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NUIG resorting to low-paid agency staff, says SIPTU

Dara Bradley



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.


Voluntary group has taken part in 30 rescues




Members of Claddagh Watch, Donna Burke, Annmarie Heffernan, Arthur Carr, Jimmy McGovern, Eimear Gullane and Trish Keogh on their first night on patrol in March.

From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Looking out over the River Corrib on a cold clear November night has a touch of the majestic about it.

Tourists and locals alike are spellbound by its mesmerising rapids and the pulsating surges which characterise this wonderful city river.

However, a group of volunteers at Claddagh watch over the glistening waters at night for an entirely different reason – not to marvel at its beauty but to keep a much-needed eye over people’s safety in the Corrib’s surrounds.

Just over eight months after its inception, Claddagh Watch is going from strength to strength. Starting out as a three-man crew in Spring, the organisation now has a 60-person team of volunteers dedicated to keeping people out of danger around Europe’s fourth fastest-flowing city river.

The group was formed by husband-and-wife team Arthur and Deborah Carr from Galway East Life Support Suicide prevention group, along with a former member of the Irish Coast Guard Séamus Ó Fátharta, following a series of deaths along Galway waterways early in the year.

“Claddagh Watch came to fruition from three ordinary people seeing the number of people losing their lives on the waterways and realising that a simple initiative could help reduce this,” explains Séamus of the motivation behind the group.

Since March, the organisation has taken part in almost 30 rescues, aimed at preventing people entering the water. Volunteers never enter the water themselves, even in emergency situations but are instead on hand to notify and provide vital information to rescue services as soon as an incident occurs.
This is a preview only. To read the rest of this article, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. Buy a digital edition of this week’s paper here.

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Rents and rise in costs driving students to seek counselling




From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A painful rental market and increasing costs being loaded onto third level students are all contributing to increasing demand on student counselling services, according to Galway’s student leader.

President of NUI Galway Students’ Union, Clare Austick, said additional funding must be allocated to student counselling services at NUI Galway to ensure students in need of help are not turned away.

This comes after it was revealed that there had been a 21% jump in the number of students at the university seeking the support of the counselling service over the past four years.

Ms Austick said the Union of Students in Ireland, in conjunction with national mental health bodies, had run several campaigns in recent years to encourage an uptake of mental wellbeing supports on offer – but it was vital that these supports were accessible if students did take that initial step of seeking help.

“Encouraging people to reach out has resulted in an influx of people looking for counselling services and I think people are now more willing to ask for help.

“When someone finally builds up the courage to reach out for help and they’re turned away, it’s very discouraging and it might not encourage them to do it again,” said Ms Austick.
This is a preview only. To read the rest of this article, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. Buy a digital edition of this week’s paper here.

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Galway City Council boosts spend on homelessness

Denise McNamara



A homeless man sleeping in the city centre.

From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A record €12 million boost to the coffers has meant that Galway City Council’s budget will reach nearly €100 million for next year – with the bulk of the increased spending targeting homelessness and housing.

A third of the overall budget has been ringfenced for accommodation for the homeless and local authority tenants costing over €33m; with a €4.3m increase on last year to provide homeless services (to €10.7m).

An additional fund of €200,000 will be used to turn around the 44 vacant Council properties to ensure the local authority has no more than 10 properties ‘void’ at a time – a figure which other councils have managed to achieve.

One fifth of the budget will be earmarked for recreation and amenity, of which €2.8m will be used to roll out the European Capital of Culture programme and a quarter of a million euro set aside to resurface tennis and basketball courts around the suburbs.

The roads and transport sector takes up 15% of the yearly spend at €14.5m – more traffic lights will be connected to the Urban Traffic Control Centre, set to get an upgrade costing €100,000.

The cost of providing environmental services is €12m – or 12% of the funding pot – out of which €90,000 will be aimed at implementing a climate change plan.

Acting Head of Finance, Nepta Moggan, told a budget meeting this week that while there was no increase in the rate to be levied on businesses for commercial rates or householders liable for the Local Property Tax, the Council had an €800,000 bonus from increased and new valuations of commercial premises.
This is a preview only. To read the rest of this article, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. Buy a digital edition of this week’s paper here.

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