Posted tagged ‘Croke Park Agreement’

IUA Statement on the Croke Park Public Service Agreement

February 5, 2011

This is the full text of the statement by the Irish Universities Association on the implementation of the Public Service Agreement 2010-2014 (the Croke Park agreement) in the universities.

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to clarify the universities’ position in respect of our implementation plan under the’Croke Park’ Public Service Agreement (PSA).

Background

The Public Service Agreement (PSA) was formulated against a backdrop of the worst financial crisis in the history of the state. The Agreement is aimed at improving efficiency and quality so that public services can continue to be delivered with the reduced resources available to the Exchequer. Since the conclusion of the agreement, we know that the state’s financial position has worsened considerably, leading to the agreement with the EU, ECB and IMF, of the four year national recovery plan. The current position re-emphasises the need to implement the PSA. This has been stressed by the Chair of the National Implementation Body.

Concerns Expressed about the University Plans The PSA explicitly provides for a review of academic contracts and this has been further emphasised in national policy by the recently published HE Strategy. The focus of the concerns expressed to date is that the provisions of contractual revision represent an attack on academic freedom and tenure and thus the very essence of the university.

In our view this is emphatically not the case.

These proposals must be viewed in the context of both the wider strategic stance of the universities, and the real intent underlying their specific content. These two aspects are elaborated on below.

Overall strategic position of the universities

There is a widely held view that universities which have a strong capacity for self determination are both more efficient and effective. We are fully committed to maintaining this position, and, indeed enhancing it. We made our position clear in our interactions with, and inputs to, the Higher Education Strategy group and the resultant Strategy (National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030) reflects this.

The Strategy does discuss at length the balance between institutional self determination and accountability to the state and society in general. It is appropriate that this be discussed, not least given the current crisis. There has been deep-rooted societal questioning of the causes of our economic collapse. This has included reflection on the failures of our financial regulatory system and the functioning of our entire administrative and political system. Given the depth of the crisis, the universities have sought to play their part in response. This has been reflected in the universities agreeing to cut staff numbers by over six percent while continuing to respond to the demand for additional student places.

In summary, the universities are committed to the principle of self determination and to enhancing this over time.

Content of the PSA Plan

In line with the overall strategic position outlined above, it must be stressed that the theme underlying the plan is accountability and not control. As regards the proposed contractual revisions these have been driven by a desire to identify good practice across the universities and to consolidate this on a sectoral basis. In terms of the specific provisions, it is worth highlighting the major ones and elaborating on their intent and the thinking underlying them, as follows:

Attendance/hours of work

Attendance: this is stated as a requirement to be in attendance at the university during the normal working week and for the duration of the college year which is 12 consecutive calendar months.

It will be apparent that there has been considerable questioning of academic hours of work in recent times. At the Public Accounts Committee the University Presidents and IUA strongly defended the record of University staff and firmly rejected simplistic definitions of academic hours based on contact time. In our inputs to the HE Strategy process, and at the PAC, we rejected efforts to impose a requirement for fixed hours within the academic contract. We believe this would inhibit flexibility and ultimately compromise the widespread excellent commitment which staff have demonstrated.

However, we believe it is reasonable to set down minimum standards in respect of attendance as outlined above. Some have suggested that this is to have the effect of physically shackling academics to the university and banning remote working etc. We want to stress that this is categorically not the case. Our concern is fundamentally about accountability for work and, in practice, this provision is simply to consolidate a framework which protects against cases of obvious abuse of the freedoms which currently exist and which we support. Thankfully, those abuses are extremely rare, but it cannot be denied that they have occurred.

Tenure

Here, we are seeking to establish that tenure is consistent with the established corpus of employment law and, in that context, refers to the duration of contract.

It has been suggested that the above represents a concerted attempt to casualise university employment. Again, this is emphatically not the case.

However, the concept of tenure dates from a time when employment law was much less well developed. We now have a national legal framework incorporating, inter alia, the Unfair Dismissals and Fixed Term Workers Acts which provide considerable protections to employees generally. We strongly support employment security for staff.

In some of the commentary, the concepts of tenure and academic freedom have been conflated, with the implication that any contextualization of tenure will be used to attack academic freedom by facilitating the dismissal of staff who express unpopular ideas.

