Department to Trinity: reinstate workers or face “consequences”

Ronan Burtenshaw

Refusal to implement Labour Court ruling brings pressure on College

The Department of Education has told College to “immediately implement” a labour court recommendation from last April to reinstate workers who had been made compulsorily redundant, in breach of the Croke Park agreement. This request, which the department says has been conveyed directly to College authorities, follows a significant escalation of the dispute over the summer.

In a statement to Trinity News, the department said that it viewed the recommendation as “both final and binding”. “This is the unequivocal position of the Department [of Education], the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the National Implementation Body [for the Croke Park agreement],” the statement continued; “… at all times it has been made clear to TCD that a rejection of the Labour Court’s Recommendation by the University is a breach of the Croke Park Agreement.” The statement concluded by saying that “consequences for TCD in refusing to implement the Labour Court’s Recommendation are under serious consideration by the Department at present.”

In response, Trinity said that it entered into the labour court process “in good faith”, but believes that the recommendation is “not binding”. “TCD is unable to implement the recommendation on reinstatement due to the precedent it would set and the risk of ensuing unsustainable costs.”

The case from April relates to three College workers, two lecturers and one library worker, who were on contracts of indefinite duration (CIDs). Their contracts were supported by what College calls “non-core” funding, or funding not derived from the Higher Education Authority’s grant. The lecturers’ union, the Irish Federation of University Teachers (Ifut), argued successfully that permanent contracts could not be made conditional on external funding and that compulsory redundancies for these workers were not permitted under the Croke Park agreement.

Ifut have responded to the latest development in the story by saying that College was inviting “an historic intervention” into its business by the Department of Education, which would have a “massive impact on its institutional autonomy”. “Up to now the state has been reluctant to impose fines or withhold funding from colleges, but TCD has now thrown down the gauntlet,” the Ifut general secretary, Mike Jennings, told Trinity News. “If they continue on this reckless path a precedent may be established that cannot be undone. This is of great concern to our members.”

Ifut’s branch in Trinity College, Dublin, known as the Trinity College Academic Staff Association, had an emergency meeting on Thursday at which it unanimously adopted a resolution to withhold co-operation from any measures of the Croke Park agreement. These measures would include constituent work practices, academic workload models, engagement with the performance management and development system, and the full economic cost system (a technical accountancy agreement).

In addition, the meeting condemned the ejection of three elected members from a meeting of College’s Board on Wednesday evening. According to Ifut, these members were singled out because they were officials with the union. Mr Jennings said that they were not allowed to read statements giving their opinions on the matter and accused the board of acting “ultra vires” (beyond their powers) in an “unprecedented” manner.

Trinity News has also learned that, over the summer, four further staff members have become involved in disputes related to CIDs and compulsory redundancy. In the cases of two staff members, one being a long-standing researcher and the other a lecturer, redundancies have been implemented. In the case of the other two, a senior administrator and a lecturer, compulsory redundancy orders are seen as imminent. These cases are understood to be similar in nature to the three previously heard by the labour court.

Further, according to Ifut, College has rejected four separate invitations to attend the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) pursuant to these redundancy cases. Trinity News attempted to independently verify this through communication with the LRC, but the body has a policy of not commenting on individual cases.

A source in College has revealed to Trinity News that Ifut has distributed three separate emails to all staff members since April relating to the dispute. The communications make clear that strike action is not being considered at this point because of potential impact on uninvolved parties such as students.
Trinity’s long-standing position in the case has been that any decision which forces them to reinstate the staff would be untenable given the college’s present financial position, forcing it to replace external funding which is no longer available from within its current budget.

However, the labour court’s decision from April referenced section 1.6 of the Croke Park agreement,in which the government “gives a commitment that compulsory redundancy will not apply within the Public Service.” It recommended that College “manage any issues arising [from their reinstatement] through the flexibility, redeployment and retraining provisions set out in the Agreement” or through “voluntary redundancy”.