School secretaries and caretakers campaigning for better pay, pensions and job security will have to wait till 21 May for the Government to complete a "data gathering exercise" aimed at costing their claim.

The deadline was confirmed in a joint management/union statement issued after a meeting at the Workplace Relations Commission earlier today in a bid to resolve a long-running dispute over pay and pensions.

Fórsa represents around a third of the 3,000 secretaries and caretakers employed by individual schools, who do not enjoy public servant status.

As a result, many are on very low pay, with no pension entitlements, and have to sign on when schools are closed.

The government side was due to revert this week with costings on the claim, but failed to do so.

However, today's joint statement issued by the WRC states: "It is vital that any proposals are fully and properly costed on the basis of complete information relating to current actual numbers of workers involved and have regard to the state of the public finances and the repercussive effects of any such proposals for other grant-funded groups of non-public servants."

It notes that the Departments of Education and Public Expenditure and Reform are currently engaged in a process to gather sufficient data to inform the approach to be taken - adding that this data gathering exercise should be completed on 21 May next.

The parties will then re-engage to continue discussions with the assistance of the WRC if necessary.

Today's statement notes that the current engagement on the Fórsa claim is in line with a pathway agreed under the auspices of the WRC last October - with nothing agreed until everything is agreed.

Under the first phase of the process, detailed work was carried out to develop a "model national contract" to improve transparency around staff currently recruited directly by schools.

It's hoped the model contract would also bring "regularity" to any terms and conditions ultimately agreed.

Also under consideration is how a relevant salary scale could be used to facilitate "different patterns of employment".

Today's statement acknowledges that talks on the final element of the claim - public service pensions - are more complex and will require more detailed analysis and consideration following conclusion of discussions on other strands of the negotiations involving the regularisation of pay scales, and the regularisation of terms and conditions.

"It remains the intention of the parties to reach agreement on the regularisation of pay, conditions of employment and pension provision as set out in the Roadmap document as agreed on 27 October 2020," the joint statement concludes.