NUIG resorting to low-paid agency staff, says SIPTU

The “unfair and discriminatory” employment practices at NUI Galway were highlighted at a trade union conference in Dublin last week, which focused on precarious employment in higher education.

SIPTU’s seminar at Liberty Hall shone a spotlight on unsavoury work practices at NUIG, which are said to be widespread in Ireland’s universities and colleges.

The trade union has launched a national campaign to tackle precarious employment in the sector.

“This campaign is prompted by the spotlight shone on unfair and discriminatory employment practices at NUIG over the last two years. While it is a sector-wide probably, NUIG is, once again, among the worst offenders,” Maggie Ronayne, SIPTU Equality Committee spokesperson at NUIG.

Precarious employment can take many forms. It includes the outsourcing of jobs such as cleaning and grounds staff, and the rapid acceleration of low-paid agency workers instead of secure administrative staff.

Other instances include the routine use of repeat fixed-term contracts to prevent people becoming entitled to permanent positions. It also includes discrimination against teaching and research staff on Contracts of Indefinite Duration’ (CIDs) although these are permanent contracts; and precarious teaching and research contracts including casualisation of work and zero hours’ contracts.

Examples of some or all of the above, which have happened or continue to occur at NUIG, were highlighted at the conference.

The discrepancy between contract cleaners and those employed by NUIG was highlighted by SIPTU.

“Cleaners employed by the university directly make €15 to €17 per hour depending on when they began employment, while their private sector colleagues, doing essentially the same work, make €9.75, barely above the minimum wage,” the seminar was told.

Meanwhile, ground staff at NUIG have not been replaced. “In the past year, the numbers directly employed have gone from seven to four, with the remaining staff trying to cover the same workload.”

Data released under the Freedom of Information Act show that some €1.22 million was paid by NUIG in 2015 to a private cleaning contractor; and a further €169,000 was paid to a contracted landscaping company for six months.

Increasingly, low-paid agency staff are used by NUIG instead of permanent administrative posts. According to information received by SIPTU, through FOI, spending on temporary administrative staff from agencies more than doubled from 2013 to 2015, increasing from €980,346 to €2,166,697.

The spend on temporary administrative staff from ICE increased from €980,346 in 2013 to €1,748,003 in 2015. Unijobs, a jobs agency, was used to recruit temporary staff for exam invigilation and a registration hotline from 2014 onwards. In 2014 the spend was €93,194 while in 2015 the spend was €418,694.

According to SIPTU, there are problems with CID contracts also. A CID is a permanent contract but CID staff at NUIG experience diminished terms and status which creates financial insecurity and future career and job insecurity, according to SIPTU.

It claims to have evidence of a variety of forms of unfair treatment and inequity including that some staff are working without payment for the summer months.

A number, particularly those on teaching contracts, are working for wages well below the average industrial wage, which the trade union says it is pursuing.

The seminar also highlighted a “rapid growth” in the numbers of academics on precarious contracts or employed on a casual basis in higher education in Ireland.

NUIG appears to employ a very high number of staff on a casual basis, according to SIPTU, which received information under FOI showing that the number of staff completing a timesheet in order to get paid is 1,842, a large number of whom are likely to be casually employed.

Figures in the Cush Report into employment at third level show that NUIG said in 2015 it employed 1,646 teaching staff who it describes as hourly paid equating to 85.6 full-time equivalents.

“There are many examples of the precarious nature of part time employment. At NUIG, many members on part time contracts report pressure to carry out full time workloads,” the seminar was told.

Dr James Browne, NUIG president, in a recent interview with its alumni magazine, Cois Coiribe, said he is confident the university is now ‘doing the right thing’ on gender equality.

But NUIG’s SIPTU members, who attended the conference this week, said the university has a long way to go on precarious employment, which disproportionately discriminates against women workers.

“I really think that the reaction of NUIG management has been spin, spin and more spin. Management has always seen the discrimination problem as a public relations problem that can be solved through PR.

“What Jim Browne was quoted as saying last week, that the university is on the right track on the discrimination issue, is worlds apart from what our members are experiencing,” said Maggie Ronayne, SIPTU Equality Committee spokesperson at NUIG.