Gabhaim buíochas don Teachta fá choinne na ceiste. Ceist thábhachtach atá ann agus tá sé soiléir go bhfuil ról lárnach ag na rúnaithe sa tír seo. Nuair a bhíonn tuismitheoirí, Teachtaí Dála nó aon duine den phobal ag dul go dtí an scoil, an chéad duine a chasfar leis ná an rúnaí ag an doras. Tá na rúnaithe ag déanamh fíor-iarracht agus tá dualgas mór orthu fadúda scoileanna a bhogadh ar aghaidh.
I recognise the very important work done by school secretaries and other support staff in the running of our schools and I am grateful to them for the contribution they make to our education system. I have spoken to a number of school secretaries about their employment conditions and understand the issues they have raised.
Schemes were initiated in 1978 and 1979 for the employment of clerical officers and caretakers in schools. The schemes were withdrawn completely in 2008 and these schemes have been superseded by the more extensive capitation grant schemes. The current grant scheme was agreed in the context of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, published in 1991.
I have recently relaxed the moratorium for those community and comprehensive, C&C, and ETB schools with enrolments of 700 and more, which will allow them to employ an additional school secretary up to a maximum of two per school. There are 91 schools in the C&C and ETB sector which meet this criteria, based on the information available to the Department.
This is an initial step and has taken immediate effect.
The majority of primary and voluntary secondary schools now receive assistance to provide for secretarial, caretaking and cleaning services under these grant schemes. It is a matter for each individual school to decide how best to apply the grant funding to suit its particular needs. Where a school uses the grant funding for caretaking or secretarial purposes, any staff taken on to support those functions are employees of the individual school. Specific responsibility for pay and conditions rests with the school.
On foot of a chairman’s note to the Lansdowne Road Agreement my Department engaged with the unions representing school secretaries and caretakers, including through an independent arbitration process in 2015. The arbitrator recommended a cumulative pay increase for staff of 10% between 2016 and 2019 and for a minimum hourly pay rate of €13 to be phased in over that period.
The Deputy asked a specific question about timing. The Department has agreed to arrange a meeting with the Fórsa trade union and is currently making arrangements for this meeting to take place in late May or early June.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The arbitration agreement I referred to covers the period up to 31 December 2019.
The arbitration agreement was designed to be of greatest benefit to lower-paid secretaries and caretakers. For example, a secretary or caretaker who was paid the then minimum wage of €8.65 per hour in 2015, prior to the arbitration, has been paid €13 per hour from 1 January 2019, a 50% increase in that individual’s hourly pay.
Officials from my Department attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills on 9 April to discuss the status of non-teaching staff.
Fórsa has requested a meeting with the Department to discuss pay arrangements for grant-funded secretaries and caretakers from 2020 onwards. The Department has agreed to arrange a meeting with the union and is currently making arrangements for this meeting to take place in late May or early June.