Postgraduate Workers - PWO Campaign Continues

Image Credit: Taken at a COLC demonstration in November 2022, prior to the PGWAI merger

The Postgraduate Workers' Organisation (PWO) has continued campaigning on the issues of pay, working conditions, and legal rights for postgraduate researchers in Ireland.

On 23rd March, the PWO held a protest outside Leinster House to highlight the challenges facing the postgraduate community, who are not entitled to the national minimum wage under current legislation.

Jeffrey Sardina of the PWO National Committee, and PhD Researcher at TCD, has claimed that he is paid €18,500 per year, a figure 22% below the National Minimum Wage (NMW). Due to their ambiguous legal status, PhD Researchers in Ireland are not entitled to the same legal and financial protections as other workers under employment law, such as parental leave or PRSI benefits.

As previously reported, documents shown to the University Observer indicate that postgraduate workers are taxed at the same rate as minimum wage earners, despite earning below this level. The documents in question were obtained by Sardina from correspondence with the Revenue Commissioners.

The PWO has claimed that it has gained over 1100 members since launching its membership drive in January, representing almost 12% of postgraduate researchers in Ireland. The organisation has reportedly been involved in protests and demonstrations, calling for greater engagement from the Government.

Incoming President of UCD, Professor Orla Feely, called for the PhD stipend to be increased in a recent Irish Times article. Prof. Feely was quoted as having stated: “Some 92 per cent of doctoral graduates are in employment nine months after qualification and many of these are in natural sciences, education, technology, engineering, health ... the mission-critical areas of FDI and domestic enterprise. So, they represent an important part of the talent pipeline for the knowledge economy.”

Non-EU National Researchers face additional challenges, due to the legal and financial barriers associated with their immigration status. One source informed the University Observer that they were paying €300 per year to renew their Irish Residence Permit (IRP). They informed us that the system is extremely inefficient, leaves many stranded without their passport while waiting for the application to process, and is a requirement for working and studying in the state.

Many in the postgraduate community are eagerly awaiting the publication of the National Review of State Supports for PhD Researchers. Controversy emerged when it was discovered that the deadline for the release of the review had been postponed, as previously reported by this paper. Documents seen by the University Observer showed that a senior Department of Higher Education official had claimed that the review would be released within the first half of the year, rather than the first quarter specifically. The lack of clarity and clear communication surrounding the deadline sparked controversy, leading the PWO to issue a statement condemning the delay.

With many postgraduate researchers facing immense financial challenges, the outcome of the anticipated review will be closely monitored by many in the Irish research community. The new administration in UCD has publicly expressed sympathy for the challenges facing researchers working in this sector, and the PWO continues to campaign and organise intensely on this issue.