“A two-tier pay system was introduced for school secretaries and caretakers as long ago as 1991, condemning hundreds to the statutory minimum wage, and sometime less, for their entire school careers” – IMPACT deputy general secretary Kevin Calllinan.
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, according to IMPACT. Speaking at the union’s education conference in Cork yesterday (Wednesday) IMPACT deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan said this was the “real scandal of low pay and two-tier reward systems in our education system.”
The union, which represents almost 11,000 non-teaching education staff, said a two-tier pay system was introduced for school secretaries and caretakers as long ago as 1991, condemning hundreds to the statutory minimum wage, and sometime less, for their entire school careers. This is because their pay comes out of restricted local school budgets, instead of being paid directly by the education department.
Kevin was responding to Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton’s speech to the conference, and called this the “glaring inequality” in Ireland’s school system. “IMPACT fully supports our teacher colleagues in their efforts to unwind pay inequities introduced during the crisis. We have full solidarity with those who complain of a two-tier pay system introduced in 2011. Our school secretaries have had a two-tier system for over 25 years – and we’re still fighting for pay justice,” he said.
Kevin said Ireland’s school secretaries and caretakers have zero job security, “Many will be laid off without pay for the summer, every summer. Special needs assistants often don’t know today if they’ll even have a job come September,” he said. He called on Minister Bruton to implement the recommendations of a 2016 joint Oireachtas committee report on the role of special needs assistants, which said they should have higher entry qualifications and access to continuous professional development.
Kevin called for accelerated investment to address current deficits, and to prepare Ireland’s workforce for rapid automation over the coming years. “A new economy is rapidly developing, which threatens to displace tens of thousands of existing or traditional jobs. This will force us to change if we want to retain a voice for workers and a social contract for citizens. Major advances in artificial intelligence point to a paradigm shift in the world of work. Our education system needs to be ready to help workers recalibrate and adapt as demand for new and different skills grows,” he said.
Substantial investment was also needed in pre-school education. “The importance of investment, for parents, children and staff, is nowhere more pressing than in the early education sector. If we are serious about equality we must recognise the professionalism of staff in these settings, and pay them appropriately. A genuinely world class education and training service will surely recognise that investment in the early years pays long term dividends for individuals and society,” he said.
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 takes place in Cork this week and concludes on Friday (21st April).