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PhD Students Petition for Better Working Conditions

In April 2019 UCD has seen the emergence of a new independent organisation called Anti-Casualisation (AC). Although primarily led by PhD students, the movement has received much success within the university environment, appealing to all precarious and casual workers such as tutors and researchers. At the moment, the working conditions these casual workers share and have to work with appear not at the top of the university agenda. This may be why the movement has found a great resonance within UCD. 

Representatives of the group have shared that the pressing issue of AC is that PhD people are primarily considered students by the executive instead of being acknowledged a hybrid status of being both students and workers. According to a spokesperson of the organization, this is the main reason why “it’s pretty hard for PhD students to ask for any better conditions because you can’t technically unionise.” So far, the members of AC have launched a petition which has been receiving a large support from all bodies of the university from students to professors who sympathise with their cause and agree with their demands. Figures are expected to be over 1000 in number of people who have signed in support of the improvement of casual workers’ conditions.

The main concern for Anti-Casualisation members have been paid rates, as they have remained stagnant since the financial crisis. The following cuts in funding and salaries by the Irish government deteriorated the working conditions of PhD students whose hourly rates witnessed a decrease after the recession period in 2010/2011 and have since then not seen any upgrading. For example, grading essays is going to be evaluated and paid according to the 2011 rate of €1.04 as shown on the UCD website in the hourly paid rate section. In the meantime, inflation and living costs have gone up making it difficult for PhD students to financially cope with the situation. Indeed, it is not unusual for many of them to have second jobs due to the weak structure of university contracts. 

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Such precarious conditions have a detrimental impact on the quality of their research work but also on teaching as they are affecting PhD students’ mental health. This results in reduced preparation for tutorials or limited engagement with the marking of assignments. Since UCD is not adequately paying the activities of PhD students as well as additional tasks, the work is quickly finished so that “reliability becomes an issue” admit representatives of AC. The overall situation experienced by casual workers is “demoralising” because although they feel a strong sense of commitment towards the education of their students, “you are not fulfilling your role as a tutor or as a teacher” they explain. 

In fact, the scholarships provided for PhD students do not cover the whole teaching hours and are not complying with the norms laid out by the Irish Research Council (IRC), the institutional body providing funds for researchers. In addition to demanding proportionate compensation for the work done, the anti-casualisation movement is also asking for pay parity across the departments, since scholarships fluctuate between €14,000 and €18,000 at the highest, but many PhD students are earning less than these amounts. 

Above all what the AC group is calling for is fair pay through a pay rise in order to perform a job accurately. These are the primary goals of the movement supported by the petition which has been crucial in establishing a solid ground “before we approach the central administration” remarked representatives of the group.

 

Alessia Mennitto – Reporter

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