Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation stage blockade at Book of Kells

The PWO vice-president said despite efforts at communications with College, they have been “ignored or patronised”

Members of the Trinity branch of the Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation (PWO TCD) have organised a blockade at the entrance to the Old Library where the Book of Kells is held.

Beginning this morning, around 30 PWO TCD members gathered at the entrance, blocking tourists from entering the tourist attraction.

They are demanding all postgraduate researchers in Ireland are recognised as employees under Irish law, including a living wage, union representation, health coverage and a working week that does not exceed 48 hours.

PWO TCD Vice-president Claudia Peroni told Trinity News that College has “consistently refused to engage with us constructively over the past few years”.

“We have representatives elected in all relevant college [bodies], we’ve been submitting petitions, we’ve been emailing the dean of students, we’ve been doing everything by the book – and we’re still being basically ignored or patronised by [the] university.”

She said all postgraduate researchers should be paid equally regardless of the department they are working in.

She also said College is “essentially making [PhD candidates] lie to”.

“They asked us to self-certify that what we’re doing is not research and there’s no element of service between us and the university – whereas in reality we teach, we grade, we mark, we invigilate,” she said.

“They’re asking us to tell Revenue that basically we’re students so that we will receive a scholarship and [College] doesn’t have to give us a contract.”

In a letter from Dean of Graduate Studies Martine Smith seen by Trinity News, postgraduate students were recently informed that changes in the postgraduate stipend rate meant some students had to complete Revenue’s scholarship exemption form again.

“Based on Revenue’s position, which you can find in Revenue’s Manual, it is also clear to Trinity that scholarships such as PhD stipends are tax exempt for full-time students, as the stipend is provided for the “promotion of the education of the holde”’,” the email said.

“Universities recognise the educational attainment of their students through the award of degrees such as those achieved by PhD candidates. As such, Trinity and the sector are unambiguous on the interpretation that PhD stipends are tax exempt for full-time, registered students.”

Some tourists hoping to see the Book of Kells were seen arguing with protestors, while others, according to Peroni, were “interested in knowing more about the situation”.

Protestors were also asked to move several times by construction workers setting up the dance stage on Fellow’s Square ahead of Trinity Ball on Friday.

College told Trinity News the “concerns raised by PhD researchers are a matter for ongoing discussion at Trinity, and form part of a programme of renewal that has been ongoing for several years”.

“In fact the concerns were raised at a meeting of University Council today.”

Those who booked tickets to the Book of Kells today were refunded.

Ellen Kenny

Ellen Kenny is the current Deputy Editor of Trinity News and a Senior Sophister student of Politics and Sociology. She previously served as Assistant Editor and Features Editor