After months of negotiations with trade unions, the College has put forward a proposal for the staffing of new buildings, with a surge in contract staff sparking criticism among Estates and Facilities staff.
SIPTU members have been voting over the last few weeks on a proposal from College outlining plans for new Estates and Facilities hires for the next four years.
The proposal was drawn up by the Facilities and Services staff–management forum, aiming to create a new “service delivery model” that would “deliver the best facility management services possible to the University estate with the resources available”, according to documents obtained by The University Times.
The College is hoping to hire an extra nine full-time-equivalent staff members, including housekeepers, attendants, maintenance staff and security officers by 2023 – on top of the 191 Trinity staff members as of 2016. An extra 29 full-time-equivalent staff posts will be filled by sub-contractors – 75 per cent of all new hires.
An email from Mary Leahy, an Employee Relations Team Leader in Human Resources, sent to SIPTU Sector Organiser Karl Byrne, obtained by The University Times, said that “there is no further scope to move beyond the figures previously advised”.
The email also said that “the College in agreeing extra direct labour numbers in Facilities & Services are making provision for the expansion of services provided by extra direct labour positions complemented with contract partners”.
Leahy also specified that due to the passing of a deadline to open up positions, the new Business School, set to be completed next month, will be staffed “on the basis of contract partners providing the necessary facility services” until an agreement was reached.
Leahy said that if SIPTU members were to approve the proposal, the recruitment of additional Trinity staff could begin, however.
SIPTU declined to comment until the ballot of its members was over.
If the College and SIPTU fail to reach an agreement, Leahy said that the conditions of the 2011 agreement between SIPTU and Trinity over the staffing of Trinity Biomedical Science Institute (TBSI) would apply – staffing under this agreement would go to tender by facility management providers.
Speaking to The University Times on the condition of anonymity because he feared the impact on his relationship with management, a security officer, who has worked in Trinity for over a decade, said that he thought the College was “hollowing out” the professionalism of the service provided by Estates and Facilities. He described working with poorly trained and poorly paid sub-contracted staff members and the pressure this puts on Trinity’s staff who have worked in the College for years.
The security officer said that the average training provided to contracted staff was not adequate to work in Trinity, where security staff members can find themselves in unique situations, with academics, students, tourists and those passing through needing to be monitored.
He noted the deterioration in the relationship between staff and management, saying that the sense of loyalty among staff was being “whittled away slowly” by their superiors.
The security officer said that he expected the proposal would be rejected by SIPTU members, describing it as “full of traps”.
He criticised the efforts to increase flexibility in the roles of Estates and Facilities staff, explaining that staff members would be expected to perform tasks outside of their job description, with concerns that this could potentially lead to dangerous situations.
In the email from College to SIPTU, Leahy said that the Facilities and Services team will be “responsive and flexible”. The College proposal said that changes involving “new methods of working” would not “alter an individual’s current contractual arrangement”.
Speaking to The University Times, Cieran Perry, the Secretary of Unite trade union in Trinity, which does not represent the impacted staff members, said: “Any proposal which increases the amount of contractors on site, I would have serious difficulties with and even if this doesn’t affect Unite members, it will set a precedent and it will affect our members in the future.”
In an email statement to The University Times, Ken O’Doherty, the College’s Employee Relations Manager, said: “The University has been engaged in positive discussions with SIPTU on the Estates & Facilities service plan, which has culminated in the drawing up of proposals which are currently under union consideration. The University will continue to liaise with SIPTU on the matter following the conclusion of their consideration.”
Recently, following years of pressure from trade unions and a government intervention that warned the College over its preference for temporary contracts, Trinity recently backed down, handing out permanent contracts to more than 50 non-academic staff in the last year.
The College made 52 staff permanent after a guidance note from the government in 2017 and a request from SIPTU, though the union has warned that Trinity is continuing to wrongly advertise positions in certain areas and says that College’s “recruitment” is “still not following the Guidance Note properly”.
In an email statement to The University Times in January, a Trinity SIPTU representative, Maria Kelly, said another 20 of the 95 names were already on contracts of indefinite duration – a contract awarded to staff employed on fixed-term contracts for four years or more – while a further nine are still on probation. SIPTU expects these employees to be made permanent in the future.
Kelly said SIPTU is “happy with the progress to date”. She also said, however, that the union is “still not satisfied as recruitment continue to advertise positions in some areas wrongly”.
Trinity’s use of temporary contracts, as well as its refusal to replace administrative and support staff, has put it at loggerheads with unions for years.
The government’s guidance note, issued to higher education institutions in July 2017, urged universities to curb their use for the employment of administrative and support staff.
The note advised all third-level institutions that support and administrative staff should be offered permanent contracts unless they were working from a specific date, completing a specific task or working on a specific event.
The letter also informed colleges that they were expected to “offer permanent contracts” to all administrative and support staff on temporary contracts in what would be considered a permanent position.
“Immediate steps”, the letter said, should be taken to remedy such situations where this was not the case.
Kelly said SIPTU will “continue to vindicate the rights of our members until we are satisfied that the Guidance Note is being followed and our members are being treated fairly”.
In an email statement to The University Times, the College Press Officer, Caoimhe Ní Lochlainn, said that “vacancies are approved for filling in accordance with the identified needs of the university and in full compliance with legislation and government policy”.
Last year, Trinity was accused of treating staff with “disdain” by SIPTU, amid a row between College and three trade unions over the earlier start to term in September.
The Trinity branch of SIPTU voted on a motion that accuses College of failing to engage with staff concerns about the Trinity Education Project, notably the earlier start to term in September as part of the overhaul of the academic year structure.
The motion also criticised “diktats” from the heads of Trinity’s departments, as staff were asked to adapt to “changed work processes, calendar changes and timetabling of opening hours” that come with the earlier start to term.
A Labour Court ruling ended the long dispute over the additional workload caused by changes to the College’s year structure, with an extra two days of annual leave awarded on a once-off basis, to compensate for disruptions to the working schedules of staff resulting from the ongoing implementation of the Trinity Education Project.