School secretaries are to take industrial action over what their union says is the Department of Education's refusal to address a two-tier pay system that leaves most on precarious low pay contracts which oblige them to sign on during summer holidays and other school breaks.
The union representing school secretaries, Fórsa, announced today the outcome of a ballot where 94% backed industrial action on a turnout of 68%.
On 20 September school secretaries will hold a short work stoppage and will begin work-to-rule under which they will withdraw from work on public service databases.
School secretaries have told RTÉ News that this will affect their interaction with the Department of Education and also the HSE.
They say it means they won't be inputting pupils numbers into Department of Education databases and that this has the potential to affect the capitation or day to day funding received by schools.
They also won't be inputting information required by the HSE for its child dental, vision and hearing screening programmes.
While a small number of school secretaries are directly employed by the Department of Education the vast majority are employed directly by school Boards' of Management under irregular low pay contracts that offer no entitlements such as sick pay, holiday pay or pensions.
Most school secretaries have to sign-on during the summer holidays and some are also forced to sign on during shorter holidays such as at Christmas time or Easter or during mid-term breaks.
Schools say the small grant they receive to cover secretarial expenses does not enable them to offer better terms and conditions.
Fórsa is demanding that school secretaries, as well as caretakers, are all made direct employees of the state and placed on secure contracts.
The union says the action is expected to cause significant disruption to the administration of the schools sector, but won't affect students or parents.
The union says it balloted members after talks broke down earlier in the summer.
It says Department of Education officials have refused to discuss proposals to overcome what they describe as a 'two-tier' pay system.
The Department of Education has said it must establish the full current cost of the union's claim.
It says the claim will be considered once costings have been determined.
However Fórsa says "detailed cost estimates" were already presented to an Oireachtas committee in April of this year. It says cost studies were also done in 2010, 2014 and 2018.
It says the problem is rooted in "an antiquated and discriminatory pay regime, foisted upon school secretaries in 1978".
It says the system discriminates between a minority who are directly-employed by the education department, and have public service employment status, and a majority who are hired by school management boards, which determine their pay and conditions.
The Department of Education has called the planned action "premature and unwarranted".
A Fianna Fáil TD has accused the Government of allowing industrial disputes to fester before they agree to engage in talks.
Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime the party's education spokesperson, Thomas Byrne, said he wants the Government to engage in meaningful negotiations with Fórsa.
Mr Byrne said all that is being sought here is that talks would take place, adding that he was been asking the Minister for Education for some time to engage in meaningful negotiations.
He said the Government practice when it comes to industrial disputes seems to be to allow people to go on strike and then begin talking.
"Why can't the talks start here?" he asked.
"We have to stop this attitude of allowing people to go on strike before starting talks."