Independent PhD union calls for employee status and living wage for postgraduate researchers

The PhD’s Collective Action Union have drafted a list of demands to be submitted to the government review of supports for postgraduate researchers

The PhD’s Collective Action Union (PCAU) have included employee status, a living wage, and positive working conditions for all postgraduate workers among their demands for the government review of supports for PhD researchers.

Entitled the Fair Postgraduate Researcher Agreement (FRA), the campaign group have drafted a document to be submitted to the review, which was announced by government last month.

According to the document: “It is the core belief of the PhDs’ Collective Action Union (PCAU) that all postgraduate researchers in Ireland should be recognised as – and offered the rights and protections of – employees under Irish Law.”

It calls for introduction of a living wage based on the Minimum Essential Standards (MES), a model created by a group of researchers to establish “a wage which makes possible a minimum acceptable standard of living” in Ireland.

The FRA also calls for a guarantee of equitable treatment of non-EU students, and to be hired without discrimination, for dependants of postgraduate workers to have full working rights in Ireland, as well as the facilitation of positive supervisor-supervisee relationships.

The document was written by the executive of the PCAU, and was discussed by members at a town hall meeting of the union last Friday.

According to the PCAU, points of discussion from the town hall will be reflected in a revised draft of the agreement, which will then be submitted to the state review of PhD supports.

In a statement to Trinity News, the PCAU said: “In his announcement of the upcoming review, minister Simon Harris promised ‘to engage with relevant stakeholders including PhD researchers’. At minimum we expect Mr. Harris to take this FRA into serious consideration.”

The statement continued: “In addition, we have been petitioning to meet with Mr Harris since July of this year, and we are still waiting for an opportunity to meet with the minister to discuss the issues facing postgraduate researchers in Ireland today.”

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris last month announced the national review of state supports for PhD researchers, which will include an evaluation of current financial supports that are in place.

The review will also consider employment status for PhD researchers, graduate outcomes or “return on investment” for PhD graduates, and visa requirements and duration for non-EU students.

Founded earlier this year, PCAU is a self-organised group of PhD students campaigning for fair treatment of PhD researchers. It is distinct from the Postgraduate Workers Alliance (PGWA) and independent of any national or local students’ union.

In September, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) joined the PCAU in a protest outside the Dáil calling for an increase of PhD stipends to €28,000 a year.

This was also a key demand of USI’s national Student Walkout which took place last month.

Government last week announced Dr Andrea Johnson and David Cagney as co-chairs of the national review of state supports for PhD researchers.

The review will begin in November, and is due to be completed in early 2023.

David Wolfe

David Wolfe is a Junior Sophister student of History and Political Science. He is the current Social Media and Managing Editor of Trinity News, having previously served as News Editor, Assistant News Editor and copyeditor.