In recent weeks IFUT have secured a significant win in the Workplace Relations Commission in a case involving a Researcher who had been engaged on successive fixed-term contracts for over 10 years with the same employer. This case is a further example of a breach of the legislation designed to protect Researchers from engagement on successive fixed-term contracts where there is a long term requirement for their engagement. This case, taken by IFUT, under the Unfair Dismissals and the Industrial Relations legislation, has resulted in a decision to re-instate the Researcher “backdated to the dismissal”.
The member wrote the following for this Newsletter:
In 2008 I started work in the university on an 'externally' funded contract. The project I was involved in had global visibility and was of strategical importance to my university, probably single-handedly elevating my employer’s standing in the university rankings by a couple of notches. After three years we obtained another grant for five years, working on the same project. After a no-cost extension of one year my university gave me a one year contract funded by our research office. All together I was employed in this university for almost 11 years, always working in the same group/department/school and on the same project, which clearly had a fixed and permanent status. Unfortunately, the funding agency have subsequently changed their priorities; the type of basic research we carried out is no longer valued and we could not secure another grant from SFI.
Half a year before the end of my last contract I applied to my HR Department for a CID, pointing out the permanent nature of the project as well as its high international visibility. It took HR over a month to acknowledge receipt of my request and another month to let me know that “they were satisfied” that my 11 year uninterrupted service was no reason to give me a CID. Also, no severance was offered at the time.
I had been a member of IFUT for some time before I started my CID negotiations and IFUT stood by my side all the while - I'd shudder to think how long it would have taken HR to answer my e-mails otherwise.
Regardless, my HR Department did not change their position and it became necessary to invoke the WRC, claiming unfair dismissal. Again, progress was slow. I was out of a job at the end of June 2019 before any meaningful interaction had taken place. And suddenly, I was offered a (statutory) redundancy payment. The university apologized for the delay in offering redundancy, blaming it on an administrative error. I replied, suggesting that not offering me a CID was an administrative error in itself, to which HR replied within five minutes attempting to put me in my place. Curious, how fast authorities can react if they feel on the back foot.
There were plenty of group leaders across my university who would have liked to give me a job, but nobody would touch me while my CID was not sorted, one way or another. A WRC hearing was scheduled for December 2019, where I and my IFUT representative faced four agents from both my employer and my employer's representatives. The Adjudicator was equally severe to both parties, which filled me with hope. The adjudication was a complete vindication of the stance taken by IFUT on my behalf. The Adjudicator found that “the dismissal was unfair and that reinstatement backdated to the date of dismissal would be the most appropriate remedy.”
The process from the time my dispute was referred to the WRC until I received the WRC decision was too long. I endured hardship and suffering as a result of being out of work for that time. My advice for everyone is to estimate how long conflict resolution is going to take and then multiply this time five-fold. Universities always put on the poor mouth but in comparison to their employees they have virtually infinitely deep pockets and can just sit out 'the problem'. Also, HR departments do not weigh up anything other than cost. If you can make your university look (exceedingly) good, then HR is not the right place to make your point. I am thankful to IFUT for fighting for me all the way and am sure that I probably would have just gone away, as I believe was the intention if it had not been for IFUT.