This is a completely wrong characterisation as will be reflected in the section on academic freedom, where we vigorously uphold and support freedom of thought and enquiry.

We do not believe that it is helpful to have an amorphous concept of tenure which somehow subsists in a parallel realm to that corpus of law. Such subsistence at best creates ambiguity, and at worst, creates the impression that tenure will be advanced to create an absolute prohibition on dismissal or sanction, even in the worst and thankfully extremely rare cases of misconduct. The fostering of such an impression is enormously damaging to the public reputation of the universities, to our desire for continued and enhanced self determination, and it does no service to the vast majority of staff within the university.

Academic Freedom

The capacity of universities to develop new knowledge and to share that knowledge within the collective community of learners and with the wider society is essential: in the literal sense, it is the essence of what defines a university. We have consistently defended this.

We have firmly and repeatedly rejected the notion of universities as mechanistic institutions which exist to supply static units of learning to a cohort of passive consumers. Most recently we gave an extensive presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills showcasing the range of innovation and high quality demonstrated by our universities and emphasizing the contribution of our academics as independent thinkers and contributors to national and international debate.

We are unambiguously committed to academic freedom of thought and enquiry.

We are equally committed to our academics’ freedom to continuously vary what is taught as the universe of knowledge expands. We believe that the continual testing of what is held to be true is essential for all in the community of learners.

There can and should be no doubt of this and we will defend this position.

What we must do as a foundation for that defence, is to distinguish between freedom and licence.

This is what we are seeking to do in the proposed contractual provision which states that it is to be acknowledged that the freedoms which are contained in Section 14 of the Universities Act are to be exercised in the context of the framework of rights and obligations contained in the contract.

As articulated in this paper, the obligations element is simply a framework that contains accountability requirements which reflect the excellent practice of the vast majority of academic staff and which also safeguard against those cases of abuse which, though extremely rare, have the capacity to undermine public confidence in the universities.

Public Confidence

It is worth considering further the importance of public confidence. Universities have an essential role within society in the creation of new knowledge and in challenging conventional wisdom and accepted truths. However, if this role is to be effective, universities must have public trust and confidence.

Trust and confidence are qualities which are earned; universities have no intrinsic right to them. Intellectual freedom which exists in the absence of such trust and confidence would be a debased currency of little or no value. It would reduce universities to voices crying in the wilderness, dependent on society for their subsistence but powerless to influence it.

Conclusion

In summary, the PSA plans are designed to reinforce all that is good in our university system and provide for the further enhancement of our self determination.

They allow Universities to maximise their traditional and properly-valued contribution to society, as well as making a real contribution to national recovery.

Their implementation will enhance our reputation and strengthen public trust and confidence in our institutions.

In consequence they will strengthen our voice and our position in society to the benefit of, students, society and staff alike.

 

 

Croke Park agreement – delivering savings and reform

February 2, 2011

Following recent discussions in Ireland about the Croke Park agreement on public service pay and reform, and its effect on conditions of employment for higher education staff, the following general assessment of the agreement is offered by Shay Coady, General Secretary of IMPACT, Ireland’s largest public service trade union.

The Croke Park agreement is delivering huge savings as services are reformed to deal with a huge reduction in the number of public servants, which has fallen by 14,000 over the last 18 months. More substantial savings will follow this year because public service employment will have fallen by almost 19,000 by the end of the year – 75% of the target of 25,000 fewer public servants set out in the ‘national recovery plan.’

These are among the savings and reforms listed by the Croke park implementation body on its new website, which also says the staffing reductions among management grades has been particularly pronounced, with a 10% reduction in the civil service alone since 2008. Under the Croke Park agreement, savings and reforms must be delivered in exchange for the commitment that there will be no compulsory redundancies or further cuts to public service pay. The new website also says the pension levy and pay cuts sliced the pay bill by €1.8 billion last year as individual public servants saw take-home pay slashed by an average of 14%, with higher reductions for the better paid.

