Aontaím leis an Teachta. I am keenly aware of the vital contribution by school secretaries to the school life of our communities, and I recognise the very important work they do, and indeed the work of the other support staff, in the running of our schools. I have met with Fórsa, which represents many of the secretaries working in our schools.
In recognition of their role, I have put special arrangements in place for the coming 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 secretaries.
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.
The 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 met with Fórsa on 1 October under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC.
I am very keen that all parties resume meaningful discussion in the WRC with a view to reaching a mutually acceptable solution. In that respect, I have asked my officials to examine closely pay issues for secretaries and caretakers, as well as very important wider matters relating to their conditions of work, in consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
The WRC process remains ongoing, and I support the continued engagement between all parties in an effort to reach a mutually acceptable solution.