Talks aimed at improving pay and conditions for school secretaries and caretakers have adjourned at the Workplace Relations Commission after a failure to resolve the issue of pay over the summer months.

The talks, between trade union Fórsa, the Department of Education, and school management bodies, will resume on 24 February.

Fórsa says the talks adjourned because the department was not yet in a position to commit to resolving the outstanding problem of school secretaries and caretakers being required to sign-on for social protection payments during school holiday periods.

Most caretakers earn around €13,800 a year, and secretaries are on €12,500. They are on irregular short-term contracts that do not cover the summer holidays and other school breaks.

The union says that last September a national one-day strike was deferred after the Department of Education made significant concessions.

The union's head of education Andy Pike said: "Last September the department suggested they would be able to pay a sum, equivalent to the amount claimed in Jobseeker's Benefit, through salary in order to ensure those who did not wish to sign-on did not have to do so.

"However, this morning it became clear that the department has yet to determine exactly how this mechanism would work in practice. This raises doubts about the inclusion of this measure in the final agreement.

"Fórsa made it very clear that there could be no agreement unless action was taken to ensure the problem of lay-offs and signing-on by school secretaries and caretakers was resolved," he said.

Fórsa says that it will return to the talks on 24 February on the basis that all outstanding matters should then be clarified and finalised.

It says it had hoped to finalise a package of measures today which could then be put to members in a ballot.