Month: <span>October 2023</span>
Month: October 2023

Maynooth’s New Strategic Plan Faces Protests By Postgraduate Workers

By Lean Tolentino

Wednesday 25 October 2023

On Tuesday this week, members of the Postgraduate Worker’s Organisation (The largest Postgraduate union in Ireland boasting well over 1000 members) protested the launch of Maynooth’s New Strategic Plan by the university’s president. This is part of recent escalations nationwide by the union, which has balloted across universities in support of Collective Action. It has proven itself a militant union in its actions, rapidly growing since the merger between PhDs’ Collective Action Union (PCAU) and the Postgraduate Workers Alliance Ireland (PGWAI).

In a press release provided to us by PWO, Sian Cowman, Maynooth Student Union Doctoral Postgraduate Representative stated, “Today every PhD researcher in Maynooth University was asked to vote in a national ballot in collaboration with the PWO, on state supports and collective action. This protest shows the urgency of a change in conditions for PhD researchers in Maynooth and across Ireland.”

Several issues have recently plagued PHD researchers. The National Review for PhD supports recommended stipends of Irish Research Council (IRC) and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) researchers be raised to €25,000 per year, which is already far below minimum wage. Even in spite of this, the recent budget only increased it to €22,000. Furthermore, protesters felt that the supposed plan to make the university a “globally recognised leader in research excellence,” lacked any clarity as to how it would support the actual postgraduate researchers necessary to achieve such status. The issue of unpaid work in lectures, tutorials, lab work and research assistantship was also brought up.

Tara Ciric, Vice Chair of PWO Maynooth said “Maynooth University cannot continue forward with this Strategic Plan without clear guidance on how they plan to support PhDs. Without us, the entire research, teaching, and community outreach structures collapse… We do this all without a minimum wage, without sick leave, and without any protections that employment status should give us.”

The chair of PWO Maynooth, Bana Abu Zuluf stated, “It is important to listen to the demands of all of its PhDs stipulated in the Fair Researcher Agreement (FRA).”

The Fair Researcher Agreement is a list of demands formulated by the former components (PCAU and PGWAI) of the merger that formed the PWO, which has several demands such as a living wage and a working week that does not exceed 48 hours. The demands are also endorsed by the Union of Students of Ireland, the national union of most higher-level students of Ireland, including various constituent unions such as Maynooth University, TCD, TUD, and UCD Student Unions. Both such demands are moderate in contrast to the rights granted to most other workers, which Postgraduate researchers are not legally recognised as. Additional demands include anti-discrimination protections, according to the 2021 Race Equality Survey by the HEA (Higher Education Authority) “More than a third (35%) of staff from minority ethnic groups have been subject to racial and/or ethnic discrimination on campus or online in the course of their work.”1

This recent escalation by the Postgraduate Workers Organisation is part of a larger trend of increasing grassroots union struggle in the face of an unprecedented crisis for workers. The response by Maynooth and universities across Ireland, which currently does not appear satisfactory will set the tone for PWO’s upcoming activities.

  1. Race Equality Survey (2011) Higher Education Authority.