The Post-Graduate Workers’ Alliance at the National University Ireland Galway (PGWA NUIG) sent an open letter to the college president Donal Leech and the Minister for Further Education Simon Harris last night, affirming that they refuse to perform any unpaid labour for the college.
The letter is an acknowledgment of an email sent out by the university on September 16 stating that postgraduate students may have to make a “teaching contribution” without being paid. The September 16 email was sent out 12 days before most postgraduate researchers were due to start their courses.
Signed by more than 100 postgraduates, the letter follows a four-month old petition, itself signed by over 400 people.
In the initial petition, the PGWA submitted 10 demands to the president of the college, including those for fair and standardised payments and recognising researchers as workers at the university.
NUIG is a signatory to the European Charter for Researchers, from which it has the duty to “adequately remunerate” any teaching duties, to recognise researchers as professionals and to ensure that teaching responsibilities are not excessive.
The email confirming the policy of post-graduates not being paid for their teaching labour at NUIG provoked social media activity, especially as Covid-19 has exacerbated the financial difficulties of postgraduates.
Over the last decade, austerity-driven cuts to funding and a lack of increase in average stipends, complicated by a non-standardised funding system for postgraduate education, have made it difficult for PhDs to cover their cost of living.
PGWA NUIG works mostly against the casualisation of academic labour: the tendency of academic employers to use short-term and/or zero-hours contracts with few benefits such as sick leave. Post-graduate researchers are particularly vulnerable to casualisation as the university that they study at is their only potential academic employer.