A national one-day strike by school secretaries and caretakers scheduled for tomorrow has been deferred, trade union Fórsa says, after "significant concessions" were made by the Department of Education in a Workplace Relations Commission-brokered negotiation yesterday.
Their union says the department finally conceded that all school secretaries should be placed on the public service clerical officer scale. It says this will bring to an end a four-decade old two-tier pay system.
It says the offer will also do away with the requirement for most secretaries to sign on during school breaks, as they will be able to retain existing work patterns while having their salaries paid over 52 weeks on a pro-rata basis.
Fórsa says the assimilation arrangements for transferring staff to new scales are to be finalised through discussions over the next two weeks.
According to the union, the improvements - which will come into effect from 1 September 2021 - will also see equalisation of annual leave arrangements on the basis of public service clerical officer provisions. It says the Department of Education has also agreed to improve sick pay arrangements, though Fórsa says it is still pursuing full equalisation with ETB-employed secretaries.
The union also said it expected the new employment conditions to be included in a model national contract for secretaries. It said the education department had stated that the administration of secretaries' pay would be centralised, with the details to be discussed over the coming weeks.
Fórsa said work remained to be done on the details of a similar package for caretakers, but said the department had agreed that the same principles would apply to them.
Whilst no agreement was reached on the provision of pensions, Fórsa says the parties will try and seek a resolution of this outstanding issue in the final phase of talks on this long-standing dispute.
Fórsa's head of education, Andy Pike, said the outcome represented a major victory for school secretaries after a decades-long campaign.
"The determination and resolve of school secretaries and caretakers has finally put the end of the two-tier pay system within our grasp", he said.
"No secretary or caretaker wanted to be on strike tomorrow, but their willingness to take that step in a just cause was crucial to this victory.
"On their behalf, I want to thank the thousands of parents, SNAs, teachers, principals, elected representatives and others who have shown growing support and solidarity for secretaries and caretakers, who are at the heart of the school community."
Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Mr Pike said around 2,500 caretakers and close to 4,000 school secretaries are affected by this issue.
He said that within two to three weeks, they have to agree the terms of assimilation to these new scales with the Department of Education.
He said the planned strike action is deferred to allow those talks to happen, and they will adopt "a reasonable approach" to this.
He said they also want to secure public service status for this group of staff, which includes pensions, but agreement has not yet been reached on this.
Also speaking on the programme, Luisa Carty, a school secretary in Galway for over 19 years, described it as "great news" for all secretaries and said she is "over the moon".
She said many secretaries do not receive sick pay and have to sign on for social welfare when school ends for the summer.
It is "soul destroying" to go to a social welfare office for eight weeks during the summer holidays, mid-term breaks, Easter break and Christmas break, she said.
Yesterday evening, the Fórsa branch committee agreed to defer the strike action for two weeks, pending confirmation of the implementation of the package.
The union is updating members in Zoom meetings later today.