University staff vow to resist pay cuts as chiefs outline financial difficulties

“University lecturers and professors have vowed to resist attempts to impose pay cuts or changes to conditions by individual universities to help meet curtailed budgets.

As the heads of the three largest universities — University College Dublin (UCD), Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and University College Cork (UCC) — update staff on their financial difficulties this week, the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) warned any changes to core pay and conditions of their members can only be negotiated nationally.

‘Whether it is attempts to withhold pay increments, non-filling of vacancies, or seeking not to renew contracts, nothing can be imposed by college managers but we will gladly sit down and negotiate with the Higher Education Authority or the Department of Education to deal with any of these questions on a national basis,’ said IFUT general secretary Mike Jennings.

He also rejected a suggestion, reportedly made by TCD provost Dr John Hegarty, that professors continue to forego an 8% pay increase, the first 5% of which was to have been added to their salaries in September 2007.

The increases have been withheld because of queries into whether allowances paid to a small number of professors at each university had been properly sanctioned, but it is claimed that Dr Hegarty suggested to around 80 professors on Tuesday that they should not accept the increase until they are all cleared to receive the increments on their salaries of around €110,000 to €150,000.

‘It’s one thing to impose collective punishment on people for almost 18 months but it is appalling to expect that kind of collective self-sacrifice,’ Mr Jennings said.

A TCD spokesperson said the unpaid increases were discussed on Tuesday but no decision was made and the issue is still being considered by management.

UCC president Dr Michael Murphy outlined to staff the need to find further spending cuts on Tuesday and UCD president Dr Hugh Brady will address staff today.

Efforts to find major savings by the colleges come ahead of Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe’s expected announcement on the formation of a group to devise a higher education strategy.

Its terms of reference are likely to include possible rationalisation of colleges or specialist courses, third-level access for minority groups and research structures.

The minister is separately examining third-level funding sources, including a consideration of reintroducing student fees. But college heads insist their funding is already inadequate even before the current cuts were being imposed.

At a meeting open to all staff, Dr Murphy made clear that every UCC department must find savings to help reduce its €17 million deficit, while national talks on public sector pay and spending could have a further impact. A small number of non-permanent contracts have not been renewed in recent months, but further cuts may have to be considered.

A UCC spokesperson said that students will always remain the top priority for management.

‘We’re trying to find savings as much as possible in every single department but ones which will have least impact on teaching and learning,’ he said.

As well as payroll budgets, college managers are reviewing spending on consultants, printing costs, and outside travel which is also being restricted.

UCC has around 2,000 employees, including a mix of permanent and non-permanent workers across academic and administration departments.”

[Niall Murray, Irish Examiner, 29 January]

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