Industrial Action at WIT

Eoghan Dalton Reports

Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) has yet to pay separate financial awards to two female members of staff despite a decision reached by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). That’s according to the WIT branch of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI). The Institute is alleged to owe €10,300 to one staff member, dating from a decision last March, while another staff member is owed €7,800 since June – bringing the total to €18,100. Both cases centre around the procedure for assistant lecturers upgrading to the position of lecturer, with the two women seeking reimbursement for back-pay as there had been a delay in their progression to the role.
The Institute’s TUI branch members have voted overwhelmingly in favour of supporting their colleagues via industrial action, engaging first in a work-to-rule by using emails during specific working hours only. The strike action is set to begin on Monday next, November 26th. Other actions are to follow if the two members of staff do not receive their awards.

WIT did not appeal the awards to the Labour Court and has refused subsequently to pay the awards, said TUI branch secretary, Kathleen Moore Walsh.
The TUI said the Institute is citing a letter from the Department of Education as the basis for its refusal. This states that the Department is to be notified where cases similar to the WIT dispute arise in future. TUI area representative Ray Ryan said the union is contending that letter is not retroactive and is “only relevant in future cases”.
When contacted by this newspaper, the WIT press office said it cannot comment on individual cases.

One complainant at the WRC said there had been a lack of information around how assistant lecturers progress towards becoming a lecturer, with the WRC finding WIT itself had in each case informally told the women they were not on the correct pay scale. In both cases, the WRC Adjudication Officer was not satisfied that WIT had a “fully developed policy and custom where assistant lectures progressed to lecturer grade and legitimately expected to recover retrospective payment of wages owed from the point of meeting the criteria for progression”.“I (the Adjudication Officer) have found that there was a ‘mixed bag’ of arrangements in place and I imagine depending on who the complainant sought guidance from, the information could have varied.”

The Department of Education letter originally cited by WIT, when explaining its decision, was dated after both awards were made by the WRC.
After the TUI raised this with the Department, the branch was informed on 9th November that it will not allow the awards to be paid. “But no mention was made of the letter that was dated after both awards were made,” said Ms Moore Walsh.The TUI Executive endorsed the branch’s work-to-rule industrial action on that day as well. A secret ballot taken on the 23rd of October resulted in 96.3 per cent of the branch voting in favour of incremental industrial action, as a way of supporting the two lecturers.
While restricted use of email is the first step, the branch will consider other work-to-rule measures if the dispute is not resolved.
“I don’t know of any other lecturer, male or female, who obtained a WRC award and WIT failed to appeal the award, and yet refuses to pay it,” said Ms Moore Walsh. A male colleague of the two lecturers had no difficulty when he asked for progression and back wages, she added.

The upgraded lecturer position at WIT includes higher remuneration for additional hours worked. The complainants also claimed they had suffered from stress and anxiety from their attempts to acquire the back-pay. The WRC Adjudication Officers said in their separate reports that they were satisfied that a fully developed policy for progression and back-pay was in use at particular instances, and expected the position of WIT would be much clearer in years to come.

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