IMPACT: Pay talks must address low incomes in education

IMPACT today (Thursday) said that forthcoming public service pay talks must go beyond simply unwinding the ‘FEMPI’ legislation, which introduced pay cuts and the pension levy, if lower paid education staff were to benefit. Speaking to delegates at the union’s education conference in Cork, IMPACT deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan said staff earning less than €28,000 a year would not benefit from further unwinding of FEMPI as the legislation only affected incomes above that level.

“This limited progress we have already made has taken the lowest paid – those earning up to around €28,000 a year – out of the scope of the pay cuts and pension levy. That includes thousands of special needs assistants, school secretaries, clerical officers, caretakers and others. In the absence of a broader pay round, unwinding FEMPI will be of no benefit to those on the very lowest incomes in this and other sectors,” he said.

Talks on a successor to the Lansdowne Road agreement are expected to start after the Public Service Pay Commission reports later this month or early in May.

Gina O’Brien, chairperson of the IMPACT education division, said unions would also seek to protect pensions in the forthcoming talks. She said: “We’ve all experienced the negative impact of the crisis on our livelihoods and working conditions. This month we have experienced some recovery in our pay, small but heading in a positive direction.

“We know that we still live in a fragile economy, and a balance must be struck between recognition for the sacrifices we’ve made, the need for investment in services, and the realities of what can realistically be recouped. The time has come for pay restoration and improvements for every worker across the economy.

“This will help sustain the economic recovery, and contribute to the growth in jobs now happening across all sectors. But a successor to the Lansdowne Road agreement can’t be just about pay. When entering talks we will vehemently protect pensions, and maintain job security for public servants.”

Mr Callinan told the conference that thousands of education staff, including special needs assistants, school secretaries, and early education professionals, start work on pre-tax salaries ranging between minimum wage and €440 a week, with many laid off without pay each summer. This was the “real scandal of low pay and two-tier reward systems in our education system,” he said.

Delegates representing almost 11,000 non-teaching education staff passed motions calling for the unwinding of the FEMPI legislation, and an end to two-tier pay arrangements that see some school secretaries and caretakers on minimum wage, while others are paid on public service rates.

Delegates also called for Government funding for improved salaries in early education settings, and a review of entry-level qualifications and pay rates for special needs assistants.

IMPACT represents almost 11,000 education workers including administrative staff in ETBs and IoTs, school completion officers, SNAs, school secretaries and caretakers, and early education professionals. The union’s biennial Education Conference is taking place in Cork this week.