The Postgraduate Workers Organisation (PWO) has announced that they will be marching to the Dáil to demand better working conditions and the rights described in the Fair Postgraduate Research Agreement (FRA).
The protest follows a number of actions taken by the PhDs’ Collective Action Union (PCAU), now merged with the Postgraduate Workers Alliance of Ireland (PGWA) to become the PWO, between September and December of last year. The group previously staged a protest in September calling for a minimum liveable stipend of €28k.
The group will be demanding “a full and immediate implementation” of the FRA, whose core demands stipulate the right to a living wage of €28k, recognition of employee status under the law and equity for researchers, especially with regard to non-EU researchers.
In a press statement, the PWO stated that “after 6 months of no meaningful reform and a three-month delay in Harris’s promised PhD review, it is the opinion of the PWO that Minister Harris and the HEA have no sincere intent to meaningfully change the hardships forced upon postgraduate researchers (PGRs)”.
“It is in the opinion of the PWO that the government is abjectly taking advantage of all PGRs in Ireland, where even the highest-paid almost always earn 22 per cent under minimum wage for full-time research, with no parental leave, sick leave, or other employees rights”, they continued.
“PGRs, who form the backbone of the Irish higher education system by serving as TAs, demonstrators, markers, invigilators, and tutors, are being forced out of Ireland because of these abusive conditions.”
“Without immediate change, all of higher education in Ireland will face a crisis-level shortage of workers at research, teaching, marking, and invigilation levels”, they finished.
In the same press release, Rory Burke, a member of the University College Dublin (UCD) branch of the PWO, said: “We are demonstrating here today because years of neglect and exploitation of postgraduate workers has left us as individuals, and the entire higher education sector on the brink of collapse”.
He added: “PhD stipends have seen virtually no increase in over a decade, while the cost of living in Ireland has increased relentlessly. In addition, because we are not classed as workers, we have been left behind by most of the tax based cost of living reliefs offered in the last year”.
“On top of this, our non-EU colleagues are subjected to numerous additional costs to maintain their visa status, as well as extortionate university fees. We believe the only acceptable outcome from this government review is for PhD researchers to be granted a living wage and full workers status, and we are here today on behalf of all of our PGR colleagues to demand that the necessary changes are implemented as soon as possible.”
Matt Murtagh, former Data Officer for the PCAU and current member of the PWO, added: “PhD researchers are the most fundamental and yet most neglected workers in the Irish University – we write papers, teach students, supervise labs, invigilate exams and mark assignments, all for salaries below the national minimum wage, a measure designed to keep people out of poverty.
“With this demonstration we say to the department of further and higher education that we cannot tolerate this position any longer, and demand fair wages, maternity leave, sick leave and PRSI as a minimum standard for PhD researchers.”