that they needed to “double down” to strive for parity of esteem within the education sector. He added that Mr McHugh, who apologised for his non-attendance, confirmed that he will meet members of the divisional executive next month.