Contract archaeologists, who mostly work in the private sector, have joined trade union Unite in an attempt to convince archaeological consultancies to sign up to a standardised pay agreement that would protect wage levels.
The move comes after what the chairman of the new branch, Matt Seaver, described as “an apocalypse” in the sector. The union grouping comprises approximately 60 contract archaeologists — around half the total number of contract archaeologists working on projects here.
That is down from more than 800 at the height of the boom, with Mr Seaver claiming many archaeologists have “thrown their hat” at the profession or have emigrated.
According to the union, site assistants are typically the people tasked with excavating and recording during digs and some are being paid between €9.50 and €10 an hour, in what the union has termed “poverty pay”.
“There has been such a draining out of archaeologists that very few people are prepared to tough it out,” Mr Seaver said. “In its current form it is unsustainable for a lot of people.” He said the reduction in positions available as well as the tumbling rates of pay had meant many highly qualified archaeologists had moved on to other professions, or had emigrated, with some Irish people working on projects elsewhere such as the Metro in Copenhagen in Denmark.
A report by the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland published earlier this year claimed there were 82% fewer archaeologists than in 2007 and that low pay and the excess costs incurred by staff in moving to new places of work meant commercial archaeological work was unsustainable.
It also stated that site assistants can typically work less than 20 weeks a year and that less than half of all archaeologists across a number of positions worked most of the year. That report also recommended an agreed system of subsistence rates be implemented for all archaeologists depending on distance from place of work and costs incurred.