I am keenly aware of the vital role contributed by secretaries and caretakers within school communities and I recognise the very important work done by these staff, and the other support staff in the running of our schools.
In recognition of their role, I have put special arrangements in place for this school year whereby schools will be funded to employ a replacement secretary or caretaker in the event that staff who are at very high risk of contracting serious illness from COVID-19 cannot work on the school premises. I have also extended the Employee Assistance Service to all school staff including caretakers.
The majority of primary and voluntary secondary schools receive assistance to provide for secretarial, caretaking and cleaning services under grant schemes. Where a school employs a staff member to support those functions those staff are employees of individual schools and responsibility for terms of employment rests with the school.
On foot of a Chairman’s Note to the Lansdowne Road Agreement, my Department implemented the 2015 recommendations of an independent arbitrator. The Arbitrator recommended a cumulative pay increase of 10% between 2016 and 2019 and that a minimum hourly pay rate of €13 be phased in over that period. This arbitration agreement covered the period up to 31 December 2019 and has been fully implemented.
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 from 1 January 2019 been paid €13 per hour which is a 50% increase in that individual’s hourly pay.
Fórsa trade union has tabled a follow-on claim from the 2015 agreement. Officials from my Department, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and School Management Bodies have been engaging with Fórsa on the claim, most recently on 27th of October 2020 under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission.
At that meeting it was agreed that further discussions would be held under the auspices of the WRC with a view to assessing the individual elements comprising the totality of the union’s claims. It is noted that these WRC discussions are taking place within the context of recent Dáil comments concerning the regularisation of pay, conditions of employment and pension provision of school secretaries and caretakers.
I welcome and support the continued meaningful dialogue between the parties with a view to reaching an agreed outcome.