I raised the plight of school secretaries during a recent Dáil debate on employment conditions last week.
Speaking during a debate on the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017, I welcomed the Bill in that it improved the security and predictability for people in employment and in some cases, banned zero hours contracts, but noted the issue of school secretaries and caretakers who are not treated equally across the state.
A small number of school secretaries have been employed under the 1978-79 scheme. They are paid on the equivalent of grade 3 or grade 4 civil servants depending on the school size. More than 3,000 school secretaries are employed by boards of management funded by the Department of Education and Skills. However, the rates of pay vary from school to school depending on the board of management and on affordability.
In addition, school secretaries are not paid for the 52 weeks and they have to sign on the dole for the summer, which is very degrading for them. The role of the school secretary needs to be valued; they are often the engine that keeps the school going. They deal with all the day-to-day problems that arise and keep the school running smoothly. They are also the problem solvers, but they seem to be treated differently. It is vital that their pay and conditions are corrected and that there is parity between schools so that they get equal pay for equal work and get the same terms and conditions nationally. This anomaly needs to be addressed. While the Bill deals with employment, we need to talk about the broader problems and anomalies involved.
There is an onus on us, as legislators, to ensure these issues are addressed and that we get parity for everybody. An arbitration case in 2015 found that there should be increases in pay and a minimum hourly rate for school secretaries. I welcome that the Department has given extra funding to schools, but there is still a significant disparity in the rates of pay between schools. We need to take these anomalies out of the system. There are many more anomalies with young educators working in crèches where they get paid for the hours worked and do not necessarily get paid the same rates as schoolteachers. They have been through four years of college and have a level 8 qualification, but yet are treated differently.
Concluding, I said that addressing the needs of school secretaries is a measure contained in the current Programme for Government and it is vital that we bring in the Bill as quickly as possible.