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 Header Item School Services Staff (Continued)
 Header Item Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2019: Second Stage [Private Members]

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh] This arbitration agreement covers the period up to 31 December 2019. The arbitration agreement was designed to be of greatest benefit to lower-paid secretaries and caretakers. For example, a secretary or caretaker who was paid the then minimum wage of €8.65 per hour in 2015, prior to the arbitration, has been paid €13 per hour from 1 January 2019, which is a 50% increase in that individual's hourly pay.

Officials from my Department attended a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills on 9 April to discuss the status of non-teaching staff. Last May, officials from the Department had discussions with Fórsa trade union representatives as part of a planned meeting and Fórsa took the opportunity to formally table a pay claim. This was tabled as a follow-on claim from the current pay agreement for this cohort of staff, which lasts until December 2019. The Department issued surveys on 10 July to establish the full current cost of the trade union's claim. This is standard practice. Officials from the Department met Fórsa representatives in September. Management bodies representing the employer schools impacted by the action were also in attendance at the meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to further explore the details of the pay claim as presented by Fórsa and the nature of the industrial action.

On 30 September, Fórsa asked the Department to agree to use the services of the Workplace Relations Commission to resolve the dispute. As is normal practice, the Department agreed to use the industrial relations machinery of the State in an effort to resolve it. To address the various issues in the claim and arrive at a mutually acceptable solution, the Department is in discussions with Fórsa under the auspices of the WRC. Talks have been ongoing since October. At the WRC this week, the management side met with representatives of school secretaries and caretakers from the Fórsa union. The matter is still being progressed at the WRC where talks are ongoing and subject to the normal procedures, including confidentiality. In these circumstances the resumption of industrial action announced by Fórsa for the new year is disappointing while the WRC process remains ongoing, and I call on Fórsa to reconsider its action. I still believe we can find a solution through people sitting around the table.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith What the Minister is saying to the school secretaries is, "Happy Christmas and good luck to you". They are planning further industrial action on 10 January next, and it is not for the reasons the Minister has outlined. They went into those talks in good faith and on the understanding that they were pursuing parity of pay and conditions. Pay is just one element and leaves out the conditions, which mean that they are not entitled to sick pay and do not get paid during holiday breaks or the summer months. The Minister brags about their pay having increased from €8.65 per hour to €13 per hour, but that is no boast over that period of time. It is very insulting that the school secretaries would be offered such a paltry rise without addressing the equality issues. The Taoiseach and the Minister's party pride themselves on the notion that they stand for equality, be it marriage equality, equality for women or other issues where equality is a buzzword, but they are treating school secretaries like second-class citizens. That is what emerged at the WRC and the school secretaries will not tolerate it. If they go ahead with the strike on 10 January it will be cold and miserable, but the Minister and the Department are telling them there will be no happy Christmas for them in view of the way they are being treated.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne The secretaries did not leave the talks because of what the Minister has outlined. They joined the talks because they took the Minister at his word and believed him when he said that we must develop a comprehensive mechanism that would provide a pathway to a resolution. The Minister said that to me in this House, but that is not what transpired at the WRC this week. It is far from it, and deeply disappointing. We do not want the secretaries to go on strike. Strike action should always be a last resort, never to be supported. It can be avoided if the Minister and the Department engage in serious discussions with the secretaries in light of what the Minister said previously. I am relying on what the Minister solemnly told the Dáil. I do not want this to be turned into me looking for more resources for secretaries, as it inevitably will be by the geniuses in the Fine Gael press office. I am looking for the secretaries to be treated in the manner in which the Minister promised they would be treated. Can he confirm that he met the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform today on this issue? There certainly was talk of that happening. If he did, could he give us details of that meeting?

Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin The Minister said that he understands the issues but I do not believe he does. The secretaries want parity. They want pay and conditions that are equal to those of Department-paid secretaries, nothing more and nothing less. They want a change in the employment relationship so they will have a proper pay scale, year-round employment, holiday pay, sick pay and pensions like everybody else who works in the school. That is a very fair request. Does the Minister accept the principle that there is an issue with people doing the same job in the same place being on vastly differing pay and conditions? Will he commit to working with the representatives to address this properly? School secretaries play a vital role in passing information from schools to the Department of Education and Skills. This forms part of their argument that they should receive equal treatment and the work to rule that will commence on 10 January next, unless the situation is resolved, will have an impact on this. Can the Minister give details about the nature of this impact and the work they do in this regard?

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I reiterate that the talks have not broken down or collapsed. We come to a solution or agreement when people are around a table. Yes, there was disappointment about what was on the table. The talks in the WRC are confidential and I do not participate in them. Following this week's meeting, both sides acknowledged that the talks have not collapsed. While the management side must now reflect on the latest discussions, we are disappointed that the union has moved to re-engage in industrial action, which will impact on the day-to-day operation of schools, including the pay of substitute teachers and special needs assistants, SNAs. My officials are continuing to assess the situation and to engage with the management bodies who represent the schools affected by industrial action and colleagues in the Department.

As I said to the Deputies, this is not a situation I wish to see arise. The world and its mother know my position on this, which is that I want this issue to be resolved. This has been an issue since 1978 and we need to reach a resolution. Those are not just words. I am on the record for saying it, as Deputy Thomas Byrne said. My words have not changed whether in opposition or in government. I said it as Minister last year. The only way to resolve this is around a table. I urge Fórsa to take those words in good faith in terms of trying to find a solution. I cannot decide what happens in the talks, but there are representatives of the Department at them.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne They represent the Minister.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Negotiations are ongoing and the talks have not collapsed.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne The Minister offered 1.5%, nobody else.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I once again urge the Fórsa union to continue the talks. If they have not collapsed there is still an opportunity to find a solution.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne The Minister is the Department.

Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2019: Second Stage [Private Members]

Deputy John Curran: Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am sharing time with Deputies Cahill and Butler. As Members of the House are aware, the quantity of illicit drugs on our streets and in our communities is at a level we have not previously seen. They are having a devastating effect on the lives of individuals and families and on communities. These are not just words; the evidence supports them in every sense. An Garda Síochána seized as many drugs in 2017 as were seized in 2015 and 2016 combined. Members of the House who are members of policing fora, joint policing committees or drugs task forces are very familiar with the issue.

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