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NUI Maynooth IFUT meeting rejects Croke Park agreement

category national | education | press release author Friday May 20, 2011 10:16author by Laurence Cox - Maynooth IFUT - personal capacity Report this post to the editors

A re-ballot on Croke Park is currently being rushed through IFUT with very little notice or discussion. A Maynooth meeting earlier this week was very critical of the vote and is asking colleagues in other institutions to forward this to IFUT members who may not have heard any counter-arguments.

The Maynooth branch of IFUT has decided to reject the "Croke Park Agreement" after a lively extraordinary general meeting on Tuesday 17 May where the issues were debated thoroughly. The members present voted unanimously to reject the deal, save for 5 abstentions.

The arguments made for rejecting the CPA in the re-ballot currently underway include, among others:

- The "Agreement" permanently removes the protection now given by our contracts to our terms and conditions of employment. This protection has been tested in the Supreme Court and shown to work, and is a major reason why management are so keen for us to agree to abandon these rights.

- Despite the economic crisis, the "Agreement" does nothing to save money in the academic sphere. Instead, what it does do is to create new workplace cultures and management structures that will prevent us from working to the high professional standards we currently follow, demoralise staff and lower the standard of education we offer students.

- The experience from other countries (such as Finland and Australia) where similar changes have been introduced shows how destructive they are to academic life, the quality of education and the experience of being either a student or an academic.

- The "Agreement" does not protect against salary cuts, which are provided for by its Clause 28, stating that implementation of the Agreement on the part of the Government is "subject to no currently unforeseen budgetary deterioration" - a deterioration which has been happening non-stop for the past two years and seems set to continue. However we vote, salary cuts are very much on the agenda.

- By contrast, the threat of compulsory redundancies is impractical, given (1) the effect of increased student numbers with restrictions on recruitment and (2) our existing contractual protections.

- The preamble to the "Application" of the "Agreement" pretends to pay tribute to how well Irish universities perform and to the virtue of collegialitiy, but the provisions which follow seek to dismantle how those same universities now perform and to substitute managerial memos for collegiality.

Nothing in this deal - or in the context of 2011 - persuades us that we should do other than we did in 2010: vote "no" and hold the legally binding contracts which we now have and which protect the dedicated, professional and collegial approach to work that we aim for. The alternative is to sign away rights which we hold until we sign them away for the empty promise that the government will not declare that there has been an "unforeseen budgetary deterioration" entitling it to unilaterally abandon its promises.

With a committed, informed and courageous leadership that truly serves our members' interests, we can defend who we are and what we do - and we should not be afraid to do so.

We encourage our colleagues to reject this punitive, pointless and destructive "Agreement".

===

Alistair Fraser
NUI Maynooth IFUT Branch Secretary

author by Colin Coulterpublication date Fri May 20, 2011 10:58Report this post to the editors



May 19th 2011,

Dear Colleagues,

In recent weeks, members of the national executive of IFUT have been engaged in negotiations with the Department of Education and Skills concerned with the ‘application’ of what is commonly known as the Croke Park Agreement. At its meeting on Thursday May 5th, the national executive endorsed the document agreed at these talks and decided to recommend a ‘yes’ vote in a subsequent ballot of union members. The provisions contained in the agreed text mark the most fundamental changes in the terms and conditions of academic employment that any of us have ever experienced. Given the gravity of what is in prospect, it might reasonably have been expected that the national executive would have been keen to facilitate a period of consultation and discussion in which members could air their views and seek clarification. Instead, the leadership of IFUT decided to move straight to a vote on the issue and members will have already received their ballot papers earlier this week.

The membership is being required to cast their votes not merely in haste but also in the absence of any meaningful information. The national executive has made remarkably little attempt to engage members on the substance of the ballot. The principal statement from the IFUT national executive is a brief and confusingly worded text that has not been circulated through the network of branches and which is accessible solely in a secret compartment of the website (www.ifut.ie) that requires the recollection of a password that many members have in all probability never had occasion to use before. Given the absence of any real attempt to keep people informed of the nature and importance of recent developments, it is entirely likely that the first time that many members learned that they were going to be asked to vote again on the CPA was when the ballot papers appeared in their pigeon holes. This is, clearly, a less than satisfactory state of affairs. The virtual silence of the national leadership is almost enough to prompt the suspicion that they would prefer that members remain in the dark as to the true content of this ‘application’ that we are now being asked to endorse.

Concern at both the substance of the ‘revised’ CPA and the speed with which the ballot has been called led the NUI Maynooth branch of IFUT to call an extraordinary general meeting on Tuesday past, May 17th 2011. While there was a diversity of views expressed at the meeting, the overwhelming feeling of members was dismay at the terms of the ‘application’ and incredulity that the national executive are calling for them to be accepted. It came as no surprise then that those present chose to reject the new CPA and did so unanimously, save for five abstentions.

