Leaders of the Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation (PWO) have said that it is essential that the government review of supports for PhD researchers is completed in time for action to be taken in this year’s budget, as the group staged a protest outside the Dáil.
Speaking at a press conference before a protest at the Dáil this morning, Eoghan Ross of TCD PWO said: “We are working to see radical changes coming in in the next budget, and to get that done, we need this review finished by the summer so that action can actually be taken on this.”
Ross continued: “If we allow them to keep putting it off and putting it off, suddenly summer becomes awesome, we miss the budget, and we are stuck in yet another year of no change and no improvement in the quality of life for PhDs.”
Ross highlighted the shortcomings of last year’s budget for postgraduate workers, who were locked out of many cost-of-living measures which relied on tax credits.
“As [PhD researchers] are on a stipend, you don’t have a tax credit so no one could obtain the tax credit for rental assistance.”
Ross added that the PWO “need to ensure that these things aren’t allowed to keep being pushed back and pushed back so that we face year after year of these issues”.
Currently, PhD researchers are classified as students, a status which the PWO say is a complete mischaracterisation of their role. Worker status and consequent entitlements to minimum wage and employment protections would allow PhDs to receive minimum wage for their work, and to pay tax which would entitle them to budgetary assistance measures.
Conor Reddy, also from Trinity, added that the organisation’s members are “terrified” of the consequences of the eviction ban being lifted, saying that many have already been served with notices to quit.
“It’s already bad enough for the thousands of people that will be thrown into homelessness – Imagine what it’s like if you’re on an income of below the minimum wage.”
Reddy said that it would be “completely impossible for PhDs to find places to live”.
“So that, and the broader cost-of-living crisis, forces the urgency of this.”
The representatives who spoke at the press conference, which also included Shauna Donoghue from TCD PWO and Ross Boyd, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Vice-President for Campaigns, went on to join a protest being staged outside the Dáil by the PWO.
The organisation were demanding a commitment from government that all recommendations from the review will be completed on time, fully budgeted for, with an implementation timeline put in place.
Ross, who is also on the National Committee of the PWO, said that the PWO has “worked tirelessly over the past few months”, to create a union “with a shared vision for the fair and equitable treatment of all key postgraduate researchers in Ireland”.
According to the PWO, the organisation has gained over over 1100 members since its creation in February, representing almost 12% of all postgraduate researchers nationally.
Ross stated that it has established groups within six universities in Ireland, with others currently in progress.
The PWO was formed from a merger of the Postgraduate Workers’ Alliance of Ireland (PGWAI) and the newer PhD’s Collective Action Union (PCAU).
“It is a group which represents some of the brightest minds of research in Ireland today, and is a group [who] is tired and fed up of being treated poorly.”
“Many of us are on stipends that were set in the early 2000s that are, at best, three-quarters of the minimum wage, and are cut off from basic rights that workers have. We have no access to parental leave, sick leave, or PRSI contributions.”