Comment & Analysis
Sep 15, 2022

Student Representatives Must Stand in Solidarity with Precarious Staff

With their unique voice as the go-between for students and college bodies, student representatives have the opportunity to change the system, writes László Molnárfi.

László MolnárfiContributing Writer
Corinne Mahon for The University Times

In recent years there has been an increase in casualised staff in colleges as a result of the chronic underfunding of the third-level sector. Trinity itself has employed over 2,500 staff on casualised, short-term and hourly-paid contracts. As a result, many people employed by these institutions face precarious working conditions and uncertain times. Precarious workers include anyone who faces insecure working conditions, leaving them vulnerable to underpayment and a high risk of unemployment. For a university (and this list is non-exhaustive), these may include teaching staff, tutors, researchers, cleaners, hospitality and administrative staff.

The 5,500 postgraduates in Trinity exist in a space between students and employees as they are often paid to teach on top of their research, but many of them are required to take on unpaid teaching work to receive their stipends and have their fees paid. This teaching work can take up hours outside of class time between preparing materials, planning lessons and marking assignments, but when pay is received (if it is received at all) and averaged out across the hours worked, it amounts to less than the minimum hourly wage.

For someone on the €28.71 scale, this amounts to €9.57 per hour


Though many receive some form of stipend to support them while doing their research, whether this be from a funding agency such as the Irish Research Council or from the university, these stipends are often not enough to survive on by themselves. Indeed, in some faculties in Trinity, stipends as low as €6,500 have been advertised to prospective PhD students.

Trinity’s pay rate for tutorials and seminars ranges from €28.71 to €37 per hour, but to calculate the actual amount of money made, this needs to be divided by three because each class has an hour of preparation, an hour of teaching and an hour of marking. For someone on the €28.71 scale, this amounts to €9.57 per hour.

Casualisation also affects other teaching staff. The average rate of casualisation in Irish universities is 50 per cent, with 80 per cent of all researchers being on temporary contracts, often paid less than €10,000 a year. There are a variety of casual contracts they may be on, ranging from being paid per class to employed on three-year contracts, and the average length of time spent in precarious conditions is 7.1 years for women and 5.7 years for men. Many workers have endured these conditions for a decade or more, leading to financial difficulties, poverty and stress. Professional staff face their contracts being terminated if costs are too high in addition to a lower rate of pay.

This teaching work can take up hours outside of class time between preparing materials, planning lessons and marking assignments

It is for all these reasons that student representatives such as the School Convenors within Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) need to be active in standing in solidarity with staff. They have a unique voice on committees as they are not employed by Trinity and act as a point of contact between students and College officials. They can start a conversation about the reasons behind the administrative and academic difficulties faced by many students and staff. Everyone at Trinity plays a role in shaping student learning conditions, from the cleaners to security staff to the lecturers themselves, and they should all be given the respect they deserve.

Overall, student representatives need to develop links with organisations such as the PhD’s Collective Action Union (PCAU) and the Postgraduate Workers’ Alliance Ireland (PWAI) in order to improve conditions for professional and academic staff. In the end, we are all fighting against the same system – if we band together, we just might be able to fix it.

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