Thursday, 19 November 2020
Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science: Statements
I want to first pay tribute to Maria Delaney of noteworthy.ie, who has done a series called "Academic Uncertainty", an investigation which shines a light on the precarity of university staff and the impact of that on diversity. The picture that emerges is that Irish universities are increasingly reminiscent of Edwardian, “Upstairs, Downstairs” society, with extravagant salaries for a very small minority while those actually keeping the show on the road are struggling to get by. Take the example of Trinity College, one of the top universities in the world. That reputation is built on the backs of thousands of low paid lecturers and unpaid PhD researchers. While it was found recently that the head of Trinity’s salary and benefits are so high that they breach the approved limits, the same college employs more than 2,000 non-permanent and casual lecturers. Across the country, there are more than 11,000 lecturers on temporary and casual contracts, and they are disproportionately women, often with no access to basic employment rights like maternity leave. The great and the good of university officialdom are treated like royalty while those who do the teaching and the research are left to fight for scraps.
The impact of those short-term casual contracts is lecturers unable to get a mortgage and unsure if they can cover rent for the next month, with no right to sick pay or maternity leave.
They are publicly funded universities involved in pushing a race to the bottom in working conditions.
I also want to highlight the particular exploitation of postgraduate workers taking place. Yesterday, I challenged the Taoiseach on the fact that postgraduate workers are currently expected to do hours of teaching work completely unpaid. In response, he said that not all postgraduates are workers. I also got a reply from the Minister that those hours spent teaching are not considered employment services. That underlines the lack of respect that is shown to those workers. Not only is their research work not considered work but many are not even paid for the teaching hours they do. Shamefully, because they are not recognised as workers they are not even allowed to join a trade union. That is the reason postgraduate workers are getting organised. My office is assisting them by helping to draw them together and to campaign. It is time to draw a line in the sand and demand respect and a living wage for postgraduate workers.