Trinity’s trade unions are expecting a decision this week on College’s reaction to the government’s advice on fixed-term contracts, which called on Irish universities to end the improper use of such contracts.
In early October, the three major unions in Trinity met with the new Human Resources Director, Antoinette Quinn, to discuss Trinity’s implementations of the government recommendations. The union heads were informed that Provost Patrick Prendergast and College’s executive officers were due to discuss the issue and would be updated on any decisions made.
Speaking to The University Times by email, Trinity’s Unite representative, Cieran Perry, said that “as the recommendations are so clear I would expect Management in Trinity to agree to abide by them”. He described the “depth of anger evident among staff”, and stated that he believes “the campaign run by the unions internally and externally have clearly had an effect” in bringing attention to the number of staff on fixed-term contracts.
The contracts affect both academic and administrative staff. Trinity, like other universities in Ireland and the UK, has become increasingly reliant on temporary contracts. Since January, a dispute between Trinity’s three trade unions has been fought in the Labour Courts and the Workplace Relations Commission after Trinity decided it would no longer offer permanent contracts to non-academic and administrative staff.
The timing of the government recommendations was highly significant. By coming out against the widespread use of temporary contracts, it vindicated many of the arguments of Trinity’s trade unions.
In March, The University Times reported that 38 per cent of staff in the College are employed on fixed-term contracts, 63 per cent of which are non-academic staff. Trinity’s three trade unions – the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT), SIPTU and Unite – have been vying for permanent contracts for months, as well as a range of other issues.
Following a vote in April, 90 per cent of IFUT members were found to be in favour of taking strike action against the College over implementation of temporary contracts. This came following proposals for strike action from SIPTU and Unite, with 72 per cent of SIPTU members in favour of striking. The planned strike was later postponed, pending this government advice.
In a letter to universities around the country dated August 4th, the Department of Education and Skills advised collegial administrations against the use of fixed-term contracts and aimed “to provide for the removal of discrimination against long-term workers”. Despite calls for reform since, the advice given is not legally binding and Trinity has not yet shown signs of complying with the department’s wishes.
In September, Trinity ran a final round of promotions for both administrative and support staff. The dispute was complicated somewhat by the departure of Trinity’s Director of HR, Kate Malone, who left after less than two years in the role.