Postgraduate workers hold #LoveIrishResearch on Valentine’s Day

Image Credit: PWO_UCD

PhD and Postgraduate Researchers (PGRs) gathered on campuses across Ireland this Valentines’ Day to protest the government’s failure to address key concerns for PhDs in the National Review of State Supports for PhD Researchers.

On Wednesday, February 14th, PhD and Postgraduate Researchers gathered on campuses across Ireland to protest the government's failure to address key concerns for PhDs in the National Review of State Supports for PhD Researchers. 

Stipend increases from €19k to €22k was announced by Minister Simon Harris as part of Budget 2024 for the approximately 30% of PhD researchers who get funding from the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) or the Irish Research Council (IRC). The rise to €22k is much less than the EU average PhD wage of €32,100 and falls short of the “optimal” €25k tax-free stipend suggested by the Chairs of the National Review in their initial draft report. An IRC/SFI-financed PhD student would still make around 20% less than minimum wage even if they worked 40 hours a week. 

The rise to €22k is much less than the EU average PhD wage of €32,100 and falls short of the 'optimal' €25k tax-free stipend suggested by the Chairs of the National Review in their initial draft report

Speaking to The University Observer, Rory Burke, Vice-President of UCD PWO and PhD researcher in Plant Science, said: “It was important for us to have this event on this specific date because it allows us to build the necessary momentum to head towards industrial action across campuses-which is the end goal”. 

He continued to say, “Because of UCD’s particularity as a campus, any action that will have an actual consequence will have to be driven by a progressive and then total withdrawal of labour rather than with industrial action”. 

He cited the UCD Students Union’s consultative Referendum on PhD Supports and Collective Action that went live on October 24th. While the consultative referendum had a weak turnout amid technical difficulties, it revealed that up to eighty per cent of submitted ballots supported some form of industrial action and temporary suspension of labour. The Vice-President of UCD PWO added: “We have a pretty good idea of what people are willing to do to get what they want from the government and UCD. We know the support is there, and we are hoping for a gradual response before a complete cessation of activity”. 

While the consultative referendum had a weak turnout amid technical difficulties, it revealed that up to eighty per cent of submitted ballots supported some form of industrial action and temporary suspension of labour.

When asked about whether there was any reluctance by some postgraduate researchers or departments in UCD to join efforts to disrupt usual functioning in order to achieve better working conditions, he said: “UCD varies hugely across schools and departments in terms of pay discrepancies and overall standards for postgraduate workers and PhD researchers. It’s hard for us to account for who is reluctant per se, but we notice that not all departments are as involved with the PWO, which makes organising joint action more difficult”. 

While the question of who bears the brunt of the weight of changing the current unsustainable conditions PhD researchers and postgraduate workers work under is a complex one, Burke maintains: “The government and UCD shift the blame between one another.” 

He elaborated: “Since the release of the National Review that signed off on €25K as a threshold for PhD researchers and postgraduate workers, some universities have started to match that internally with their own funds. This has been done to some degree in UCD but not across colleges.” 

An open letter was sent to Prof. Orla Feely last November demanding the UCD commit to the bare minimum of €22K. He notes that UCD still has not committed to reaching this standard as there has been no sign from central university administration: “Even people who have been told they will be seeing an increase have noticed they aren’t coming on time”.


 

This year's Valentine's Day celebrations marked the PWO's demand for more attention to the need for worker status.