College backs down in redundancy dispute

Ronan Burtenshaw

  • Year-long industrial dispute approaches resolution as Trinity agrees to re-hire staff
  • Move comes after intervention of Department of Education and threat of action by union; 
  • IFUT: issue not closed until three workers have “acceptable” deals

College authorities have backed down in the long-running industrial dispute over staff redundancies in Trinity and begun re-hiring the staff laid off in late 2011 and early 2012. The move comes as a resolution to a nine-month stalemate following a Labour Court recommendation in April 2012 which supported their reinstatement.

Trinity had previously argued that the recommendation was not binding and that, despite entering the Labour Court process in “good faith”, they were “unable to implement the recommendation on reinstatement due to the precedent it would set and the risk of ensuing unsustainable costs”. However, in a statement to Trinity News on Monday, Trinity confirmed that it “accepted” that the recommendation was “binding”.

The Irish Federation of University Lecturers (IFUT), which represented the staff, had successfully argued in the Labour Court that their contracts of indefinite duration (CIDs) were permanent and that they could therefore not be made redundant under the Croke Park Agreement. In September the Department of Education strongly backed the union’s position, warning Trinity that the recommendation was “both final and binding” and to implement the Labour Court’s recommendation “immediately” or face “consequences”.

A month later the Department revealed that Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn had secured government approval for an amendment to the 1997 Universities Act which would give him powers to “address issues which have arisen in relation to the non-adherence to elements of the Croke Park Agreement” in addition to further prerogative for intervention in the university sector.

Speaking to Trinity News IFUT General Secretary Mike Jennings said that he felt the Department’s intervention was “pivotal” to Trinity’s decision to recognise the ruling as binding. “It is unfortunate,” he said, “that such a draconian intervention was necessary to make TCD come to its senses.”

“It is unfortunate that such a draconian intervention [by the Department] was necessary to make TCD come to its senses.” – IFUT General Secretary, Mike Jennings.

He also said that the union had learned of the College’s changed stance on the recommendation after seeing communication between Trinity and the Department of Education in early December. In College’s statement they confirmed that the “decision to accept the Labour Court recommendation followed on foot of clarification from the Department of Education and the National Implementation Body of its binding status under the Public Service Agreement.”

Last January IFUT had “stalled all further engagement” with the Croke Park Agreement process in TCD following the redundancies. In November it threatened to row back on workplace reforms to increase productivity and flexibility already undertaken as part of the deal, including the full economic costing (FEC) programme, whereby union workers work with colleges to identify the cost of activities, and the academic workload model, which requires staff to record their daily activities. The union also suggested that it might refuse to assist in implementing the recommendations of the Hunt report and the report on the structure of initial teacher education provision.

The three workers at the centre of the case, lecturers in the Department of Art History and Architecture and Social Work and Social Policy and a librarian, had been in receipt of funding streams that accrued from external sources which ceased during the terms of their contracts. College had expressed concern that the Labour Court’s recommendation to manage the situation through redeployment, retraining or voluntary redundancy would place Trinity in a difficult financial position. About forty percent of Trinity’s staff are non-core-funded, or in receipt of external funding.

According to IFUT one of three staff in the Labour Court case has “resolved” their redeployment within college, pending a return from leave. Another staff member received what was described as a “concrete offer” two weeks ago while another is engaged in discussions and expected to receive a similar offer in the coming weeks.

“Similar outcomes to [this case] in future will seriously impact on the College’s strategic direction, teaching and research.” – Trinity statement

However, College still sees the reinstatement of the staff as a bad precedent, telling Trinity News that Trinity “will manage the additional costs as best it can. Similar outcomes to [this case] in future will seriously impact on the College’s strategic direction, teaching and research. The situation will be kept under regular review.”

It is unclear how College now intends to abide by the Croke Park Agreement’s guarantee that “compulsory redundancy will not apply within the Public Service”. On CIDs, Trinity’s statement said that it did “not provide blanket protection to staff who have accrued entitlement to a contract of indefinite from being made redundant” and that “the College will consider claims from staff on a case-by-case basis.”

In a further concession Trinity has agreed to enter conciliation talks in the Labour Relations Commission with five other workers on CIDs who were threatened with redundancy, saying that “the outcome of which will depend upon the relative merits of each case.” College had previously refused to engage with the process during the stalemate.

Mr. Jennings said that the union would “wait until all three claimants are in receipt of offers acceptable to them” before deeming TCD compliant with the Croke Park agreement. He added that the CID situation was “still a concern because Trinity will treat them on a case-by-case basis.” While IFUT members in TCD felt “vindicated” he said that they were “conscious” of the need to remain “vigilant in the current climate”.