The University of Limerick, which has been charged with investigating zero-hour contracts in the economy, is under fire from its own staff for new recruitment practices linked to increased casualisation.
Part of the criticism has focused on the university’s creation of a job recruitment company Unijobs, to which a number of senior executives, including the head of human resources, have been appointed directors.
UL says it set up the company to help limit the effect of the Government’s employment framework which puts a cap on public service recruitment.
However, the union Unite which represents campus staff says the recruitment vehicle is contributing to increased casualisation and an “opaqueness” surrounding workers’ rights.
Robert Hutchison, chairman of Unite’s UL branch, conceded “the university’s hands are tied” regarding recruitment because of austerity measures but there was a “lack of transparency” about Unijobs.
He said it was unclear whether staff were entitled to the same conditions as those recruited through traditional methods, and how contracts were being reviewed. “There seems to be a bit more insecurity in that HR seem to be their bosses.”
However, a spokesman for the university said Unijobs was designed to fill positions that would otherwise have been sourced through commercial recruitment companies. “This is not about casualisation. It’s about efficiencies in the system.”
He pointed out that Unijobs ran along similar lines to the UK organisation Unitemps, established as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Warwick University. “In essence the primary aim of Unijobs is to provide on a shared service basis, temporary recruitment services to the higher education and wider public sector. We operate on a purely cost recoupment basis only; ie we do not operate for profit.”
Nor do the directors of Unijobs receive extra remuneration, he said.
Unijobs now works with seven institutions, including NUI Galway. While UL says “all the positions recruited for to date are administrative support roles”, some staff believe it will be extended in time to lecturing posts.
A group of senior lecturers at the university, including Dr Geraldine Mooney-Simmie of the department of education, held a seminar last December at which it was claimed staff were working in “a climate of fear” because of short-term contracts.
Unite’s academic representative at UL Dr Micheal O’Flynn said there was a particular problem with the use of “casual-hours contracts as short-term fixes”, although he stressed this was not unique to Limerick.
“What we have in Irish universities – not least in UL – is an ongoing normalisation of precarious employment. Our educators are operating with a far more limited range of rights and entitlements than previously. The idea of a university, which is that of an integrated community of teachers and scholars, is not compatible with the ongoing casualisation of teaching.”
University College Cork is also attracting criticism from staff over planned new contracts which, according to the Irish Federation of University Teachers, “seek to undermine or circumvent key aspects of labour practice”.