The lion’s share of the staffing reductions is due to the moratorium on recruitment and promotion, although 2,000 left the health service through voluntary redundancy and early retirement schemes last month. According to the implementation body: “Despite these very significant reductions, services have been maintained and in some cases expanded. Productivity has increased across the public service because we are getting more work for less money and fewer people. Since the Public Service Agreement was ratified in the June of last year, many changes to the way in which the public services are delivered have been implemented, with the agreement and cooperation of management and staff.“

On top of the reduction in numbers, the implementation body says more reforms will occur in 2011 including a greater emphasis on meeting clinical standards in healthcare, more services delivered in community settings, fewer delays for medical tests, and care available closer to the community. There will also be specific programmes targeting the five chronic illnesses that account for 80% of the total health spend at present.

Among other things, teachers will spend more time in the classroom as less school time is spent on training and parent meetings. More savings will follow VEC rationalisation. More online services and more flexible opening times will be introduced and it will no longer be necessary to provide the same personal information to different Government bodies.

The website lists other major reforms that have already been agreed and delivered including:

  • Redeployment of health staff “at very short notice” to address the impact of voluntary redundancies and early retirements  – an issue that media commentators last year dubbed the first major test of the agreement
  • Reform of the medical laboratories system, including a longer working day, extended working week and less costly on-call and call-out arrangements
  • A reduction of the health service and civil service ‘footprints’ as offices and smaller facilities close with staff transferring to other facilities
  • The introduction of a single central unit for processing medical card applications, with on-line application facilities
  • The introduction of a national procurement structure for the health service, which will facilitate millions of euro of savings
  • The transfer of 1,000 community welfare officers from the HSE to the Department of Social Protection from January 2010
  • Additional working hours for primary school teachers with training, staff meetings and parent teacher meetings to take place outside of school time
  • A redeployment scheme for surplus primary school teachers so that vacancies can be filled and gaps avoided as teachers retire
  • The introduction of redeployment arrangements for all non-teaching staff in institutes of technology and universities
  • More flexibility in the deployment of special needs assistants
  • 500 staff redeployed from Government departments and agencies to deal with unemployment-related workloads in the departments of Social Protection and Enterprise, Trade and Innovation
  • The introduction of a new civil service sick leave management regime, with a target of a 10% reduction in sick leave absence
  • Less costly rostering and working practices in the prison service and cooperation with the downgrading of some prison service posts
  • The rationalisation of state agencies including the merger of the Local Government Management Board and Computer Services Board and the Commission for Taxi Regulation merged with the National Transport Authority
  • A newly-established National Procurement Service, which generated savings of €7.5 million on existing public service contracts worth over €100,000 in 2010
  • An increase in the availability of online services including taxes, the environmental protection grant management system, and the non-principal private residence charge.
  • A reduction in requirements for documentation in many public services including a 75% reduction in documentation relating to capital acquisition tax.

 

Meeting of Irish academics ‘to defend academic freedom’

January 24, 2011

A meeting open to academic staff in Irish higher education institutions took place in Dublin on Saturday, January 22, with the aim of discussing what the organisers believe are potential assaults on academic freedom arising from the implementation of the public service agreement (the ‘Croke Park agreement’) of last year. What follows is a note on the meeting prepared by its convenor, Paddy Healy (former President of the Teachers Union of Ireland). The post below this one is the transcript of Paddy Healy’s own address to the meeting. I am hoping also in due course to publish the views on these matters of the universities and/or the Irish Universities Association.

The Academic Gathering to Defend Academic Freedom met at Gresham Hotel Dublin on Saturday January 22. There were  200 academics present from almost all third level institutions within the state.

Paddy Healy delivered an opening address which is carried below.

Prof Tom Garvin was highly critical of the “half-educated administrators” who had taken over our universities and on whom resources necessary for teaching and scholarly activity were being wasted.

Steven Hedley, Professor of Law, UCC warned that the Universities Act (1997), which provides for academic freedom and tenure, could be amended to weaken its provisions.

Dr Paddy O’Flynn,UCD, pointed out that it was essential that all academics join trade unions to effectively respond to current threats.

