Education minister invites unions and management to discuss special needs posts

IMPACT deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan, Minister for Education and Skills Jan O'Sullivan and Education division chair Gina O'Brien at the IMPACT conference in Galway.
IMPACT deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan, Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan and Education division chair Gina O’Brien at the IMPACT conference in Galway.

Minister said that if fragmentation is occurring it is ‘unacceptable’

The Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan TD has said that she wants to commence a negotiation between unions and management bodies, to find a solution to the issue of the fragmentation of special needs assistant (SNA) posts.The minister made the comments in her address to IMPACT trade union’s Education division conference today (Thursday).

IMPACT represents close to 10,000 workers in non-teaching posts in the education sector. The fragmentation of posts for SNAs has resulted in a loss of working hours and income for SNAs throughout the country, which the union has said breaches the income protection measures of the Haddington Road agreement.

Responding to the minister, IMPACT deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan said SNAs are entitled to the application of the same principles regarding the protection of working time and income as other public servants covered by the agreement.

Minister O’Sullivan told conference delegates that, within the last couple of days, the Department has written to management bodies, unions, and to the National Council for Special Education asking the parties to come together over the next couple of weeks.

She said that the aim of the talks would be “To understand the challenges facing management bodies that are leading to this trend. And to start putting in place a solution to address your union’s concerns – concerns which I share – about the hours worked by SNAs and the wages that they earn.”

Hours

IMPACT member Joyce O’Driscoll, explained that her school’s SNA allocation was reduced from 2.5 posts to just 0.5 of a post between June and October 2014. “That’s me, the “Zero point five”; half a post and and half a salary, with a genuine concern that I’ll see a further reduction in the current round of reviews.  I have stayed in my job because I care deeply for the children that I support and I am extremely committed to the job that I do.”

Joyce O'Driscoll, secretary, Munster SNA branch
Joyce O’Driscoll, secretary, Munster SNA branch

Ms O’Driscoll said she has met other SNAs working as little as forty minutes each day at their school. “Not enough work to sustain yourself and not enough support for the children who need it. The Haddington Road agreement guarantees no further loss of income to public sector workers. Our experience shows that there are ways of bypassing those protections, and wiping out the incomes of our SNA colleagues” she said.

Exclusion

Mr Callinan criticised the exclusion of most IMPACT members from the boards of management of schools.  “We are told that this is a result of the provisions of the 1998 Education Act. But, minister, a school is a different place than 17 years ago. For a start there are now thousands of SNAs and other school staff who are denied even the possibility of membership of a board of management.  This is wrong at a very basic level.  It also flies in the fact of all modern approaches to industrial democracy.  And it simply must be put right” he said.

Mr Callinan congratulated the Minister on the recent decision to provide additional resource teaching hours for children categorised as having ‘mild’ Down’s Syndrome.  “We admire the way that you listened to the case that had been made for so long and we applaud you for your willingness to take the initiative on something that means so much to so many parents and families. This really is about quality of life.  And touches an area that is close to the heart of many of our members as they go about their work as SNAs” he said.