The Postgraduate Workers Alliance of Ireland (PWAI) is demanding worker status, greater pay and better employment contracts with access to sick pay, holiday pay, pension contributions and parental leave for PhD and postgraduate students.
Following their launch two weeks ago, the PWAI has released a petition, outlining the key demands of their upcoming campaign.
Founded by the Trinity Postgraduate Workers’ Alliance, and postgraduate workers’ alliances in UCD and NUI Galway, the PWAI aims to lobby government and Higher Education Authority (HEA) for greater pay for postgraduates, and to campaign for improved working conditions.
In a press release on Monday, the alliance stated that one of the aims of the petition was to achieve worker status for postgraduate and PhD students. The statement claimed that whilst uncommon in Anglo-American universities, worker-status has been granted to postgraduate students in universities in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Commenting on the launch of this petition, Trinity Postgraduate Workers’ Alliance Chair Tom Dineen, wrote that “this petition seeks to create a mandate for postgraduate workers’ rights and reforms”.
He added: “This fundamental system change is desperately needed and affords postgraduate workers the respect and financial security they deserve.”
“Postgraduate workers are essential to both research and teaching in our HEIs and should be given the appropriate recognition,” Dineen continued.
He also believes that “failing to recognise postgraduate workers as workers could further increase inequality in our higher education sector, damage our research output and relegate Irish research as an outlier compared to our EU counterparts”.
The statement also highlighted the financial situations of many postgraduates. PhD and postgraduate students often earn less than minimum wage and work without rights to sick pay, pension, holiday payment or paternal leave.
The statement also cited the cost of rent in Dublin as exceeding a third of the monthly income of even the highest paid postgraduate students.
Postgraduate students are not given worker status, and are therefore unable to receive employment-based welfare or housing support.
The PWAI described “unnecessary stress” caused by this financial uncertainty and said that this leaves postgraduates vulnerable to exploitation.
The PWAI also expressed their intention to strengthen their connection with the trade union movement, as many members of the PWAI are also members of the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU).
At the time of publication, the petition in question received 273 signatures.
The PhD Workers Rights group was established in Trinity in 2019 with the aims of achieving workers status for all PhD students, greater earnings for PhD students based on the living wage and an end to unpaid teaching.
This group were also involved in campaigning for the creation of the Department of Higher Education, Innovation and Research.