Apologies for inability to attend and expressions of support for the gathering were sent by Prof Jim McKernan, East Carolina University, Prof James Heffron (emeritus) UCC and Dr Tom Dooley, Dundalk IT

Many speakers explained why academic freedom and permanency to retirement age were necessary to maintain freedom of speech and information to the public, educational standards and fruitful scholarship including research. Speakers included Professor Peadar Kirby, UL;Professor Michael Cronin, DCU; Professor Mary Gallagher,UCD; Martin O’Grady, IT Tralee, Dr Kieran Allen, UCD, Dr Colman Etchingham, NUIM, Dr Kevin Farrell, IT Blanchardstown, Marnie Holborow, DCU, Dr Thomaé Kakouli-Duarte, IT Carlow, Dr Paul O’Brien, NCAD; Prof Helena Sheehan (emeritus),DCU and many others.

Senator David Norris addressed those assembled and expressed solidarity with the Gathering.

Former Taoiseach, Dr Garret Fitzgerald addressed the Gathering and pointed out the need for an association which addressed academic matters only.

Decisions

It was agreed that a petition would be launched in each institution calling on the governing authority to make a declaration in favour of academic freedom and to remove all threats to tenure and permanency to retirement age.

Such a declaration has already been secured by IFUT President, Hugh Gibbons, and his colleagues in the IFUT Branch at TCD. A motion to the same effect would be tabled at all Academic Councils.

An ad-hoc steering committee was formed to co-ordinate the campaign.

It was suggested that a pledge in favour of academic freedom and permanency should be administered to all political parties in the forthcoming election. This will be considered by the steering committee.

It was agreed that the Gathering would be reconvened in the coming weeks to consider whether further organised work was necessary.

“Public gathering” called on academic freedom

January 20, 2011

The Irish academic news resource website, 9thlevelireland, yesterday carried a letter signed by 160 academics calling for a meeting to discuss threats, as the signatories see it, to academic freedom across Irish higher education. This meeting, which is described as being ‘open to all academics’, is to be held on Saturday, January 22, at 2pm, in the Gresham Hotel in Dublin.

The initiative for this was taken by Paddy Healy, a lecturer in the Dublin Institute of Technology and a former President of the Teachers Union of Ireland, which inter alia organises staff in the Institutes of Technology. In his blog he has expanded on the reasons for his fears concerning academic freedom. These are based principally on the agreement reached last year between the Irish government and the public sector trade unions (the Croke Park agreement), under which various changes in working practice and in contracts of employment are to be negotiated. In the blog Paddy Healy publishes a document said to have been issued by NUI Galway setting out proposed changes and reforms. As far as I am aware, the university has not made any public comment on this, so I cannot say whether the document represents its position, or what its aims are in any negotiations that may be taking place. But if we take the document at face value, it clearly envisages a very different kind of employment contract and higher levels of staff flexibility.

From what I can gather, the process of initiating the reform processes envisaged under the Croke Park agreement has been left by the Irish Universities Association to individual institutions, and there is no sector-wide position on what changes might be involved. This may be a risky approach, and it would be hard to imagine that very different contractual frameworks or terms of employment could be sustained between the Irish universities and colleges. Not having a common approach also makes it difficult to avoid rumours and fears circulating through the system. I cannot help feeling that a more open, nation-wide discussion process would make more sense.

On the other hand, it would also be a mistake for academics to resist all change, or to allow the impression to emerge that this is their position. There continue to be very good reasons for preserving intellectual autonomy and academic freedom, but academics must also be aware of, and show sensitivity to, the general movement towards greater accountability in society. The risk is always that accountability is seen as meaning bureaucratic control, and to avoid that being the result of current reforms academics, like the universities, need to engage in constructive discussions. As part of this process, resistance to measures such as measuring of full economic costs is hugely counter-productive and damaging to the staff position. A radicalisation of these discussions on either side can easily prompt wider public hostility towards higher education, an outcome that would put the entire system at risk.

All parties involved in this should proceed with some care, and with as much openness as possible. Rumour is the enemy of success.

The Croke Park challenge

January 4, 2011

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.