The broad view of both the committee and wider membership in Maynooth is that this version of the CPA will institute changes that threaten to destroy the terms and conditions that Irish academics currently enjoy. In spite of this, there seems to be very little debate going on within the union about these alarming developments. It would almost appear that the national leadership would like us all to sleep walk into the catastrophe that is Croke Park II. We would, therefore, wish to take this opportunity to spark some debate and offer an alternative perspective on what we are being asked to endorse with our votes. In an attempt to give some shape to this perspective, we have used the statement of the General Secretary in support of a ‘yes vote, dated May 9th 2011, as a point of departure. In the text that follows, we have taken the points made by Mr Jennings and considered them closely. As you will see, we do not find the case made by the General Secretary to be particularly convincing. The text that follows is of considerable length but we would appreciate if you were prepared to read it in full. The ‘new’ CPA would, if passed, introduce what are perhaps the most radical changes ever in Irish academic life. In view of its significance, we feel that we are obliged to examine the case being made for the deal in as much detail as possible.

The principal difficulties with the statement made by the General Secretary are as follows:

1. Mr Jennings declares that ‘the following principles will govern our acceptance of the PSA’. What is the status of these principles? If they are anything more than unilateral aspirations, why are they not embodied in the agreed document forwarded by the Department (described by him as a ‘letter from the Department’) and which ‘Agreement’ forms the sole basis upon which IFUT members are being asked to vote?

2. Mr Jennings continues that ‘IFUT’s position’ is that the ‘concessions listed in the letter from the Department constitute the total amount of concessions we are prepared to give’. The fact is that the terms of the Department’s ‘letter’, for example in respect of 2. Flexibility and Cooperation and 6. Attendance and Hours of Work, specifically envisage an open-ended requirement of academics to do whatever management decrees. The terms of the ‘Croke Park’ ‘General Agreement’ unambiguously underpin this, in decreeing (Clause 24) that any matter in dispute ‘will be referred … to the L(abour) R(elations) C(omission) and if necessary to the Labour Court … The outcome … will be final’.

3. Mr Jennings declares further that ‘we demand … that IFUT members can participate in the “pay back” arrangements’. What, other than an exercise in futile rhetoric, is the status of this ‘demand’? And, given that the reforms envisaged under the CPA are unlikely to save money, how can there be any reasonable expectation that members will received some form of financial recompense, whether called ‘pay back’ or otherwise?

4. Mr Jennings’s claim that ‘as the very last union not in the ‘Croke Park’ “fold” we are too vulnerable and dangerously isolated to make a stand on our own’ is inaccurate: several unions have a position of ‘constructive ambiguity’, most notably the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU), who restated that position in a high-profile fashion at their conference a few weeks ago, and whose members have suffered no additional ‘compulsory redundancies and/or pay cuts’ as a consequence. This claim is also more than a little rich, considering that it was Mr Jennings who firmly squashed a motion from IFUT Maynooth at the 2010 Annual Delegate Conference that we actively seek a common platform with the other ‘rejectionist’ unions, which were then numerous. His colleagues among the officials of these unions have overseen the picking off of the membership of these unions one by one over the past year. If he lacks the courage or the desire to continue to oppose that which is incompatible with the survival of the academic profession and, arguably, IFUT as a trade union, let him give way to those who are not so timid.

5. Mr Jennings’ dire warning that ‘unions which do not subscribe to the PSA risk exposing their members to compulsory redundancies and/or pay cuts’ defies logic. Our pay is almost inevitably to be cut, something that is in any event provided for by ‘Croke Park Agreement’ Clause 28, viz., ‘implementation of this Agreement is subject to no currently unforeseen budgetary deterioration’. To imagine that agreeing to ‘Croke Park’ guarantees no pay cuts until 2014 is deeply delusional, particularly in a context which Mr Jennings himself casts — however arguably — as one in which ‘The IMF is running the country’. ‘Compulsory redundancy’ is not in prospect for academics unless they vote for the ‘Croke Park Agreement’, which, on the most optimistic of readings, merely postpones that prospect until 2014, when the ‘Agreement’ is scheduled to expire. Besides, the Department’s ‘letter’, far from offering ‘arguably the best official recognition ever given to tenure’, as Mr Jennings claims, in 10.Tenure, dilutes it so as to make it utterly subject to management requirements: dismissal is precluded ‘except (i) in accordance with lawful decision and for valid reason (including dismissal on grounds of capability, conduct, competence, performance, or other substantial grounds that would justify dismissal), and (ii) in accordance with the appropriate procedures specified in the relevant university Statute/s’. As things stand, those who do not vote for or acquiesce in the ‘Croke Park Agreement’ are protected from dismissal by the terms and duration of their existing contracts (for those with ‘contracts of definite duration’) or by tenure (for those with ‘contracts of indefinite duration’). The latter fall into two categories: those appointed subsequent to the application of the 1997 Universities Act, the provision for tenure in which has not been defined by the courts, which have found, however, that tenure must mean something more than a contract terminable upon three month’s notice (Cahill v. DCU 2007). This is a case of ‘constructive ambiguity’ that affords protection to such appointees unless and until the courts determine the matter less favourably, whereas acquiescing in ‘Croke Park’ undoubtedly brings certainty, but of an entirely unwelcome kind, by effectively eliminating tenure. For pre-1997 Act appointees, the position is even more secure, as it is underpinned by statute — in the case of the NUI, by the Act of 1951 — and by the courts (see Fanning v. UCC 2008). Legal considerations apart, the practical likelihood of compulsory redundancy is negligible in a context where increased and increasing student numbers mean they’ll need every one of us.

