Institutes of technology could be hit by strikes

Institutes of technology could face disruption as lecturers are being balloted on industrial action up to strikes over delays to a review of their duties and workload.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) leadership is recommending that its 4,000 members at the 14 institutes of technology vote in favour of action.

The dispute arises from what the union says has been the delay of over a year on a review of lecturing.

The ballot was issued earlier this month and, if members back industrial action, could lead initially to lecturers restricting themselves to delivering only the weekly norm of class contact hours from the new academic year in the autumn.

This would mean they no longer deliver ‘flex hours’, up to two hours extra lecturing or other work that they have been required to provide as a result of successive national pay deals.

The review that was decided on in a May 2016 agreement between the TUI and Department of Education was to consider matters relevant to lecturing, with particular focus on the use of the second flex hour for duties other than teaching.

One of the two hours was already redesignated to contractual duties other than lecturing from the start of last year.

The TUI said the review was to have been completed by March 2017.

Institutes of technology lecturers are being asked to agree to industrial action up to and including strike action if the second flex hour has not been re-designated by the autumn. The ballot closes on April 18.

“The key element of this action is that members will deliver no more than standard lecturing hours from the next academic year,” said TUI president Joanne Irwin.

The union says that the 16 hours that those at lecturer grade must teach, or 18 hours for assistant lecturers, have long been far above international norms.

“Moreover, each hour of lecturing requires a multiple of hours for the associated preparation, reflection, assessment and feedback,” Ms Irwin said.

“This unsustainable workload, as well as diminishing the time for and quality of service to students, is causing high levels of stress among academic staff,” she said.

The situation is worse, Ms Irwin said, for lecturers who entered the profession since the start of 2011 because of the lower pay scales they are on compared to other lecturers.

A department spokesperson said as part of the May 2016 agreement, it agreed to redesignate one of the Croke Park flex hours for other uses. While it would not comment extensively in light of the current ballot, she said the department’s position is that consideration of the second flex-hour is linked to the review of lecturing workload.

“The department understands that the terms of reference for this review are under discussion by TUI and management. The department looks forward to this stage in the process concluding speedily and progress of the review,” said the spokesperson.

The issue will be a key one for discussion by TUI’s third-level members at its annual congress in Wexford next week.


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