The first Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the TCD Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation, held Friday September 1st, saw Jeffrey Seathrún Sardina elected President and the organisation’s first constitution approved.
Eighteen postgraduate students voted in the presidential election, with 94.4 per cent voting for Sardina and the remaining voters opting to reopen nominations. One hundred per cent of voters approved Sardina’s proposed constitution.
Describing himself as “very happy” to have won the election in a statement to The University Times, Sardina plans “to empower our members to win our rights”.
The government review on PhD supports came three months late, according to Sardina, and “made no meaningful suggestions regarding non-EU rights, disabled PhD rights, workers’ rights, working conditions, or the right to maternity [or] paternity leave”.
On June 26th, 2023 Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris published the independent report on supports for PhD researchers in Ireland. The report made one necessary recommendation, to take effect no later than January 1st, 2024: to increase the PhD stipend to €25,000.
This stands in contrast to the recommendation that the Department of Higher Education and the Departments of Justice and Enterprise, Trade and Employment “continue the dialogue” surrounding the challenges facing non-EU PhD students.
The challenges included in the report are visa and health insurance costs, the years spent as a PhD student not counting towards citizenship and accompanying spouses being unable to work under the ‘Stamp 2’ student visa.
Sardina argues that the independent report is “now being used to slow progress on PhD rights and pay – colleges and agencies are delaying action until there is governmental action on the report, rather than taking responsibility themselves. It has become a form of legitimised apathy, rather than a guide to implementing PhD rights.”
The now accepted constitution aims to “promote and protect” the five key principles of the national Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation: basic rights and dignity, quick action, diversity, accountability and institutional knowledge.
These principles are part of the PWO’s mission statement, which is guided by the Fair Postgraduate Researchers Agreement (FRA). The FRA, prepared by the national PWO, addresses concerns about the employee status and working conditions of postgraduate students – two areas that Minister Harris’ report contains no recommendations on.
“This is the year for action”, and the year for postgraduate rights, says Sardina. “If necessary, and based on the demands of our membership, I am entirely willing to stand up to Provost Linda Doyle and Minister Harris”, says Sardinia.
He has already shown his readiness for direct action, having encouraged and participated in disruptive protests around campus last year. For now, he plans to expand his team by calling an emergency general meeting to elect the PWO’s Executive Board and Steering Committee members.
Sardina previously served as the Irish Language Editor and the Chair of the Editorial Board of The University Times.