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 Header Item Animal Welfare (Continued)
 Header Item School Services Staff

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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  5 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Jackie Cahill: Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill] If that were done, the economics of cross-breeding could be far more fairly examined. There is an onus on dairy farmers to produce an animal that is economically viable for beef production. There are question marks over the current viability of cross-bred calves. If proper breeding is undertaken by dairy farmers, they can produce economically viable animals. Some 60% of animals for beef production will come from the dairy herd and, as such, proper breeding is essential.

Sexed semen has a significant role to play in this issue and far more research must be rapidly undertaken to ensure its usage increases.

Deputy Michael Creed: Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed The best investment we can make to ensure the continuation of live exports is to underpin this endeavour with high welfare standards. I have emphasised that in all my engagement with various stakeholders, including farm and co-operative leaders and others involved in the export of these animals. In that context, we have introduced revised regulations which improve welfare standards for calves being exported, including by requiring more space to be available on trucks among other measures. That is an important factor in reassuring the market destinations of these calves. I most recently visited the Netherlands on this issue and have also engaged with people in Spain who buy these calves. They are very satisfied with the current standard but, obviously, we need to constantly reassure them. In essence, primary responsibility rests with dairy farmers to ensure the welfare of calves and that they are complying with the law. There are random inspections at marts and on farms to ensure compliance with the regulations. Those inspections will be stepped up according to risk-based analysis in the context of peak calving in spring etc., which is important.

On cross-breeds, there is a danger of talking ourselves into a difficulty. We developed the dairy beef breed index specifically to give greater certainty to farmers on what they are getting when they buy a calf in the calf ring. That is important in respect of the breeding decisions being made by dairy farmers and ensuring the progeny has a realistic prospect of delivering economically for the purchasing farmer. There has been an increase in the use of those sires in the most recent breeding season and we need to accelerate that. Although I take the points made by the Deputy regarding Jersey calves, it is possible to over-emphasise the extent to which that is prevalent within the herd.

This issue requires a multifaceted response. We have engaged with all the various stakeholders and I am confident that, as in previous years, if everybody pulls their weight, we will be able to deal with any issues arising in spring 2020.

School Services Staff

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith The issue of school secretaries was previously discussed in the House. I understand that an insulting and paltry increase of 1.5% was offered at the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and the talks have broken down. The secretaries were not looking for a particular increase but, rather, parity with secretaries in education and training board, ETB, schools and, most importantly, to be directly employed by the Department. As the Minister and I are aware, many of them are employed on a piecemeal basis through the principal's budget and without the benefit of maternity pay, sick pay, a pension etc. The issue of parity is not just about the financial aspect; it is also about acknowledgement and respect. Of course, finances are very important to the secretaries, but the offer of 1.5% while ignoring the issues that brought them into the forum in the first place is unacceptable. The Minister and the Department must give a commitment to the secretaries. They do an amazing job. Their multitasking is unbelievable, as previously recognised in the House. We should acknowledge that by treating them properly.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne As the Minister knows well, having spoken on the issue on several occasions while in office and previously, secretaries employed directly by the Department of Education and Skills can earn double or even triple the wages of those employed directly by schools, as well as enjoying far better terms and conditions. Indeed, the Minister previously gave full commitments to a very good campaign on this issue in County Donegal. Secretaries employed by the Department are permanent staff, often with a pension, whereas those employed privately by schools have significantly less tenure in office. It is manifestly unfair for people with the same qualifications who do the same job to the same standard to have vastly differing wage scales and employment conditions. The Minister is aware of this issue having discussed it on many occasions. A campaign was launched and the Minister gave the all-clear for the matter to go to the WRC, as he was required to do. There was significant pressure from the House in that regard. However, the talks have broken down because he went to the WRC and offered an increase of 1.5%. The issue is about terms and conditions rather than money. The failure of the talks is the responsibility of the Minister as he is the one who decided to go in with an offer of 1.5%. He needs to set out a proper pathway to avoid strike action.

Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin Secretaries are the heartbeat of schools. They do so much to ensure that schools function properly for staff, parents and teachers. It will shock the public to know that the vast majority of school secretaries are paid on a lower scale than their contemporaries employed by the Department. They have no pension entitlements and do not know where they stand from year to year. They only get paid during term time, with the result that many must go on the dole during school holidays. There is a two-tier system which is completely unfair. The secretaries want dignity, respect and parity of pay and esteem for the work they do. The Minister has made all the right noises, particularly in early October during statements in the House - called for by Fianna Fáil and taken in Private Members time - on the industrial action by school secretaries. However, he has not followed through. I agree with my colleagues that his offer of 1.5% is an insult to the secretaries and he needs to do far better by them.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Joe McHugh): Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I recognise the very important work done by school secretaries, caretakers and other support staff in the running of our schools. I have spoken to several school secretaries about their employment conditions and understand the issues they have raised. Earlier this year, I relaxed the moratorium for community, comprehensive and ETB schools with enrolments of 700 or more to allow them to employ additional school secretaries up to a maximum of two per school. It is an initial step and has taken immediate effect. In budget 2020, I increased the number of secretaries and caretakers in certain schools to allow schools with an enrolment of 500 to 625 pupils to fill secretarial vacancies provided they have fewer than 1.5 secretaries. Similarly, schools with an enrolment of 626 to 699 pupils may fill vacancies provided they have fewer than two secretary posts filled and schools of 700 pupils or more may fill caretaker vacancies provided they have fewer than two caretakers. These measures will take effect from September 2020.

Schemes initiated in 1978 and 1979 for the employment of clerical officers and caretakers in schools were withdrawn completely in 2008 and have been superseded by the capitation grant schemes. The current grant scheme was agreed in the context of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress published in 1991. The majority of primary and voluntary secondary schools receive assistance to provide for secretarial, caretaking and cleaning services under these grant schemes. It is a matter for each school to decide how best to apply the grant funding to suit its particular needs. Where a school uses the grant funding for caretaking or secretarial purposes, any staff taken on to support those functions are employees of the individual school and specific responsibility for terms of employment rests with the school.

On foot of a chairman's note to the Lansdowne Road agreement, my Department engaged with the unions representing school secretaries and caretakers, including through an independent arbitration process in 2015. The arbitrator recommended a cumulative pay increase of 10% between 2016 and 2019 for staff and that a minimum hourly pay rate of €13 be phased in over that period.

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