School secretaries issue threat of strike

SCHOOL secretaries being paid as little as €6 per hour could begin strike protests before the end of the current school term.

On the second day of the IMPACT trade union conference in Kilkenny yesterday, it was claimed up to 5% of the secretaries are earning the minimum wage of €8.65 or even less.

The conference heard the plight of one Limerick secretary who started working for a school eight years ago. At that point she was earning €225 for a 37.5-hour week — an hourly rate of €6.02. According to the union, eight years later that woman is still earning the same wage — now almost €3 less than the minimum wage.

The low pay in the sector stems from what the union describes as a “two-tier” system that emerged almost 20 years ago.

Those working prior to 1990 were paid directly by the Department of Education. In 1990 the government introduced its programme for economic and social progress, which ordered that any new secretaries would be paid out of ancillary grants by school boards.

IMPACT said consequently those employed after 1990 do not have a standardised rate of pay, adding that it had discovered multiple incidences where members receive pay at or below the legal minimum wage, with the vast majority earning little above the minimum wage.

Donegal school secretary Kathleen O’Doherty said: “A school secretary paid directly by the department receives just over €13 an hour in year one, rising to nearly €22 an hour after 12 years of service. School secretaries paid by boards of management receive just €10 to €13 per hour after 10 or more years of service.

“We have no access to national pay agreement wage rises, no access to pensions or PRSAs, no sick leave schemes, no promotional outlets and no access to the basic conditions of employment like grievance, disciplinary or bullying and harassment procedures.”

IMPACT official Johnny Fox said the situation had been going on for so long either because the secretaries, by their nature, tended to be very loyal to the school or else because they often felt isolated because they are on their own.

“We have brought the issue into the current talks and we have put together terms of reference to solve the issue. We have balloted the members to have one-day regional protests and national protests. The ballot will be counted on May 21 and we believe that will show a massive groundswell of support up to 90% in favour of stoppages. We will escalate if nothing comes from the talks.”

In their defence, boards of management point out that they can only pay secretaries a fair salary in light of the under-funding with which they face. They claim that for every pupil the voluntary schools receives €100 less than a community or vocational school. And they say that while the government has promised an equalisation of the funding within two years of the new government, that had not materialised.

The Department of Education claims the ancillary services grant scheme was “flexible in nature, giving boards of management discretion as to the manner in which caretaking and secretarial services are provided”.


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