The Trinity Postgraduate Workers’ Alliance (TCD PGWA) have published an open letter to the Provost on behalf of PhD researchers in the School of Physics calling for support for an increase in the rate of PhD research stipends.
The letter, written by PhD researchers and staff members in the School of Physics, requests that the Provost take immediate action to engage with the ongoing review of PhD supports in Ireland and to call for a liveable stipend.
The letter states that: “With the national review of state support for PhD researchers on the horizon, we believe you have an important part to play in ensuring a fair and equitable review process that leads to meaningful change”.
The demands in the letter include “a public and official statement expressing your support for the immediate issuance of a living wage pay for all current and incoming PhD researchers, regardless of their source of funding” as well as regulation that ensures that “all PhD teaching assistant work at Trinity College are paid per hour in addition to the stipend”.
It also requests that the Provost attend a meeting “with representatives from the [School of Physics] PhD researchers, the Dean of Graduate Studies and Head of [the School of Physics], to discuss how the above points can be best met and how Trinity College can support PhD researchers in their campaign for worker status”.
The School of Physics also state in the letter that “similar requests” for public support of the stipend increase “have also been raised with the Irish Research Council (IRC), Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), and other organisations responsible for the stipends received by PhD researchers in Ireland”.
“We believe that Trinity acknowledges the huge contribution of their PhD researchers and ask you to explicitly and publicly show your support of their right to employment status and a livable, taxed salary adjusted for inflation and seniority.”
The letter further outlines that the current maximum stipend for PhD researchers in the School of Physics in Trinity is capped at €18.5k per year, which is below the Irish minimum wage.
“The recent government defined the living wage as €12.90 per hour. The Irish Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland stipends fall drastically short of this, with the average PhD researcher receiving about €8.90 per hour”, the letter continues.
The letter ends by stating: “After years of underinvestment, Irish universities and the Irish government must act to maintain and grow the research landscape in Ireland”.
In an email statement to The University Times on the reason why the letter was written, PGWA said: “In light of the precarious financial situation faced by PhD researcher and the current cost of living crisis, as well as the Government’s announcement of the National Review of PhD supports, the PhD researchers in the School of Physics wrote this letter to Provost Linda Doyle asking for Trinity College to officially support our campaign for a living wage”.
They added that the letter “is backed by several principal investigators and staff in the [School of Physics] by signatures” and that they are “asking for a meeting with the Provost herself, Dean of Graduate Studies and Head of [the School of Physics] to discuss how the above points can be best met and how Trinity College can support PhD researchers in their campaign for worker status”.
“We believe that Trinity acknowledges the huge contribution of their PhD researchers, and also strongly believe that Trinity’s public and official support of our campaign would be crucial for the result of the Government’s review being a fair and lasting betterment of the conditions for PhD researchers in Ireland”, the statement finished.
The letter comes after it was revealed by PGWA and the PhDs’ Collective Action Union (PCAU) that the €500 one-off payment promised to SFI and IRC-funded PhD students in Budget 2023 would be delayed, with some institutions setting a date in December and others saying that the money may not be paid until January 2023.
An email sent to the heads of SFI and the IRC by PCAU and PGWA revealed that “there have been conflicting answers from universities, departments and centres for research training on the matter” with some being told the payment “will ‘likely’ be on the December payroll, with others not expecting it to arrive until 2023”.
The email added: “Given that the maximum annual stipend of a PhD researcher in this country is more than €3,000 below minimum wage, and PhDs do not have any workers’ rights or protections, you can understand that many of our members are concerned about the coming winter and the cost of living crisis”.
“While €500 may not be a large payment, many of our members live on the margins, and this could mean the difference between paying rent or heating a house. Given the promise of this payment in 2022, many have factored it into their budgets.”
“The PCAU expects your organisation to live up to this promise to ensure that PhD researchers remain in their homes this winter”, the letter continued, “and do not have to make difficult decisions on heating, food, and basic necessities”.
The email finished by requesting clarification on “i) whether this payment will be provided to PhD researchers in 2022 as promised and ii) when PhD researchers can expect this payment to reach their accounts”.