Working conditions for archaeologists

 

Sir, – The Department of Archaeology in University College Cork wishes to express strong support for the position currently being taken by the trade union Unite in seeking better pay and working conditions for commercial archaeologists in Ireland (“Archaeologists seek ‘appropriate’ pay after site walk-off”, News, July 9th).

As an educational body funded by the State to train such archaeologists, we are concerned that a proper employment structure and working conditions should exist for our graduates.

Commercial archaeologists play a critical role in facilitating key infrastructure projects and other areas of economic activity in Ireland, such as forestry, wind farms, urban regeneration, etc.

At a time when the State has withdrawn from direct involvement in rescue archaeology, commercial archaeologists have been given the responsibility for dealing with impacts from such developments. Their training and professionalism allow the controlled removal of this cultural heritage, ensuring preservation by record, or else mitigating the physical impact on the ground.

Current practices adopted by some private archaeology companies are very detrimental to working conditions, with minimum wages and a growing casualisation of employment. The result is that many experienced archaeologists leave the profession, which is a serious loss to the discipline and to the taxpayer who invested in their training.

With these employment conditions, it is increasingly difficult for universities to promote archaeology as a viable career option.

Over the years, governments have increasingly sought to divest themselves of core responsibilities in the protection of archaeological heritage, through the exercise of market-place principles to the outsourcing of these obligations to private concerns.

However, the National Monuments Act still requires the State to regulate the practice of archaeology in Ireland and to maintain standards in the recording and preservation of cultural heritage.

Leaving aside the importance of this same cultural heritage, and the basic rights that all workers should enjoy, it is very much in the State’s interest to maintain a strong cohort of professional archaeologists to support broader economic strategy. –Yours, etc,

WILLIAM O’BRIEN,

Professor of Archaeology,

Connolly Building,

Dyke Parade,

University College Cork,

Cork City.