Big gains for contract workers in UCD


Like many other employers UCD has sought to save money in the last couple of decades by refusing to create permanent pensionable posts. Instead, a growing percentage of the workforce have been left on short-term contracts without any pension rights.

Union organisation in UCD has been quite weak; of some 3,000 workers fewer than a third are union members. Most of these are in SIPTU. Over the last two years management has been engaged in an aggressive “restructuring” exercise leading to increasingly well attended union meetings and new recruitment.

The abuse of short-term contracts was identified as a key issue, some 900 contract workers it was revealed were excluded form the final pay related pension scheme that permanent workers were signed up to. Despite recent EU legislation that required employers to provide pension schemes for contract workers UCD, like other colleges, was dragging its feet.

By June 2006 it was very clear that this stalling could go on indefinitely. In addition, management were refusing to renew the contract of one of the union reps in what was seen by us as victimisation.

A large majority of SIPTU members voted to give the section committee the power to call a one-day strike, to be followed by a work to rule. Rather than act on this straight away at the start of the summer when action would be less effective the section committee delayed this action until the first day of the new autumn term. As it happened the restructuring also started to unravel before this date, as many students were unable to use the new computer system to register for their courses.

The surprise result was that by the Thursday before the strike was due to take place management appeared to concede on all the key issues. Apparent concessions include:
* Bringing 900 contract workers into a final pay related pension scheme.
* 80% of the contract workers whose test cases the union had brought are to get permanent contracts. This includes the union rep who had been let go in June, with the remaining 20% going to arbitration.
* Management agreeing to submitting future short term contracts to a union / management committee. This means short-term contract posts that are really permanent posts should be made permanent.

It will take some months to tell if these concessions are genuine or were simply an exercise to buy time at a point management were under massive pressure. It is also the case that contract workers not directly employed by UCD will not get these benefits - all the cleaning work, for instance, is outsourced. However, in either case, more progress was made in a matter of days once the threat of direct action by the workers concerned was on the table than had been made in decades of Labour Court hearings and mediation

This article is from Workers Solidarity 94 Nov/Dec 2006

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