A work-to-rule by hundreds of school secretaries will deny the Department of Education and Skills key data it needs to administer the school sector, trade union Fórsa claims.
The secretaries, who are in dispute with the Department over pay and conditions began a work to rule after stopping work for an hour at the start of the school day on Friday. During the work-to-rule school secretaries withdrew from work on public service systems and databases because they are not paid or recognised as public servants.
The action is expected to cause significant disruption to the administration of the schools' sector without affecting students or parents.
Most of the secretaries are earning just €12,500 with no entitlement to benefits such as sick pay or pension rights. There are about 3,500 school secretaries, but just 10% are paid directly by the department, on salaries varying between €24,000 and €44,711. Most school secretaries have their pay determined by individual school boards or management, with some forced to sign on for unemployment benefit over the summer holidays and other school breaks.
Protests took place at around 250 schools across the country on Friday but up to 1,000 schools are affected by the industrial action.
Fórsa's head of education, Andy Pike, said on RTÉ Radio that the department had more than 15 years to resolve the two-tier low pay system for school secretaries:
We believe the real intention of the department is to push back the settlement beyond the Budget.
Mr Pike said Fórsa will seek to escalate the dispute if it was not resolved: “It is incumbent upon the Department of Education to seriously negotiate with the union and stop ignoring school secretaries as they have done for so many years."
The department said it is gathering information on pay and working hours and that any industrial action is premature and unwarranted.
Both the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland and the Irish National Teachers Organisation have declared their support for the school secretaries' action.
“INTO fully supports the Fórsa campaign to stand up for our school secretaries and we are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues,” the teachers' union stated.
ASTI general secretary, Kieran Christie, said that "under no circumstances" should ASTI members undertake the work or any duties that would normally be carried out by Fórsa members who are undertaking industrial action.