Analysis: A Degree of sympathy


Throughout their organised history, students have always been ready to support protests, and have had a strong record of being ready to fight social injustices. We’ve had no qualms when it came to protesting against third level fees, despite the considerable chaos that some of the demonstrations have caused. Supporting causes is what we are known for worldwide, and – for the most part – students are happy to support the ongoing SIPTU work-to-rule industrial action.

SIPTU announced last week that it was operating the work-to-rule as part of nationwide action being taken in protest against governmental pay cuts across all sectors. However, UCD itself has already been affected by industial action last semester, the effects of which were quite disruptive.

In theory, students will support a strike initiative – but since it emerged that the work-to-rule is affecting the processing of exam results, students will be slow to find satisfaction in what workers have been forced to do.

The SIPTU protest means that lecturers are refusing to work overtime, outside of their designated hours, or in any way that exceeds the strict definition of their job conditions. Put simply, they are working by the rules of their employment, hence the name ‘work-to-rule’. If they do not complete some work on time, they simply don’t do it; the only alternative is to rush the process. Whichever of these two alternatives ultimately occurs, a large percentage of students will be affected.

Firstly, there is the obvious frustration of having thousands of students anxiously await overdue exam results. Secondly, there is the pondering over whether or not a student deserved a better grade – in which case, the ‘skewed’ result might be attributed to a rushed job as a result of the work-to-rule. The students who are most affected are those who are applying for further study, such as final year undergraduates applying for Masters degrees or other postgraduate places. Students who are unable to choose writing samples to submit, or to see their GPA, may find the added time constraints an extra pressure in their application process.

There have also been complaints by a number of PhD students about the additional correction workload they are being assigned, thanks to the action SIPTU are undertaking. Lecturers and professors appear to be giving the work they cannot complete within the work-to-rule timeframe to senior students working as tutors to undergraduates.

SIPTU’s President, Jack O’Connor, has stated that unless the pay cuts imposed by the government are reversed, the work-to-rule will continue. Thus it is likely that many more applications are set to be affected.

Students look set to find themselves in a situation where they have no idea of their continous assessment results when they are entering into their final exams. Depending on the length of the work-to-rule, there remains a possibility that some students will enter their summer exams without having received any of their continous assessment results.

Though students are generally regarded as a protest-happy subset of society, in a strange twist of events, we are not only external to the protest group in this case, but we are also baring the full brunt of the effects posed by this industrial action. We might sympathise with the strikers, but surely the timing of the work-to-rule should have been taken into account by the education representatives in SIPTU who voted it to go ahead?

Two weeks ago, students at the Waterford Institute of Technology walked out of their lectures in protest against a similar action taking place in their institution, which had affected the release of their Christmas exam results. For once, students were protesting against an action, which itself was taken against the cuts implemented by the government. While comments have been made against protesting students in the past, as regards consumption of study time while engaging in protests, we now see an unusual set of circumstances where academic work is being affected by those who are meant to be encouraging it. While students can clearly understand that staff members feel they have no other option, surely it is clear that the work-to-rule is posing more harm than good.

While students clearly have a degree of sympathy with their protesting lecturers, the purposes of this industrial action need to be urgently reviewed – or, better yet, a different type of action should be considered in order to prevent work piling up on lecturers’ desks. We are not denying that we excessively use our voices when a government policy affects us, but this industrial action could affect us drastically too. All that students ask is that those at the centre of the work-to-rule consider some other, less disruptive – and perhaps a more effective – form of action.