Donegal school secretaries have claimed that attempts to right a “blatant wrong” regarding their role have been blocked by the Department of Education.

The claim was made in advance of a meeting in Letterkenny this week set to highlight the grievances of the body representing the school employees.

Local representative, Kathleen O’Doherty hit out at what she called was an “unacceptable state of affairs that a two tier system” was allowed to continue.

“Schools as employers when hiring secretaries make no distinction between the duties to be undertaken whether the staff enjoy public service status such as pay and conditions or not,” insisted the Letterkenny delegate.

The long-running issue has caused ongoing consternation among school secretaries in Donegal and around the country as they reflect on what they term are inequalities in the workplace.

It has been claimed that the majority of school secretaries earn barely above the minimum wage after ten years of service. Most such workers have no access to national pay agreements, pensions, sick leave schemes or promotional opportunities.

“It is an unacceptable state of affairs that this two tier system is allowed to continue. For years all attempts to right a blatant wrong have been blocked by the Department of Education.

“The same Department does not shy away from expecting all school secretaries to carry out the essential daily work required from the busy front line staff of all schools,” said Ms O’Doherty.

“Phone reception alone is a full-time job together with the constant increasing of administration is at times beyond what can be carried out in other public service buildings.”

Demanded the local representative: “Why should some school secretaries be subject to a rate of pay unacceptable for the role? Many are earning 10 to 12 euro per hour for the last ten to twenty years.”

Some secretaries working side by side with Departmental paid colleagues carrying out the same or similar duties have no access to sick leave or pensions.

Ms O’Doherty referred to an independent employment expert who had found that the role of the school secretary involved a wide range of duties and responsibilities.

“He said many of the extremely sensitive and responsible tasks go well beyond what would be expected of a clerical officer operating as a team member in the civil service, health or local government sectors. He found no distinction whatsoever between what is expected of Department paid and grant funded secretaries.

“It is clear that secretaries employed under the grant system are seriously out of line with their colleagues employed under the 78/79 scheme.”

The Letterkenny based school secretary said isolation in the workplace was one reason why the Department could continue to treat this group “so unfavourably”.

Added Ms O’Doherty: ‘Why is that integrity and dedication from this group be considered less favourably than from those that shout the loudest and have the power to cause disruption?.”

The meeting of School Secretaries takes place on Thursday evening next (5.30.p.m.) in the Mount Errigal Hotel.