6. On the critical provision of the Department’s ‘letter’ on 2. Flexibility and Cooperation, even Mr Jennings concedes that ‘the wording is unfortunate to say the least’, but assures us that ‘the official side agreed that such change should be “appropriate” and disputes regarding reasonableness can be dealt with through procedures’. Since the ‘wording’ of what we vote on is what binds us, and not any declamatory aspirations of Mr Jennings’s, or his claims as to what the ‘official side agreed’ orally, this passage of his circular is not worth the paper on which it is written. The sole dispute resolution procedure provided for under ‘Croke Park’ is the LRC-Labour Court route of compulsory binding determination, thus ensuring that however management chooses in future to determine our ‘duties’ and ‘function’ will obtain, for those who acquiesce in this.

7. Mr Jennings observes that the prohibition on external activity in conflict with the interests of the university, without written approval (3. External Activity), ‘could be severely abused’ and ‘will require great vigilance’. To what purpose would such ‘vigilance’ be, if we concede management’s absolute discretion over these and the other matters covered by ‘Croke Park’?

8. Mr Jennings’s claim that ‘it has been agreed that our ‘“place of work” is effectively wherever we are when we are working’ flies in the face of the actual provisions of 6. Attendance and Hours of Work: ‘you will attend at your place of work during the working week and for the duration of the college year which is of 12 calendar months duration … your place of work will principally be the university at campus but … it may be varied from time to time to include other locations consistent with the requirements of your work’. Working off-campus is permitted, but not normative and, given the powers ‘Croke Park’ gives management to determine the ‘requirements of your work’ (see especially 2. Flexibility and cooperation), can obviously be curtailed at will.

9. Finally, Mr Jennings rejects the notion that there is not enough change to justify reversing our previous vote to reject ‘Croke Park’, glibly declaring that ‘the IMF is running the country. All other unions have signed up. When the facts change it is wise to change your position.’ The second of these propositions is both inaccurate and disingenuous, as already pointed out. The first is arguable, in that while the IMF/ECB/EU ‘troika’ may determine at present the broad parameters of public policy, it is national government that still takes the detailed decisions. There is no evidence that the ‘troika’ has expressed an interest in obliterating the terms and conditions of academics in Ireland, for no claimed or actual financial saving, unless, perhaps, Mr Jennings is party to information to which the rest of us are not. As regards the third proposition, the only pertinent facts that have changed are that specific alterations in our terms and conditions have been proposed, and are ones that are wholly incompatible with the integrity of the academic profession and the quality of the university experience for students and academics alike. The fundamental basis for rejecting ‘Croke Park’, namely that it hands over to management for ever absolute discretion over our terms and conditions of service, have changed not one whit. In writing to the membership just a year ago, advocating a ‘no’ vote on ‘Croke Park’, Mr Jennings, among other things, singled out the compulsory binding determination of disputes at the LRC/Labour Court (letter signed by Hugh Gibbons, Pres., and Mike Jennings, Gen. Sec., to IFUT members, 28 April 2010). He rightly pointed out that the LRC Chair’s advocacy for ‘Croke Park’ meant it was not a ‘neutral party’. We ‘could be forced to accept the judgement of a third party, intimately involved in brokering the deal, as to whether or not what we were being asked to concede was reasonable. We would give a blank cheque to our employers which they would cash at the LRC. They would get exactly what they wanted. We would be stuck with it.’ One could hardly put better the essential case against ‘Croke Park’. In that regard, nothing has changed. We should exemplify the intellectual rigour and moral courage that ought distinguish our profession by rejecting this effort to have us give ‘the right answer’ this time, as we rejected it before.

Thank you for taking the time to read our response to the General Secretary’s case for changing our minds on the CPA. The shortcomings of this text are many and are of crucial significance to every Irish academic – actual or aspiring. As a consequence, we felt it necessary to critique the national executive’s arguments in detail and at length. We hope that you will share our conviction that this is a rotten deal and will accordingly vote ‘no’. Please feel free to share this document with friends and others. Our arguments are designed to stoke a real debate that has hitherto been tellingly absent. It would, after all, be a shame, regardless of the outcome, if this ballot were be shrouded in silence and decided by a pitifully poor turnout.

Yours etc.

Dr Colmán Etchingham,
Chairperson

Dr Colin Coulter
Vice Chairperson

IFUT Maynooth branch

 
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