School secretaries are to withdraw from working on public service databases from today as a dispute continues over what they describe as a "two-tier" pay system.
As approximately 1,000 secretaries around the country strike tomorrow, the trade union Fórsa has announced that after the stoppage, its members will resume a work to rule.
The resumption of action, which was temporarily suspended in October to allow for talks at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), will mean that union members are to withdraw from working on public service systems and databases. They will also refuse to carry out the functions of public servants.
The escalated action is because secretaries have repeatedly been refused public service pay and conditions over the last four decades, according to Fórsa.
The union represents half of the estimated 2,000 school secretaries employed directly by their school's board of management and paid from the school’s ancillary grant.
One school secretary striking tomorrow is Paula Harrington, the school secretary at Beaumont National School for girls in Cork.
The public is not fully aware of all of the jobs covered by school secretaries, Ms Harrington believes.
Everyone knows school secretaries have to call parents when a child isn’t feeling well but they’re not aware of the amount of work we do directly for the Department of Education. We don’t just stick plasters on knees and phone parents when their children are sick, although we do all that too.
“No two days are the same. You have the general work, dealing with parents, teachers, kids and so on. Then you also have the invisible work, the finances and the book-keeping where we are often dealing with tens of thousands of euro.
"Then we have the crux of it which is the work we do every day, directly on behalf of the Department of Education.”
This mainly involves inputting data into two systems: Easy-Net, an online claims system that processes all staff leave, and the Pupil Online Database.
"The department wouldn’t have any of this information if the secretaries didn’t input it. I am 14 years in my job and if I retire in ten years time, I will leave with six days of holiday pay. That’s it. None of us have pensions, some of us must sign-on in the summer months. It’s demoralising."
She said the system is "antiquated, and it is anti-woman".
"The majority of us are women and to me, it smacks of the old antiquated ways of the Department of Education, and of the Civil Service in general. It's like they think ‘Oh, we can fit her in anywhere, she’ll be happy out and sure we can pay her a pittance’.
Yet they expect serious, professional work from us, and it requires a lot of skill to keep all this information up to date for the department. It is designed to keep us in our place.
While her school's board of management has been quite supportive, their hands are tied as the Minister for Education "holds the purse strings", she added.
Education Minister Joe McHugh tonight appealed to the trade union to defer the action which he said could potentially affect the pay of teachers and Special Needs Assistants (SNAs).
Mr McHugh said he was disappointed to see the strike proceeding and hoped the two groups could further engage at the WRC. It is understood that payroll will not be affected as a result of this work to rule, but could be affected in a number of weeks should the dispute escalate.
Head of education at Fórsa Andy Pike said the department had previously failed to bring forward a proposal on pay capable of resolving the issue.
“The offer to school secretaries was 1.5%. An offer we can only describe as insulting." There was no option but to re-commence industrial action, he added.