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Co-ordinated university attack on staff conditions

category national | education | news report author Thursday January 06, 2011 13:05author by gramsci fan Report this post to the editors

in the dying days of the regime...

NUIG academic staff are the first to be hit by a coordinated attack across the universities on staff conditions, notably academic freedom, tenure, flexible work and holiday entitlements. This attack is being spearheaded during the exam season when most staff are too busy to respond - and in the last days of the FF / GP government, no doubt on the calculation that they may not have political cover for this kind of attack post-election.

Paddy Healy's blog carries details of a management strategy from the Irish Universities Association geared at forcing through massive changes in the working conditions of academic staff. An initial taste of this strategy is being tested on staff in NUIG.

Under attack are academic freedom (to be restricted), flexible work (staff are to be at their desks five days a week, despite the fact that most academics work far more than 40-hour weeks, often from home or from wherever their research, involvement in policy-making and contribution to the community takes them), holidays (all entitlements are to be removed beyond statutory holidays, which staff will have to apply for with no security, despite the fact that neither students nor international colleagues are around during the standard university holidays), the right to work in your own university or your own area of expertise (management are to have a free hand in disposing of staff as and when they will) and tenure (which is to be ended, meaning that staff can be sacked at any point management deem that a particular subject - be it democracy, study of the classics or drama - is surplus to requirements.

There are two particularly odd aspects of this. One is that these demands are being made "under Croke Park", despite the fact that the unions representing most academic staff - IFUT and TUI - voted against Croke Park. In other words, management are unilaterally demanding the right to rewrite contracts which they have notionally entered into as binding agreements with their employees. It is not clear what threats they have available to force staff to sign away tenure, academic freedom, holidays or the right to flexible work.

The other is that this process is being rushed through while most staff are in the throes of exams and in a "lame-duck" government which has nothing to lose by supporting this process of "putting the boot in". It is to be hoped that effective resistance can stall this until at least after the election - and garner political support for reversing these demands.

University staff of course have often done themselves no favours by treating these issues as special privileges rather than features which should characterise everyone's work - the right to security of employment, the right to work in your own workplace and in an area you are skilled in, the right to speak your mind, the right to decent holidays and the right to be focussed on the work rather than on your physical presence under the thumb of management - but this is what they are. University working conditions should characterise everyone rather than being a strange privilege.

Certainly most working people will be familiar with the problem of managers who know little or nothing of the work insisting on controlling it down to the smallest detail, with no sense of the actual demands involved (e.g. the demand "to work an extra hour", when most academic staff work 50 - 60 hour weeks without counting the minutes shows how little management know of what we actually do).

Losing this battle, of course, will mean losing many of the features which enable academics to contribute to progressive campaigns of various kinds, and this is no doubt part of the purpose. It may also be in part revenge for academic support for student protests.

We'll see if university managements can get away with it.

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