Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Questions (419)

Joe Carey

Question:

419. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Education if she will ensure that there is immediate re-engagement around the issue of school secretaries and caretakers' terms and conditions with a view to paving the way for a dramatic improvement on the original offer made by her Department in order to bring this long-standing matter to a successful conclusion; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43497/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Department is aware of the vitally important role played by school secretaries and caretakers in the running of our schools. 

In recognition of this role, special COVID-19 working arrangements were put in place and the Employee Assistance Service was extended to grant funded staff.  The Department also previously fully implemented and funded the 2015 recommendations of an independent arbitrator for 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. 

Fórsa trade union has tabled a follow-on claim and officials from the Department and school management bodies have been engaging with Fórsa on the issues. On the 27th of October 2020, under the auspices of the WRC, an understanding was agreed on a pathway to progress the issues. Several key strands have been identified, and a phased approach is being taken to the development of proposals. 

As part of this process, an offer on pay was outlined to Fórsa at an engagement at the WRC on 30th July but was rejected. Fórsa subsequently announced a day of industrial action on 15th September. 

Following intensive discussions at the WRC on 13th September, there has been significant progress in this dispute. The Department welcomes the deferral of the action scheduled for Wednesday 15th September to allow for intensive talks to resume aimed at resolving the claim and agreeing a final package. 

Subject to agreement on all elements of the claim, the Department has offered to move School Secretaries’ pay rates to a scale which is aligned with the Clerical Officer Grade III pay scale within education and training boards on a pro rata basis with an effective date of implementation for these new pay arrangements of 1st September 2021. Pay rates will be pro rata according to a secretary’s current working pattern. 

The assimilation of School Secretaries to the CO Grade III pay scale will require further dialogue between the parties and an intensive engagement will take place over the next two/three weeks to allow this to be finalised.   

The Department has offered to improve the conditions for School Secretaries with regard to sick leave, annual leave and maternity provisions for this cohort of staff.  This will take place via direct engagement with the unions in the coming weeks in addition to engagement on other elements of the claim and subject to all elements being agreed.

While there is agreement in principle to take the same approach to the consideration of appropriate pay and conditions of grant funded caretakers there remains a deficit of data on working terms and conditions of such staff. When the final package for secretaries has been agreed and an implementation plan in place for schools and DE, that intensive engagement will begin on regularising the pay and conditions of grant funded caretakers.