School secretaries belonging to the Fórsa trade union are to suspend their work to rule over a two-tier pay system to allow for talks at the Workplace Relations Commission. 

While around a third of the 3,000 school secretaries employed around the country enjoy the status and benefits of public servants, the remaining 2,000 are on less favorable contracts funded directly by schools and their boards of management. 

Fórsa says that some of those secretaries earn as little as €12,500 a year and have to sign on for unemployment benefit when schools are closed. 

Talks have been ongoing since October, but the union described the offer of a 1.5% increase as "derisory" and "insulting".

The secretaries, most of whom are women, held a one-day strike on 10 January, and since then they have been working to rule by refusing to operate certain administrative systems in schools.

Fórsa confirmed this afternoon that from tomorrow morning, it is suspending its current work to rule at the request of the Workplace Relations Commission. 

However, Fórsa's Head of Education Andy Pike warned that the WRC talks would have to yield "real and significant progress to end the antiquated system under which school secretaries are employed."

Mr Pike went on to say: "A failure to make real and significant progress would lead to an immediate resumption of industrial action by school secretaries, because they have resolved to keep the pressure on until the issue is dealt with once and for all.

"The minister and the department had previously made the mistake if underestimating that resolve, which led directly to the one-day strike last Friday"

The Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh, welcomed the Fórsa announcement that they would defer industrial action and re-enter negotiations at the WRC.

He noted the need for "deep engagement" on the issue, and said: "Secretaries and other support staff play a hugely important role in ensuring the smooth day to day running of schools and I am deeply conscious of the issues that secretaries have raised with me personally.

Mr McHugh added: "I have always maintained that the only way this situation will be resolved is with the help of the WRC. Both sides will have their own positions, but compromise is necessary or nothing would ever be resolved."