Job evaluation assesses the skills and responsibilities required of a particular post, rather than the individual performing it. The process measures whether or not a specific post is correctly graded. Fórsa secured an agreement for job evaluation in higher education in 2015. Three years on, there’s still no movement, but the Department of Education and Skills can no longer afford to keep its head in the sand.
When the Lansdowne Road Agreement was being negotiated in 2015, discussions took place between unions representing education workers and the Department of Education and Skills, under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission (LRC).
One of the agreed items that emerged from that process was a commitment to authorise job evaluation exercises for library, clerical, administrative and support grades in the higher education sector.
It also provided for consultation between management and staff to take place before the commencement of any job evaluation exercise, and it was left open to both management and unions to put forward their respective business case to the department, seeking authorisation to conduct a job evaluation process.
It’s been routinely acknowledged by successive ministers - and by senior civil and public servants - that this sector has undergone enormous change.
Anyone working in the higher education sector will attest to the need for such a process. Since 2008, the sector has seen an increase of over 30% in the number of students enrolled. In the same period staff numbers have fallen by 12%, due largely to the moratorium on recruitment that applied during the economic crisis.
By this measure, we can confidently state that the increase in productivity is more than 25%, while student numbers continue to grow in line with population growth and an accelerated demand for higher education places.
The sector has, up to now, relied on the goodwill and dedication of its staff. They’ve taken on additional workloads and responsibilities in order to protect the delivery of a quality service to students and staff. The pressure on administrative, library, and student support staff is reaching a critical point.
The growing pressure on these workers has been exasperated by the non-filling of posts in recent years, leading to the point where some posts were filled by agency staff on a temporary basis.
While unions had little choice other than to tolerate this in the short term, it’s a situation that’s no longer acceptable to us.
There is now an overwhelming, and entirely reasonable, demand from our members for the promised job evaluation scheme to be implemented without delay. They have waited long enough.
The continuing lack of progress risks the erosion, or in some cases even the collapse, of the efficient running of our higher education institutions, and the quality education they deliver to students.
For this reason, I’ve brought the matter to the attention of the Education Sector Oversight Group (ESOG), which oversees the terms of national agreements in the sector. This follows continuing pressure on senior officials and the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, to break the logjam.
The recently reactivated job evaluation scheme in the health sector should serve as a caution to the Department of Education and Skills.
An eight-year suspension of the job evaluation scheme led to a large backlog of existing and potential applications from workers who have taken on substantial extra responsibilities, as clerical and admin staff numbers fell dramatically during the crisis.
Fórsa officials working in the health sector have been encouraged by the high number of applications to the reactivated scheme, which opened last year on foot of the union’s campaign. And while the success rate has so far been high, the waiting times for completion of the process are significant due to huge pent-up demand.
It’s time for the department to take its head out of the sand, and address the critical delay in getting a job evaluation scheme activated in higher education. Further delay will hit staff morale, increase the pressure on service delivery to a critical point, and escalate the risk of industrial action – something that is now under active consideration by our Institutes of Technology branch.
The sector is now, once again, deep in preparations for a further phase of seismic change, through the creation of new technological universities. If the department fails to act soon, all of this good work will be undermined by its failure to ensure our higher education institutes are staffed appropriately.
Nobody scores points for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.