Trade union Fórsa says staff employed by Ireland's School Completion Programme should be given the same employment status as other public servants.
The SCP's 248 full-time employees provide direct support to over 36,000 young people at risk of poor school attendance and participation.
The union also wants improvements to be made in the programme's budget which was cut by almost 25% - from €33m a year to less than €25m in 2010.
As well as seeking public service status for pay and conditions for staff, Forsa also wants a long overdue start to be made on restoring lost income during the crisis.
Fórsa's vice-president, Michael Smyth, said staff working in the programme had been holding the service together despite years of erosion.
Mr Smyth, who was speaking at the trade union's education division conference in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, said demands on the service were still there.
“Young people are still dropping out of school, and our service is continuing to provide a valuable route back into education,” he said.
The programme was set up as part of the Department of Education and Skills DEIS Strategy – Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools.
There are 124 local programme projects employing 248 full-time, 627 part-time and 2,211 sessional and other staff.
Fórsa says new measures are also needed to underpin governance and provide national leadership to the service.
It is seeking a firm statutory basis for the programme with a national management structure and adequate funding for services, pay and access to a pension scheme.
Meanwhile, Fórsa says it has not accepted changes to special needs assistants' working conditions on foot of the proposed new schools' inclusion model that emerged from a recent review by the National Council for Special Education.
The union met officials from the Department of Education last week and formed the impression that the proposals for a new schools inclusion model are not "fully formed".
Last month, Education Minister Joe McHugh announced his intention to pilot the proposals in 75 primary and secondary schools in Kildare and Wicklow in the next school year.
Fórsa accepted the department's belated offer of consultation with SNAs on the proposals because if they are rolled out they could have significant implications for the SNAs and the students they worked with.
It believes there is an opportunity to seek to renegotiate the SNA contract if the new model ushers in significant changes.
The union's education division conference unanimously backed a motion demanding funding in the next budget to put school secretaries, currently employed by school management boards, on public service pay scales.
Fórsa recently launched a campaign for pay justice for school secretaries, most of whom are very poorly paid and have irregular, short-term contracts that force them to sign on during the summer holidays.
School secretary, Kathleen O'Doherty, said it was time the “antiquated and discriminatory” employment arrangement was scrapped and replaced with a model that reflected the vast range of responsibilities and tasks school secretaries perform.