GSU backs PhD Workers Rights group despite President’s opposition

The GSU also voted against a motion to refrain from pay cut protests until after finance committee decision, with the organisation’s President and Vice-President divided on both votes

Trinity’s Graduate Student Union (GSU) Council have tonight voted for the union to support the TCD PhD Workers Rights campaign group.

The motion to support the group was voted for by a majority of the union’s Council.

The TCD PhD Workers Rights Group was established in October of last year by postgraduate students Tom Dinneen and Conchuir Ó Raidaigh. Among the group’s central aims are the recognition of PhD students as workers, with contracts and full employee and collective bargaining rights; an end to unpaid teaching; and PhD stipends based on the living wage.

Proposing the motion, Thomas Dinneen said the “system in Ireland is outdated and fails PhD students” and that “to support this motion is to support demand for full working rights”.

Katarzyna Siewierska, the GSU’s Physics Rep questioned why the GSU should offer unquestioning support given that the group’s members are “not elected”.

Dinneen responded saying the group was looking to “collaborate” with the GSU “not dictate to it”.
Multiple speakers raised concerns about committing the GSU to certain direct actions, with one stating “I don’t know what I’m signing up for”.

GSU President Shaz Oye stated that “there is not an antagonistic relationship” between the GSU and the TCD PhD Workers Rights Group and she agreed with most of their demands, but she was concerned with the motion committing the GSU to stand “with the group’s members who take direct action”, given that if the groups members were divided it left the GSU in an ambitious position. She also stated that she has to represent all 1500 PhDs in Trinity and not just those who are in the group.

Oye noted that if she were to vote for the motion she “would to some extent be ceding” her democratic mandate “to an unelected group”.

Another speaker supporting the motion stated that they were in a “middle ground” between being a student and a worker “where we are not being represented correctly, because we are not students”.

The GSU Vice-President Gisèle Scanlon questioned why it had taken so long for the GSU to have an opportunity to vote on supporting the group.

Many of the group’s demands relate to accommodation. The establishment of dedicated postgraduate supports like a rent subsidy scheme and publicly funded construction of accommodation for postgraduates, are among their goals.

The GSU also voted against a motion stating that the union should take no further direct action regarding the reduction of hourly rate for teaching practical classes on casual pay roll “until after the Financial Committee discusses the matter at their next committee and makes a decision”.

Proposing the motion Katarzyna Siewierska, said that since the first protest had been responded to “very positively” by the finance committee that going forward the union should pursue “more diplomatic” routes and should not use its “heavy artillery” at every opportunity.

Another speaker agreed saying that the union seeming to look “militant” would lead to College “digging their heels in”.

Speaking against the motion, Serena Foo, GSU Research Officer and member of the PhD Workers Rights Group said that she “completely opposed” the motion.

Another speaker raised concerns saying: “If something does come up we should be able to protest and this motion would prevent us from doing that”, with another stating: “It will tie our hands”.

Gisèle Scanlon also spoke against the motion, arguing that it was “redundant” and “might send the wrong message altogether”.

The motion was defeated by a majority vote, with the union’s President and Vice President once again divided with Oye among those voting for it and Scanlon voting against it.

In early February Trinity’s finance committee reversed a decision to cut the pay of casual staff who work as lab demonstrators, deferring a final decision on the matter to a future meeting.

Finn Purdy

Finn Purdy

Finn Purdy is the current News Editor for Trinity News. He is a Senior Fresh English Literature student, and a former Assistant News Editor.

Maggie Larson

Maggie Larson is a Deputy Societies Editor for Trinity News.