University College Dublin (UCD) has been found to be in breach of the Fixed-Term Work Act 2003 in a recent case brought by SIPTU on behalf of Dorota Bruce to the Workplace Relations Commission. Bruce had been employed by UCD’s Applied Languages Centre as an External Relations Manager and was entitled to a contract of indefinite duration (CID) which she was denied. 

Bruce had been employed by UCD since 2016 and had acquired four years of undisrupted service at UCD. Before the conclusion of these four years, Bruce had contacted UCD’s HR department asking for more information on her eligibility for such a contract when she was informed her employment would terminate at the end of the three-year contract. (October 2020) This contract followed an initial eleven-month contract and a three-month contract. 

Shonagh Byrne, the SIPTU organiser, appeared on behalf of Bruce and argued that Bruce’s areas of employment had since “increased in volume”. In August, an interim manager told Bruce that two areas under the supervision of Bruce were facing difficulty and therefore a CID “did not look promising”.

Fixed-term contracts under the 2003 Act must fulfil a legitimate objective, which UCD outlined via a letter, to be “providing effective and efficient administrative and support service”. UCD then stated that the requirements of Bruce’s role would cease by October 2020. UCD maintained in the letter that this position fulfiled the “objective grounds” element for validating a fixed-term contract, in law. 

SIPTU argued that bruce had fulfilled a permanent need of UCD wherein her duties existed post-termination of her contract. It was argued that the dismissal of Bruce was merely a “cost-saving method”. Gavin Stanley, Employee Relations Manager at UCD, appeared on behalf of the university and stated Bruce’s contract was aligned with the unit’s three-year business plan. This unit is now undergoing a “wind-down”. 

The allegation that Bruce’s inquiries and subjection to delayed waiting times in seeking to have the matter addressed. WRC adjudicating officer, Brian Dolan published the ruling today saying the objective grounds related to a “fixed and permanent” need of UCD as a review and remodelling of the Applied Language Centre is to take place. 

As UCD’s evidence that the unit no longer has staff or students was accepted and reinstatement of Bruce to the employment is not possible, Bruce was awarded the €15,000 compensation. 

UCDSU President, Ruairí Power, tweeted “Universities have (unjustifiably) been hiding behind the skirts of the employment control framework to avoid issuing CID […] Hope there are more challenges coming your way @ucddublin!”

Mahnoor Choudhry – Co-Editor