The Croke Park challenge
In the spring of 2010 the government and public service trade unions in Ireland agreed on a framework agreement (the Croke Park agreement) intended to maintain industrial relations peace and promote public sector reform, and maybe reduce exchequer costs (the agreement on pay and conditions in the public service, after negotiations in the Croke Park stadium, hence the title). At the heart of the agreement, from a trade union perspective, was a government commitment not to cut public service pay any further until 2014. As the economy came under increasing stress, the government has so far stuck to the pay commitment.
But the pay elements of the agreement had a price, and this was an agreement by the unions to public service reform. In the case of the universities, these were the relevant provisions:
• With effect from the start of the 2010/11 academic year, the provision of an additional hour per week to be available to facilitate, at the discretion of management, teaching and learning in the university/institute.
• Co-operation with the introduction of academic workload management and full economic costing models and with the compilation of associated data to support these.
• Co-operation with redeployment/re-organisation/rationalisation arising from the review of Higher Education strategy and changing economic and social circumstances.
• A comprehensive review and revision of employment contracts to identify and remove any impediments to the development of an optimum teaching, learning and research environment. This review and revision to be completed in advance of the start of the 2010/11 academic year.
There are two references in these provisions to actions to be completed by the start of the 2010-11 academic year (i.e. by September 2010), and while I stepped down as President of DCU in July, I do not believe that either of these actions were undertaken in that timescale. However, over recent weeks there has been some speculation about discussions that may be under way regarding the agreement, and in a comment posted on this blog the former President of the Teachers Union of Ireland (which organises staff in the institutes of technology), Paddy Healy, suggested that the following reforms were being contemplated (with comments added in parentheses by Paddy Healy himself):
1. That tenure be brought into Line with corporate industrial relations law. (This means that tenure until pensionable age with the individual university is being abolished and university academic staff can be made compulsorily redundant and/or redeployed to other parts of public service. This will require legislation PH)
2. Renegotiation of all existing contracts for implementation from September 2011
3. Contractual restrictions will be placed on Academic Freedom ( The restrictions are not yet clear but if the worst precedents abroad are followed they could include prevention of public criticism of government or the university authorities: they could also include forcing academics to carry out particular research projects or particular research outcomes could be suppressed due to commercial research agreements with private companies eg infamous heliobacter pylori case abroad- PH)
4. Staff must engage with workload monitoring and measurement.
5. Academic staff required to be in attendance at the university each day for twelve consecutive calendar months
6. Holidays to be at the discretion of the University. Staff member must apply and receive approval in advance for holiday leave (The effect of points 5 and 6 taken together is that holiday entitlements are to be set by The Holidays(Employees) ACT which sets minimum holidays for employees to protect them from predatory employers. If this were accepted it would reduce the holiday entitlements of academic staff below those of comparable public service employees and below those of trade unionised employees in the private sector—PH)
7. The current position under which the staff member automatically gets an increment unless management objects will be changed. Staff will only receive an increment following a satisfactory Performance Appraisal outcome. Failure to engage with Performance Appraisal System (PAS) will lead to a freezing of the incremental position and denial of access to promotion, sabbatical leave etc. The PAS system will include student evaluation of lecturers. (Performance appraisal will apply to all grades of academic staff including professors-PH)
8. Extra hour per week of teaching or administration to be implemented immediately
9. Staff may be redeployed to other Departments/duties within the University
10. Staff may be redeployed to other posts outside the university but within the wider public service (as set out in Croke Park Deal) with particular regard to HEA Proposals (eg Mergers to be recommended under Hunt Report PH)
11. Co-operation with Outsourcing (including teaching and research PH) in accordance with Croke Park Deal
12. New arrangements will apply to rewards for additional internal work and external consultancy work.
Some of these initiatives are most unlikely, and certainly would not secure agreement by the universities. Some would be unworkable (including that on academic redeployment to other parts of the public service). And some, I suspect, would not be contemplated even by the government (such as restricting the right of academics to criticise the government). Others are meaningless (adding one hour per week of teaching or administration would have no substantive meaning in the university sector). But some of the proposed reforms may well be in discussion. It may be advantageous for the universities, sooner rather than later, to indicate to staff what discussions are taking place and what, if any, changes are being contemplated.
A more detailed commentary by Paddy Healy can be found in his blog, here.