A new report has revealed that UCD and the six other Irish universities paid a total of €874,083 to the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) between 2005 and 2008. The report, which was released by the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT), stated that the colleges’ payments to IBEC were given “for advice” on labour matters. The costs to UCD for legal services during that time amounted to €94,714. These costs were in addition to human resources wages paid by the university.
IFUT, the primary trade union representing Irish academics, also notes that free resolution services are provided through the State’s Labour Relations Commission and its Labour Court.
At the report’s launch the General Secretary of IFUT, Mike Jennings, expressed his worry that the use of what he called “needlessly expensive legal teams” was a potential waste of university resources. He expressed further concern that such groups may act as potential deterrents to employees wanting to voice grievances.
Professor Gerard Casey, executive member of IFUT at UCD, has condemned the spending, saying that UCD’s current debt makes the college’s employment of IBEC “extravagant”, “pointless”, and “largely a violation of the whole [industrial relations] procedure.”
While acknowledging that the use of lawyers is justified in complex cases and in the upper levels of the legal system, Prof. Casey stated that their presence in the earlier stages of cases is the basis of this transgression and that such practices “cannot be the norm.”
The typical process of resolving human resources disputes, according to Professor Casey, is intended to be a process of conciliation and arbitration that takes place in what he described as “lawyer-free zones.” Litigants engage in a “straightforward… informal” process that results in a non-binding recommendation by the mediator. IFUT policy declares that action in higher courts should only be pursued if such conciliation fails.
Prof. Casey said that the local branch of IFUT “have indicated, informally to the universities, [that] we don’t quite understand why they’re [paying IBEC such sums]”, adding that IFUT would be contacting the university to ensure that it was dealing with industrial relations matters in an effective and sustainable manner.
A spokesperson for UCD defended the amount of money paid to IBEC, describing the services as “excellent value for money,” and said that UCD’s subscription to IBEC “gives the university unlimited access to information, representation and advice on best practice in the areas of employment, trade and international relations, taxation, and regulation.” He went on to say that IBEC “is engaged to represent the views of the university in complex industrial disputes that require expert or legal opinion which is otherwise not available.”