Seán Ó Fearghaíl invited to intervene in Leinster House living wage dispute

Dáil Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl has been asked to intervene in the ongoing dispute over a wage claim by Leinster House staff who are being paid less than a living wage.

iptu organizer Jane Boushell wrote to Mr Ó Fearghaíl and Seanad Cathaoirleach Mark Daly – who are chairman and vice-chairman of the Oireachtas Commission – last month alerting them to correspondence with the HR unit of Oireachtas regarding his demand for improved salaries and conditions for staff who work for TDs and senators.

The commission is the governing body of the Oireachtas which oversees the provision of services to members and staff of Leinster House.

Siptu filed a pay claim with the commission four years ago on behalf of secretarial assistants at Leinster House who start with a salary of €24,324, or €11.75 an hour, which is less than the salary vital of €12.90 per hour.

There are 200 secretarial assistants working at Leinster House, with TDs and senators entitled to employ one each.

Last year the Houses Commission of the Oireachtas, with the approval of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, proposed an additional 3% salary increase.

This was overwhelmingly rejected by assistant secretariat staff and was also publicly criticized by several politicians, including the leader of Seanad and Fine Gael Senator Regina Doherty.

The case is now the subject of a new conciliation process at the Workplace Relations Commission, with the parties due to meet again next month.

In a letter to Mr. Ó Fearghaíl and Mr. Daly on February 7, Ms. Boushell wrote: “Our members are aware of the recent statement by the Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform that the Housing Commission of the Oireachtas advises on matters relating to salary, superannuation or other terms and conditions of employment, and submits (to him) proposals for consideration and consent.

“They are further aware of recent statements of support for their demand for improved employment conditions, made by Dáil and Seanad members.

“As a result, in bringing our correspondence to the attention of the commission, we hope that they will use their authority in this matter to ensure that all issues raised by us in our original complaint can be addressed.”

A spokesperson for the Oireachtas said, “The matter is being dealt with under state industrial relations. However, the issue is regularly raised at committee meetings.

Last week the Sunday Independent pointed to the problem of poorly paid staff at Leinster House – some of whom, it is claimed, depend on state welfare benefits such as housing assistance payments and single family payments to make ends meet.

Senators are allowed to hire a full-time secretarial assistant, while DTs are entitled to a secretarial assistant and a parliamentary assistant, which start at €41,092.

Often parliamentary assistants and secretarial assistants in TD offices work the same hours and do the same job, but one earns almost twice as much as the other.

In December, Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath acknowledged that the nature and intensity of the work performed by secretarial assistants had changed “very significantly”.

Mr McGrath’s department said last week: “As this is a live RI matter, we have no comment at this time.”

Michael A. Bynum