Terms and conditions of employment in Irish higher education

December 19, 2010

One of the great uncertainties in higher education right now is how academic terms and conditions may change in the future. This is made more complicated by the fact that such terms are very loosely, if at all, defined in the universities, while they are regulated in some detail in the institutes of technology and some other colleges. In the universities there is an understanding that academic staff must be engaged in work that will provide proper teaching for students and will lead to high value research outputs (as well as administrative and external work); precise working time and conditions are not set out, but the principle of goodwill in fact produces workloads and a working week for many that is highly demanding and in terms of hours far greater than in most private sector employments. In the institutes workloads are included in an agreed and binding framework that sets teaching contact hours and provides for fixed holidays.

All of this is being called into question by recent comments on higher education and by the government’s agreement with the public service trade unions (the ‘Croke Park’ agreement). Under the education clauses of this agreement working hours are to be extended (easy when you have fixed hours, less easy when you don’t) and other contractual terms are to be reformed, in return for a commitment by the government not to cut pay any further.

The implementation of these terms was always going to be tricky, but one factor creating problems was the refusal by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), which organises staff in the institutes of technology, to ratify the agreement or to be bound by it. The government’s threatened response to this was to suggest redundancies for the institutes. The union blinked, and has agreed to enter into discussions about the implementation of the Croke Park agreement.

But this will not be easy, as an email distributed by former TUI President and lecturer in the Dublin Institute of Technology, Paddy Healy, shows. In this email dated December 15, he lists concessions he thinks are being demanded of the union in relation to academic working conditions and suggests that institutes’ academic staff were being ‘bludgeoned into submission’, and that it would be ‘suicide to do a deal with a dying government’.

The Croke Park agreement in any case has an uncertain future, but it is unlikely that a tactic of militant opposition to reform of working conditions will play well with the public. Some of the more specific ‘protections’ enjoyed by institute of technology staff (such as long summer holidays) are hard to defend, or at any rate it would be unwise to defend them publicly. However, the fight (if that is what it is) on these issues could so collateral damage to the universities, whose capacity to extract commitment and additional work from academics would be seriously undermined if minimum (and thus inevitably maximum) workloads were imposed.

Both the universities and the institutes do however need to become much more sophisticated in recording and publicising actual staff workloads, to overcome the widespread perception that working conditions not onerous. Staff resistance to the collation of such information (and there is some, in some institutions) could come back to haunt them.

This entire process is a highly sensitive one and may easily go wrong.

Croke Park, what now?

June 21, 2010

For any non-Irish readers of this blog, I might just place this briefly in context. In March of this year the trade unions and the public sector employers reached an agreement on pay and conditions in the public service (after negotiations in the Croke Park stadium, hence the title). This agreement was subject to ratification by the trade unions, and the unions involved proceeded to organise ballots under their own rules and procedures. Fast forward to last week: the Public Services Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions ratified the agreement, by a substantial majority.

So all sweetness and light and industrial peace, then? Well maybe, or maybe it will be more complicated. Because while the unions have endorsed the deal, some individual ones have not. One of these is the Irish Federation of University Teachers, which voted against the agreement by a decisive margin. And then there was the Teachers Union of Ireland, which organises staff in the institutes of technology amongst others, and which also voted against. And the Education Branch of the union SIPTU (which organises academics in three universities and other staff in more of them) had recommended rejection, and would have achieved a vote accordingly but for DCU staff, who voted by a comfortable margin in favour and this just balanced the votes against in the other institutions.

But more than that, IFUT and the TUI have suggested that they don’t feel bound by the ratification by the ICTU overall, and will feel mandated to take action against the agreement if necessary (I guess in violation of normal trade union rules about respecting majority verdicts). So what should happen? I have myself suggested that the agreement, or more particularly its specific terms on higher education, is misguided and may produce some problems for the sector. On the other hand, the capacity of the universities to engage the politicians and convince them and other stakeholders that a different path to reform is better may be compromised if they have undermined the overall framework of industrial stability while we seek economic recovery. For that reason militant action against the agreement would be a very dangerous strategy to follow. While the public mood is still one of anger at the antics of those who helped push Ireland into deep recession, it does not follow that it favours those who create obstacles for recovery as they might see it. The public serice-wide action organised previously largely encountered public hostility. Reasoned debate will be better, and is actually more likely to get results.