Please see text of correspondence which has been sent to the Principal Officer, Department of Education & Skills on Monday 20th April 2020.
To: Principal Officer,
Department of Education & Skills,
I am writing to you and to all concerned in one letter because I believe that the issues I am raising can only be addressed and resolved on a unified basis across the entirety of the University Sector.
I am copying this letter to SIPTU, UNITE and the TUI as I recognise that these unions also represent academic, research and library staff in our universities and we would be very happy for them to engage in the conversation that we feel is vitally necessary to occur as soon as practicable.
I would like to acknowledge the positive and helpful responses which IFUT has already received from the various HR Departments to whom we have written recently seeking certain practical and policy responses to the current crisis.
We would request that formal consultation procedures should be immediately established to deal with all pandemic-related issues.
To set the scene for the sort of conversation which IFUT feels needs to take place, perhaps it might be useful if I gave you a flavour of the type and range of concerns which our members have been communicating to IFUT at both Local Branch and at Head Office level.
Staff Welfare Issues:
- Staff trying to work at home during crisis, while also having caring responsibilities with over-arching risk of ill health.
- Heightened sense of activity monitoring.
- Fears and anxieties of students being taken on by supportive staff engaged in pastoral work.
- Anxieties regarding redeployment/temporary reassignments.
General Staffing Issues:
- Status of casually employed and part time contract staff.
- Potential threatened redundancies for non-secure staff due to income crisis.
- Potential delays to honouring entitlements to CIDs.
- Delays to promotion rounds.
- Delays to opening the rounds of Progression Across the Bar.
Staff Workload Issues:
- “Always-on” scenario of online teaching and learning
- Risk of attempts to normalise practices adopted in extraordinary circumstances
- Significant increase in metricisation of academic work
- Extended examination periods impacting on ability to take leave allowances over Summer
- Inflexibility surrounding examination board dates. All else has changed but these
Obviously, we are not asking any of you to endorse or support any of the above, we are listing them to give you a flavour of the concerns and preoccupations of staff at this very challenging time for all.
What we do suggest as items for engagement and discussion between us would include the following;
- Workload, working conditions and resulting stress: staff have been asked to take on a wide range of new work around online teaching, online exams and student support; staff are working under difficult conditions while balancing work-life commitments, often with poor communications and computer services.
- Annual leave: limit on carry-over should be lifted this year. We would also wish to discuss the impact of the changes which have already occurred on this year’s annual leave entitlement.
- Vulnerable position of casual and contract staff: such staff provide vital services to the operation of the universities but now are faced with the potential of loss of teaching hours, non-renewal of contracts and limited access to university IT services. IFUT will oppose any redundancies or reduction of hours for precarious workers and insist on negotiations around any proposed changes to staffing-levels. We expect all obligations in terms of CID entitlements to be honoured in full.
- Waiver of all unessential submissions/returns/measurements such as Academic Workload Measurements, Consultancy submissions etc.
- Performance reviews (including student feedback on modules) to be optional and all assumed to be performing above expectations unless problems have been raised.
- Remove inequity in pay-scales for junior academic staff (who have kept the online Teaching, Learning and Examining going throughout this crisis), so that the progression bar is removed in institutions where this applies and pay-scales are aligned in institutions where junior academics are on different scales (above and below the bar) whilst doing the same job.
- Research: Many publicly-funded research projects have been halted or significantly affected by the current lockdown. No-cost extensions to project timescales may address some of these difficulties but will not make up for salaries and other fixed-costs currently being incurred. IFUT calls on the universities, the research councils and all stakeholders to explore options for emergency funding to ensure that all research projects can achieve their objectives. Where possible, key staff must be given access to labs and other facilities to ensure that critical processes are continued.
- Redeployment: while recognising the need for redeployment of suitably qualified staff in this time of crisis, we are also aware that substantial progress has been made through voluntary arrangements. Our members are understandably anxious about any compulsory redeployment, and IFUT expects meaningful consultation by the higher-education institutions before any redeployment is implemented.
- Next academic year: numerous challenges await in the new academic year, including delayed intake of first-year students and the impact on working practices. IFUT seeks a united approach across the sector, supported by all stakeholders, and will insist on negotiation around significant changes in established work practices associated with an abnormal academic cycle.
- Emergency funding to the sector: the envisaged collapse of income from foreign students, accommodation services, summer schools, research councils and other non-exchequer sources will greatly exacerbate the financial crisis already facing the sector. IFUT is committed to working with the universities, government and all other stakeholders to find solutions to the current funding shortfall – through, for example, an emergency package for the sector – as part of efforts to ensure a long-term sustainable funding model for higher education in Ireland.
It would be greatly appreciated if you could respond as soon as possible and indicate your willingness to engage with this suggested agenda (we are, of course open to the inclusion of other items and topics). Assuming there is such a willingness we can discuss and arrange the most suitable physical arrangements for the conversation.
cc: Human Resources Departments:
cc: Union Representatives: