Archaeologists in Macroom protest 'years of running into walls' on pay issues

Archaeologists Stuart Elder, Finbar O’Mahony, Donnacha Smith, Steve Waugh and Muiris Wade who are working on the Ballyvourney to Macroom bypass protesting in the town square in Macroom, Co Cork, supported by colleagues from all over the country. Picture Dan Linehan.

By Olivia Kelleher

Archaeologists who held a protest rally in relation to pay issues on the Macroom bypass in Co Cork have spoken of their years of frustration at trying to make a living in an industry which disappeared during the recession and reportedly only offers above the minimum wage now.

Members of Unite's archaeology branch held a protest in Macroom yesterday. (Wed) Both impacted parties and their supporters in the profession stressed that it was the first time that people in their job in Ireland had left a site to protest about pay since the 1970's.

The Unite union say that Irish Archaeological Consultancy (IAC) which has been contracted to carry out archaeological works on the Macroom bypass has refused to engage with them on their pay claim. The union says that the IAC also refuses to work with the Workplace Relations Commission.

Muiris Wade, Unite representative for the IAC members, said there was a huge amount of frustration about the pay issue.

"This whole event is a build up of years of running in to walls. A union can't achieve anything if a company won't communicate with them. It is one of those professions where 100 percent of people who get in to and are doing it love the job. It is a real interest driven industry. You can find yourself working in an environment where you don't feel valued. It can be hard to make ends meet."

Mr Wade said the pay scale in the industry in Ireland doesn't take the love out of the work but it "makes it hard for you to remember you love it."

"Today is about the visual message "Please Come Talk." It is not just union members. It is every other archaeologist. There is just this level of dissatisfaction in the industry. Archaeology is a strange one. You think you could have a three-month contract and it finishes quickly or it can turn in to six months. When the building stopped (during the recession) we stopped. It is unstable."

Mr Wade said a number of "boom time" archaeologists decided not to return to the profession after the recession having reskilled. Many left a job they loved because of the pay rates.

About forty archaeologists took part in the rally from 11am to 2pm yesterday. Stuart Elder, who works on the Macroom bypass as a site director, said the situation was insulting to the profession.

"They (the IAC) have one level of pay for one site and they drop pay on another site. You can't do things like that. The pay doesn't reflect the years of experience. I had another person employed by IAC who came in who was earning more money than I was and only has half the years experience I do."

Mr Elder, who moved to Ireland from Lancashire over twenty years ago, said it was the first strike on an archaeological site in this country since the 1970's. Mr Elder, who is also Vice Chair of the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland, said they had tried and failed to get companies to agree to minimum pay levels.

"It has to come down to this unfortunately. None of us want to be here. As it is now we have people coming out of college who have spent three to five years in college being paid less than an unqualified construction worker. It is the only profession where you come out of university and are given a shovel on day one. It is a slap in the face when all your hard work is not rewarded."

Labour’s Employment Spokesperson, Senator Ged Nash, has spoken out in favour of the archaeologists on the project.

Senator Nash said IAC needs to come to the table and engage with the union.

“IAC must show respect to their workers, many of whom hold postgraduate qualifications and have the considerable experience yet are expected to live on just €12.50 an hour.

“The firm must engage with the union and Minister Ross and his government colleagues must make it clear that companies in receipt of State contracts must be expected to engage with our industrial relations institutions."

In a statement the IAC said they deal directly with staff on contractual matters.

"Earlier this Spring, the trade union Unite circulated a letter throughout the commercial archaeology sector, seeking additional increases in pay/rates. IAC have been offering salary packages on projects, at, or up to 4% above those rates. IAC communicated this position to the WRC on the 11th May this yea,"

The IAC said that last month Rubicon Heritage - the main archaeological contractor on the Macroom N22 Bypass – informed IAC that as their work would be completed over the following week, IAC would no longer be required on the project after July 6th.

"IAC immediately notified each member of staff personally and said that the company would make every effort to accommodate them on other IAC projects where this was possible."

The Macroom bypass involves the building of a 22 kilometre dual carriageway from Coolcower to Ballyvourney.

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