PhD union threatens strike action following “grave disappointment” of supports review

PWO’s primary grievance is with the failure of the review to properly address the status of PhD researchers, as employees or students

The Postgraduate Workers Organisation (PWO) has threatened strike action following the publication of a report on supports for researchers yesterday, which it has called a “grave disappointment”.

The organisation, which now has over 2,000 members, around 20% of all postgraduate researchers in Ireland, said yesterday that it intends to ballot all PhD researchers on whether they accept the outcomes of the review.

“Should PhDs reject the outcome of the review in a given university, a period of disruptive action will commence,” it said, noting that this may include the cessation of teaching assistant duties, lab and exams supervision, and the marking of assessments.

It has also threatened the non-attribution of PhD research output to researchers’ host universities.

PWO has detailed its dissatisfaction with the report in a four-page document released yesterday evening. Its core gripe lies with the failure of the review to properly address the status of PhD researchers, as employees or students, despite this being one of six terms of reference set out for the review.

It said: “PWO and other stakeholders submitted detailed proposals in support of a change of status to an employment based model for doctoral training and specifically asked that Chairs recommend an extended process to examine our status as workers, [yet] the report does not contain a clear recommendation for such a process in the short term.”

It also criticises the report for not making specific recommendations regarding the visa or immigration status of non-EU researchers, instead merely recommending “continued dialogue” between government departments on such issues.

PWO also highlighted that the report does not address the absence of sick leave or parental leave for PhD researchers, “a key demand” it had raised during the consultation process.

“The review dashes the hopes of many who had hoped that their situation would improve soon. In the best case, some may be lifted just above the poverty line,” PWO said.

“Ultimately, the review emphasises that postgraduate researchers cannot rely on the Government and Universities to fight for their best interests. They will have to organise and champion the struggle to improve their conditions themselves.”

The organisation pointed to the success of strikes by postgraduate workers in the University of California and Columbia University in recent years in winning significant welfare and pay improvements.

On social media this afternoon, PWO announced an online members’ forum to be held on Tuesday, July 4 at 7pm, where the union’s next steps will be discussed.

It has said that it will work with universities “to ensure that those students disproportionately affected by [strike action] will be accommodated for”.

This article was updated at 17.20 to reflect PWO’s most recent membership figures.

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.