At a question and answer session with students on September 6th, Provost Patrick Prendergast was asked about the use of zero-hour contracts for TAs and other teaching staff in Trinity College. Having previously endorsed the use of the JobBridge scheme, he claimed not to be aware of the use of zero-hour contracts.
This issue particularly affects postgraduate students, who are, according to the Provost, offered a stipend in exchange for their services as TAs. Zero-hour contracts mean that workers are guaranteed no work, but have to be available for work.
But Third Level Workplace Watch, an online organisation that shares information on workplace struggles in third level institutions, say their use is “likely to increase as the university seeks to cut costs.”
Speaking to Trinity News, the group criticised the provost’s lack of attention to the issue: “These [contracts] have a direct and negative effect on the experience of teaching and studying in the university, which the provost should care about. Zero-hour contracts mean difficult and stressful conditions for lecturers and teaching assistants, which undermines their ability to provide quality teaching and to provide the time and space for interaction with students.”
“Zero-hour contracts are a big issue even, surprisingly, in universities,” Mike Jennings of the Irish Federation of University Teachers told Trinity News. “A recent UK survey found that such contracts were twice as prevalent in as any other sector of employment. We welcome the provost’s statement. I hope we can interpret it as a promise not to use such exploitative forms of employment.”
However, no such promise has actually been made in Trinity as of yet, where individual departments are allowed to make their own arrangements with postgraduates.
Photo: Huda Awan