Precarious Work in Higher Education
In May, I successfully brought a motion through the Seanad, supported by my fellow NUI Senators, calling for action to tackle insecure and deteriorating working conditions in Irish universities and third-level institutions.
Proposing the motion, I spoke about how a “ladder of progression” where people might expect to move forward in their university careers had been replaced by “a slippery slope where conditions are deteriorating”. Insecure contracts are being increasingly used at every level with 11,200 lecturers in universities and higher education institutions employed on temporary or casual contracts. Many lecturers are on 9-month contracts and are forced to sign for welfare support in summer months with no guarantee of employment the following September. Others are employed on an even worse ‘if and when’ hourly basis. PhD workers also face low pay and additional challenges as they are not recognised as employees and receive no PRSI credits, cutting them off from key social benefits like maternity or paternity leave or indeed a future pension.
As I highlighted previously when launching a key TASC report on “Living with Uncertainty”, these kinds of insecure working conditions are not only damaging to individuals, limiting their ability to secure housing or plan their lives, they also have a profoundly negative impact on students, on the quality of research and teaching, on the reputation and credibility of institutions and ultimately on society.
My successful Seanad motion was strongly supported by the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT), the Irish Precarity Network and the Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation. It called on the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to work with stakeholders, including unions, to meaningfully tackle precarious work, create viable career pathways, give proper recognition to PhD workers and revise or remove the Employment Control Frameworks which restrict universities ability to hire permanent staff. The motion also recognised higher education as “a public good”, one which requires and rewards investment and has a vital contribution to make to our shared future.