March 2018 Blog Entry

The Cush Blog

They say change is inevitable - except from a vending machine.

They also say that God loves a trier!  Indeed, working in a trade union like IFUT, sometimes all you can do is try, try and try again.

Often, the weight of argument against perfectly logical proposals from the ‘other’ side can be almost so overwhelming as to make any gains seem impossible to achieve.

Lack of cash … bigger priorities … existing precedents … need for further assessment …. or just pure pig iron!  These are just some of the obstacles to be overcome.

The treatment of  employment contracts and terms and conditions for hundreds of university lecturers employed on temporary contracts and occasional hours has been one such seemingly intractable issue.  For years this crisis has been expanding and deteriorating.

At university level college managements have invested time and considerable legal expense to find ever more ingenious methods to maintain ever-increasing numbers of staff in precarious employment.

The specially commissioned Cush Report dealt with the issue back in 2016, but, like so many other reports, there was a risk that its recommendations would simply begin to gather dust.

But we’re big into getting our change - and nothing if not triers!  In the heat of the pay talks last Summer, amidst the welter of debate on pay restoration and dire warnings that there might be no agreement at all, at all, IFUT continued to raise the issue of Cush.

Not through threats and demands, but by discussing quietly and positively in the margins about how best to find a solution.

For IFUT it was not a case of seeking to force more concessions from the universities.  It was about defending the hundreds - probably thousands - of people trapped in a limbo of low pay and insecure university employment and the impact this has at a personal level on morale, on young people trying to get a mortgage and the absence of any hope for the future.

The result was an acceptance in the final Agreement of undue delays regarding establishing an Adjudicator process on the issue of fixed-term and part-time work in lecturing and a commitment by the WRC and the Education Oversight Body that the relevant employers appoint an Adjudicator.

The Department of Education and Skills has now confirmed improvements to a number of long-standing issues addressed by Cush and these new arrangements have been formally agreed between IFUT, and other university based unions, with the Irish University Association.

These include a reduction in the waiting period for eligibility to a contract of indefinite duration and sanctioning of additional hours to existing part-time lecturers.  

The Department of Education and Skills has written to the universities to confirm the implementation of recommendations, which are effective backdated to July 2016.

IFUT had earlier succeeded in securing the appointment of an Adjudicator, Kevin Duffy, former Labour Court Chair, to examine all cases which fall under the remit of the Cush Report.
The new agreement is by no means a full panacea.  But it is a major step to create more significant and stable workloads for those on part-time contracts or occasional hours.
It also represents a significant acknowledgement, at least in the university sector, that the continued drift to a ‘gig’ economy - just like change from a vending machine - is not inevitable.