The report discusses the views expressed by relevant stakeholders, including relevant trade unions, institutes of technology and universities and makes a number of recommendations limiting the use of fixed-term and part-time contracts beyond the restrictions already imposed by statute and the Haddington Road Agreement.
While it is acknowledged in the report that the demand for part-time work is often based on a request from a full time academic to reduce hours to part-time, and while it is a feature of third level education that career breaks are often facilitated generating a need for fixed-term contracts, little regard seems to be placed on these factors in the recommendations. The report also acknowledged that adjunct teaching staff are often used where there is a need for supplementary teaching capacity. The recommendations fail to acknowledge that for such adjunct teaching staff, the university is not their primary employer and their work for the university is in addition to their main employment.
Instead of addressing these various issues in their totality, a more blunt approach is adopted; it is proposed that the qualification period for the granting of a contract of indefinite duration following a period of continuous employment on fixed term contracts be reduced from the three year period required by the Haddington Road Agreement to two years only. The author of the report takes it as a given that the qualification period is being reduced from four to three years under the Haddington Road Agreement. This is notwithstanding the fact that the Expert Group’s terms of reference specifically required it to report on this matter. Without full consideration of the proposed reduction from four to three years, the report’s author proposes a further reduction from three years to two years. The period of time required by the Protection of Employees (Fixed-term Work) Act 2003 is four years.
The report also recommends that as additional hours become available in a particular course, they be offered by default to existing “qualified” part-time lecturers. While this might at first glance seem a reasonable approach, Ibec is concerned that this proposal will create a new area of possible contention where there may be a dispute as to whether an individual lecturer is “qualified” to teach these additional hours. The report also suggests that where additional hours are awarded to an existing employee, the qualification period before the employee becomes entitled to those hours on a permanent basis be reduced to one year only.
The concern is that these recommendations make no allowance for the fact that the popularity of certain courses can ebb and flow, and industrial relations norms within many third level institutions make it almost impossible to adapt where a course drops significantly in demand, requiring a reduction in teaching hours or even the elimination of the post through redundancy. Reference is made in the report to a review period of five years. Given the challenges facing the third level sector in terms both of funding and competition internationally, these recommendations, if adopted, will further shackle a sector already operating under severe constraints.
Monday, 30 May 2016