‘If it were males in the job we wouldn’t be standing here today’ – Forsa President Ann McGee

Representatives from Forsa at Minister for Education, Joe Mc Hugh’s office in Letterkenny. Photo Brian McDaid.

Donegal’s school secretaries are calling for the inequality in their work conditions to be sorted “once and for all.”

A rally was staged outside Minister for Education Joe McHugh’s constituency office in Letterkenny today as part of a national strike by Fórsa trade union members. 

Union members from Donegal and Sligo, supporters, politicians and other school union representatives attended the demonstration as secretaries called for pay parity and equal terms and conditions in their roles.

Speakers at the Forsa protest at Minister for Education, Joe McHugh’s Office in Lettereknny were from left, Amanda Kelly, Ann McGee President , Richie Carruthers, and Joan Nic Ghadigh, Kathleen Doherty and Barry Cunningham,

The dispute is centred on secretaries’ two-tier pay system, that leaves most school secretaries earning salaries as low as €12,500 a year.

Approximately 90% of school secretaries who are not employed directly by the Department of Education & Skills have irregular, short-term contracts that force them to sign on during the summer holidays and other school breaks.

Local Fórsa spokesperson Kathleen O’Doherty, who has worked as a secretary for over two decades, said the strike and rally has one aim – to give staff access to public service status.

“We are still in hope that we will get recognised what we have been fighting for for so long,” Ms O’Doherty told Donegal Daily.

“We are not going to sit down until we get equality and parity with our colleagues of the 1978-79 scheme, which have access to public service status and that’s all we want.”

Kathleen O’Doherty Donegal representative for Forsa addressing the protest at Joe Mc Hugh office in Letterkenny. Photo Brian McDaid.
Staff from Illistrin National School Letterkenny supporting the Forsa strike

Commenting on the location of the rally in Letterkenny, Ms O’Doherty said that the Education Minister has shown his support for the Fórsa #SupportOurSecretaries campaign, but they are tired of waiting for action.

“To date, Minister Joe McHugh has always been supportive. I do think if he could just wave a magic wand he would sort it but obviously it’s not that easy,” she said.

“But our patience is wearing out.

“Nice talking and kind words are lovely, but for how many years do we have to listen to it?”

Forsa President Ann McGee and Forsa Donegal branch representative Kathleen O’Doherty

Ms O’Doherty added: “It’s up to the political system now to put pressure on the government. They have supported us recently in October, where all politicians supported us in an Oireachtas debate and they said that this issue should be sorted. All we want is for this to be sorted now.”

Fórsa represents more than half of the estimated 2,000 school secretaries employed directly by their school’s board of management and paid from the school’s ancillary grant.

Ann McGee, President of Fórsa, attended the Letterkenny rally and said: “The whole of Fórsa, the 80,000+ members, is behind the school secretaries’ plight. They are small in numbers but it’s inequality, if it were males that were in the job we wouldn’t be standing here today. It’s predominantly female, it’s about respect, dignity, fair terms and conditions and it’s about secure jobs and secure employment.”

Ms McGee said strength in numbers is one tactic the union is using to increase pressure and challenge an unjust two-tier pay system: 

“The whole of Fórsa has come behind just a small minority of people but it’s about strength in numbers and Fórsa is going to continue, along with other trade unions and teaching unions, to ensure that regardless of how many numbers there are this is an inequality to female workers and we want to get it sorted out at the start of a new decade.”

Braving the elements at the Forsa Protest in Letterkenny.