TD and senator aides earn less than living wage
At 26, Ellen Murphy could afford to live in London with her job as a union organizer. Two years later, she is working at Leinster House, paying just under £600 a month in rent and planning to move back in with her parents.
Considering getting a mortgage is just beyond possibility,” she said.
Indeed, she has one of the lowest paid jobs at Leinster House – secretarial assistant (SA), a position with a starting salary of €24,324 or €11.75 an hour. The living wage — which all political parties support — is €12.90 an hour.
Around 200 SAs work at Leinster House. Senators can hire up to a full-time SA, while TDs are entitled to an SA and a Parliamentary Assistant (AP, which start at €41,092).
Often AMs and ASs in DT offices work the same hours and do roughly the same work, but one earns almost twice as much as the other.
For senators, an SA is effectively a parliamentary assistant, but should work for about 10 years and possibly more before reaching the starting salary of a PA.
When the role of SA was created decades ago, it was for people, usually women, who answered the phone and typed correspondence. Now an SA answers emails and calls, organizes events, runs constituency clinics, researches and writes speeches, writes policies and laws, grooms her boss for media appearances, and manages social media. .
“The secretarial function as it is defined is clearly from a bygone era. You don’t take notes that are dictated to youit’s a bigger role than that,” said Chloe Manahan, a former SA who now works as a childminder for TD work Ivana Bacik.
Murphy, who works for Labor Senator Annie Hoey, and Manahan are shop stewards on the Siptu union committee at Leinster House.
“There are SAs that depend on payment of housing assistance, there are SAs that depend on payment from a single family, there are SAs that depend on family support to make ends meet,” he said. said Murphy.
“There’s something squeaky about TDs and senators, and especially ministers, standing up in the Seanad and the Dáil and saying, ‘We believe in living wages.’ But that doesn’t apply to the woman sitting next to you in your office, answering your phone, sending your emails, writing your speeches, researching your policies.
Everyone at Leinster House agrees that the SA’s situation is unfair. Last November, the Forum on a Family-Friendly and Inclusive Parliament, which reported to Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, called for a review of salary scales and the role of SAs to increase the starting salary.
In December, Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath acknowledged that the nature and intensity of AS work had changed “very significantly”.
Four years ago, Siptu filed a wage grievance on behalf of SA staff, which demanded that SA Seanad be placed on the PA salary scale and that SA Dáil be effectively placed on an administrative assistant scale with a salary starting price of €34,446.
Last year, the Houses Commission of the Oireachtas, with the approval of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), proposed an additional 3% salary increase.
Seanad leader Fine Gael senator Regina Doherty said it was “not acceptable”. Independent Senator Lynn Ruane called it “derisory.” Unsurprisingly, he was flatly rejected by the staff.
McGrath said it was up to the board to do a job assessment and make arrangements for workforce planning accordingly.
The Oireachtas told the Sunday Independent“It would not be correct to say that the Oireachtas does nothing about this assertion.
“The complaint is undergoing a conciliation process within the WRC, the state’s industrial relations body, and the Oireachtas is participating fully in this process. Unfortunately, we cannot comment further on an ongoing process.
The Oireachtas has previously said that while it administers the scheme, DPER is responsible for its terms and conditions, including pay rates. This highlights the complex nature of how parliamentary staff are employed.
They are hired and work for an MP who sets their hours and job characteristics, but nearly all HR mechanisms are administered by the Oireachtas, which handles things like payslips and overtime pay. However, payment for such overtime must be approved by a staff member’s TD or Senator.
For such low-paid staff, overtime can be essential to their weekly income. A former SA who worked for a TD government recalled “begging for mine to be signed every week and my employer constantly struggled to sign it, even though he knew how bad our pay was” .
Ursula Quill, a former SA of independent senator Seán Barrett and later Ivana Bacik, said the number of overtime hours that could be claimed was increased several years ago instead of actual base pay being processed. “I felt like for a long time it was almost accepted that it was what it was and it wasn’t until a lot of us started talking about it after 2016 that we said it was. was something we should raise,” she said.
One of those currently fighting the cause is Sárán Fogarty, another union steward, who works as a part-time SA with Independent Senator Alice-Mary Higgins. He sees no future in Dublin and will probably emigrate. Others, like Tadhg Browne, who worked for Lynn Ruane for a year, have already left.
Having worked for the EU Committee of Regions, the Local Government Management Agency and the Housing Agency, the 25-year-old had a wealth of experience at Leinster House, but due to how the salary SA starting salary is calculated, none of it counted towards his starting salary.
There is a high turnover of SA staff at Leinster House, many only serving for a year or two because of pay. But for those who stay longer, the harsh reality of low pay becomes evident in their pension entitlements.
The calculation of the five-year seniority pension or the occupational pension of an SA after five years of seniority is €656.23 per year; a pension for 10 years is €1,312.46 per year; and after 20 years of service, an SA’s pension is €2,624.91 a year, according to figures given to Seanad last year by Cathaoirleach Mark Daly.
After rejecting the offer last October, the pay dispute returned to the WRC, where a conciliation meeting was held in January and another is scheduled for next month.
Murphy, like most other SAs, is eager to find a solution. “I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for the workers outside of this place trying to campaign for better pay from the outside and we’re trying to do it from the inside and we don’t seem to not get traction,” she said.