Institutes of technology could face industrial action by academics

Institutes of technology could face industrial action by academic staff if they fail to consult them or try to change their conditions in any mergers to form technological universities (TUs), a union has warned.

Institutes of technology could face industrial action by academics

With legislation governing the potential changes due soon, and three groups of institutes of technology (IoTs) at various stages of readiness to seek TU status, lecturers have expressed misgivings about the process.

More than 1,110 Teachers Union of Ireland members in the sector responded to an online survey on the changes last month. Almost three quarters of them were career lecturers and the rest were mostly academic managers or recruitment grade lecturers.

Just over half indicated a belief that their college should not merge and apply for TU status, and 49% would rather their institute remained alone.

The most advanced discussions on mergers are among a group of IoTs in the capital, where Dublin Institute of Technology, IT Blanchardstown and IT Tallaght plan a formal application for TU designation, which would require extensive evaluation by international experts. The proposed Munster Technological University, to be formed by a merger of Cork and Tralee IoTs, is the next most-progressed, with the amalgamation of Carlow and Waterford’s institutes also mooted in a politically sensitive plan for a south-east technological university.

Staff of the Dublin colleges have been given representation on groups finalising the plans there. However, TUI general secretary John MacGabhann said not all institutes have engaged in adequate consultation with lecturers or provided the required information relating to plans to merge with others.

“While the union is not opposed to the concept of technological universities, we are unimpressed by the rationale and the model currently on offer, a position backed up by the findings of this survey,” he said.

Some of those misgivings were expressed at a hearing last week on the outline of the planned legislation at the Oireachtas education committee, along with the views of a range of interested groups. The need to consider staff concerns was among the recommendations of a report published a day later by the committee and sent to Education Minister Ruairi Quinn ahead of publication of the bill.

Mr MacGabhann said his union will use all available options to protect members’ interests, where consultation and information is not fully provided.

“TUI is unequivocal in insisting that existing agreements on terms and conditions of employment be continued in any case where a transfer to a new institution takes place,” said Mr MacGabhann. “In addition, TUI does not accept that staff could be arbitrarily transferred to other public sector bodies on ‘establishment day’ of a merged entity or Technological University. Any such attempt will be opposed, by means of industrial action if necessary.”

The union also insists that the protections of the Haddington Road Agreement — which its members were among the last public servants to accept last autumn — should be applied for the duration of that deal, amid concerns on the issue stemming from the heads of the legislation discussed last week.

“Collective agreements must be fully respected. In any instance, where the established industrial relations procedures and mechanisms are not followed, the union will respond appropriately,” he said.

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