Monday 27 January 2020

'School secretaries wouldn't strike if we were treated with some respect'

Eileen Barry, New Ross, Co Wexford who is going on strike, School Secretaries. Picture: Patrick Browne
Eileen Barry, New Ross, Co Wexford who is going on strike, School Secretaries. Picture: Patrick Browne

Anne-Marie Walsh

School secretary Eileen Barry remembers a phone call from a colleague last year.

She said she'd been told she wouldn't be paid over the summer and her hours were being cut because the school's boiler house roof needed repair work.

"She was so upset on the phone. She was beside herself," said Ms Barry, a mother of three based in Wexford, who is planning to go on strike today in a bid to get equal pay and conditions with others doing the same job. "Listening to these kind of stories at a recent meeting in the Dublin HQ has given us fire in the belly."

School offices will close and in many cases there will be no one to answer phonecalls and queries. The secretaries who are paid by their schools' boards of management out of grants, want the same terms as those paid directly by the Department of Education and Skills.

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"I don't think people realise it (the strike) is going to take place," said Ms Barry. "It wouldn't take place if we were treated with a bit of respect. It's going on for years."

She said despite arbitration previously that resulted in phased payments worth 2.5pc, some secretaries never received the money.

Others, she said, did not get another special payment they were due for inputting work on a pupil online data system.

In worst case scenarios, some secretaries earn just €12,500 a year and have to sign on during school breaks.

But her union Fórsa recently rejected the offer of a yearly 1.5pc pay rise over four years at the Workplace Relations Commission.

"We didn't ask for a pay increase and are not interested any more in a pay increase," she said.

"Our industrial action is not against any school or board of management. Our issue is with the department."

She said she is very lucky as she is paid department rates and is well looked after, but a pension would benefit her most. "The school can't afford it," she said. "There are five or six cleaners and a caretaker and office staff. There are women out there who are being exploited."

The Department of Education said it had been in discussions with Fórsa at the WRC since October and described today's industrial action as unwarranted.

It said it remained open to further engagement with the union at the WRC.

Irish Independent

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