IFUT’s Invaluable Advice – A Member’s Story

I held a postdoctoral CID.  However, I had been active and successfully performing the complete work load of a full time lecturer for 5 years including student supervision at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, with many successes in securing independent, competitive grant funding.  I was internationally recognised for the quality of my publications, with keynote invitations and speaker invitations to very high calibre conferences contributing to the international standing of the school/department/HEI.  My contract was odd, part rolling, part fixed-term.  As the partial fixed-term nature of the position was coming to an end, I approached HR for insights on my future.  I was informed, orally - I add, that I could be up-skilled and outsourced in the school/department/HEI for other postdoctoral work.  Needless to say, I was horrified by the response.  It negated my value, it negated my contribution to HEI and my clear established independence as a PI.  Moving HEI was not an option, my partner and family were firmly established in the city.  I had been a non-active member of IFUT for many years.  I sought advice from our local IFUT representative who provided a realistic but contrasting version of my options.  In short, at that time, unless another contract was issued, or allowed to run forward, the HEI would have no obligation to maintain me at my current position.  
My initial thoughts were towards my PhD students as well as to my standing in my area and everything that I had worked towards since my PhD.  How could I maintain a successful career going forward?  I approached my HOS to be told that there was a queue of people with positions that needed to be ratified before mine - the consequence of fixed-term contracts, where good people are in precarious positions.   
However, time was running out.  My IFUT representative offered to negotiate on my behalf and to take this to court if necessary.  The latter did not appeal to me.  To be honest, the opportunity to talk, the clarity of the advice and the follow-up by IFUT representatives was invaluable in my road forward.  I got my ducks in a row, I requested all of my HR information through FOI, it didn’t surprise me that none of the information supplied to me regarding CID was documented.  I had the difficult conversations ensuring that the support of IFUT was known.  I applied for and was deemed appointable for similar and more senior positions.  I was patient (this took 2 years) and followed a non-confrontational route, advised throughout by IFUT, I garnered support for my appointment as college lecturer, reinforced my value, and finally through intricate inching forward, support from the correct quarters and through negotiation I was appointed.  The process was frustrating and stressful, exhausting and demeaning – it was not for the faint-hearted and although there was no application to the workplace relations commission, it took another 9 months post ratification at school/department/HEI for HR to issue the final documents, terminating with the school/department manager standing over the HR representative for print out and signing.  To add insult to injury the appointment was sanctioned “below the bar”, despite requests to the contrary from department/school, thus the salary was similar to a graduate entering industry- and is capped- all that, post PhD and 10+ years of experience.   I was under the illusion that HR was a system in place for optimal interaction between employer and employee, this was not my experience.  

I am happy to say that this story ended well in terms of my appointment, but I would have given up the ghost on the back of HR conversations, if not for IFUT advice and guidance.  HEIs need to take stock at the highest level to ensure that employees are correctly informed, and are treated fairly, with dignity and as professionals.  We are not numbers, but people with careers and lives and we matter.

- Member