Successful outcome of pay talks with Government “not a foregone conclusion”
Delegates at IMPACT trade union’s Education division conference have been told that public sector pay restoration is vital to Irish economic recovery because it will help sustain the recovery and ensure continuing job growth.
The comments were made this evening by the chair of IMPACT’s Education division, Ms Gina O’Brien, at the opening session of the conference which is taking place in Galway and continues until Friday (10th April).
Ms O’Brien said that the time has come to talk about pay restoration, but not just about pay restoration in the public sector. “The whole country needs a pay rise after such a long period of wage stagnation” she said.
IMPACT’s education division represents 10,000 workers in the education sector, including school caretakers and secretaries, schools completion workers, special needs assistants, as well as clerical, library, management and student support staff in the Institutes of Technology and the Education and Training Boards (ETBs).
Ms O’Brien said there is a strong and growing trend among employers to improve workers’ pay, with 45% of surveyed employers increasing pay in 2014. “Up to 57% are expected to do so again this year. While the pay improvements are modest, close to 3% on average, they’re a welcome development, and it’s entirely appropriate for the public sector to keep in step.
“Talks between the Government and the unions are expected to get underway shortly. It’ll be another huge challenge for IMPACT, a successful outcome is not a foregone conclusion. But it is our first step together toward restoration, and that alone is a welcome development” she said.
Ms O’Brien added that there would be criticism from people who say that any talk of pay restoration has come too soon. “To them I say that economic recovery means nothing unless there is a recovery in income for all workers. Any pay improvements will be spent in the domestic economy, in small and medium enterprises all over the country. That spending will help those businesses to grow, to create jobs and to improve living standards. I don’t think that can happen soon enough” she said.
The Minister for Education and Skills, Ms Jan O’Sullivan TD, is due to address the conference tomorrow (Thursday 9th April). Ms O’Brien said “I think her presence here tomorrow reflects a growing acknowledgement that IMPACT is an education union, and has become a stronger voice for everyone in the sector. I look forward to welcoming the Minister tomorrow morning.” It will be the first time that a minister for education has addressed the union’s conference.
Ms O’Brien outlined a range of industrial relations issues facing the union, and said IMPACT still faced a huge challenge in fighting for equal pay and conditions for school secretaries who are not directly employed by the Department of Education and Skills.
“Many secretaries receive just about the minimum wage and some with very poor conditions of employment. Grant paid secretaries are employed by each school’s board of management. I fear that many of these boards have very little regard for their staff, with many happy to treat them as public servants in order to apply pay cuts, but refuse to afford them equality of pay and employment with other public servants” she said. Ms O’Brien said that, as the funding comes from the department, she believed it had a level of responsibility towards the school secretaries.
Addressing the issue of the fragmentation of special needs assistants posts, which was the subject of a recent ballot for industrial action, Ms O’Brien said that the practice of fragmenting posts and reducing hours meant “continuing uncertainty about the allocation of work for the next academic year, fewer available working hours and a reduction in incomes for many SNAs, despite the protections of the Haddington Road agreement.” She said that the union continued to pursue the issue with the Department of Education and Skills.
Ms O’Brien said that funding for the School Completion Programme (SCP) had been cut to a level now where it is now almost unsustainable. “This is a vital service for very vulnerable young people. It keeps them in education, helping them to fulfill their potential, opening up choices to them about their future. That’s the true value of investing in retention programmes. SCP workers do all of this with relatively modest resources. But they are now at the very limits of sustaining that work. We must succeed in achieving a reversal of these cuts” she said.