UCDSU, People Before Profit members, Sinn Féin members, members of the Post-Graduate Workers Alliance of Ireland (PGWAI), and other members of the Cost of Living Coalition attended a demonstration in Rathmines on Saturday 12th November at 14:30.
The protest highlighted the ongoing Cost of Living Crisis, calling on the Government to implement more policies in response to the crisis in support of vulnerable groups, including students, working-class people, and renters.
Before the rally commenced, Robyn O’Keeffe, Campaigns and Engagement Officer of the SU, offered comment: “The cost of living is creating significant barriers to third level education. That is why UCDSU is a proud affiliate member of the Cost of Living Coalition. Students can’t afford to pay extortionate college fees, the accommodation costs, (...) it is resulting in students deferring the year and dropping out as well. So, that is why we’re here today.”
“In terms of policy changes that we’d like to see, we want to see affordable and adequate cost-rental accommodation for students.” Robyn went on to answer questions on students she has encountered in distressing situations in her role as an SU officer. “While my job wouldn't necessarily be to provide peer-to-peer support, I would engage with students on a daily basis, and, when discussing the issues that they are facing, which we are hearing daily, and have been since the beginning of the summer.”
“Our first demonstration on the cost of living was back in June before the Dáil closed for the Summer. We were already [receiving calls from] stressed parents, students, and everything about not being able to find accommodation.” Robyn discussed the pressures students are facing and the support that the SU has put on offer in order to assist them.
Chris Andrews, Sinn Féin TD for Dublin Bay South, also spoke to the University Observer, offering insights into his position on both the cost of living, and energy policy in the context of this crisis. Andrews drew parallels between the sense of fear and uncertainty that was pervasive at the onset of the pandemic, and the current atmosphere during the present crisis.
“They feel that there’s no real leadership. (...) What a lot of people are saying to me is, that they feel that working families are really struggling, that they’re not getting the support they need, and they feel really let down by Government (...).”
Andrews advocated for caps on energy costs, and discussed the “unbelievable” profits made by energy companies. Andrews’ support for addressing rising energy bills appeared to fall short of total nationalisation, however, instead advocating for price caps.
When asked if he would support bringing such companies into public ownership, or preferred regulating the prices, Andrews responded: “I think we need to regulate the prices. I think in France they brought it into public ownership, but in the Irish context, that’s a more complex issue (...).”
“I wouldn’t be opposed to it, but I think that the practicalities of it mean that it (wouldn’t work).” When asked, Andrews agreed that although nationalisation wasn’t a priority right now, he wouldn’t rule it out: “I think helping and supporting families is the priority right now.”
The rally featured speakers from various organisations, and a member of the Dublin Filipino community shared their experience of dealing with an exploitative landlord, and the assembled crowd called for greater action to be taken in response to the crisis and in support of vulnerable tenants.
After the rally concluded, we interviewed members of the PGWAI to discuss the legal status of post-graduate student workers. One responded: “At the moment, PhD researchers in Ireland are not recognised as workers. So we’ll typically work upwards of 40 hours a week, doing a lot of roles in the University that couldn’t be done without us, so teaching commitments, lab work, and things like that, and in return we have no worker’s rights.”
“We're paid a stipend that’s substantially lower than a living wage, and that stipend up until about a year ago had not increased for about 10 years, even while rents in Dublin had almost doubled within the same time period. So really what we’re trying to do is to advocate for an actual living wage to be paid to all post-graduate workers in Ireland, and to get full employee rights so that we can have maternity, paternity cover, and access to healthcare that we currently cannot access because we’re not seen as workers.”
The members of PGWAI explained how post-graduate workers, many of them studying for PhD and Master’s degrees, are paid low wages, and not officially recognised as workers, and hence not entitled to the same worker’s rights under employment law as the average worker. These efforts to unionise and organise these workers, who play a crucial role in providing teaching services at UCD, highlight the exploitation experienced by such workers on campuses across the country.
When asked if they enjoyed support from within the Post-Graduate community, they responded: !Part of the issue we’ve had is ensuring that different Post-Graduate workers in different departments are able to communicate with each other. Because at the moment there’s a lot of variability in terms of what hours you get paid for teaching, and your commitments based on which department you’re in within the University. A big aim of ours is to bring people from departments together.!
When asked if there was any formal accountability mechanism in place for the handling of complaints and the issuing of redress relating to allegations of the exploitation of these workers, the members responded, stating that they were not aware of any. One example of the exploitation included allegations of some post-graduates not being paid unless they exceeded a minimum of 30 hours of teaching.
Readers who are interested in learning more information about the treatment of Post-Graduate workers, and their efforts to organise for full recognition, legal rights, and fairer working conditions and pay, can log on to pgwai.com
Post-Graduate workers at UCD who would like to share their experiences of working throughout the crisis are encouraged to email email@example.com