A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay

As an Irishman, a former students’ union caseworker, and a general leftist, it brings me great pleasure when I get the chance to quote one of my nation’s greatest leaders, Big Jim Larkin. Jim championed the cause of the Dublin dock workers during the 1913 lockout and was well-known for demanding ‘a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’ for the hard-working men of Dublin.

The line springs to mind again as I read the happy news that the Netherlands is ending its ‘experiment’ with scholarship PhDs. It may have seemed appealing on paper to some; for the actual scholarship PhD candidates those benefits never materialised. Instead, it was nothing more than a way for universities to save a few euros at the expense of PhD candidates.

Predictably, the people trying to defend this system are bemoaning the loss of the scholarship system as meaning that ‘less PhDs’ will graduate. An argument which conveniently glosses over how not being recognised as an employee for the labour you provide as a PhD candidate leaves you standing in a minefield that stops many graduating in other countries.

There’s nothing wrong with expecting a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work

In Ireland, all PhDs are funded through scholarship systems and this causes horrors. Without employment status, those studying their PhDs have no entitlement to sick leave, parental leave, holidays or even the most basic of social supports. I represented enough of them in crisis to know that such an arrangement taking hold here would have been disastrous.

The argument that those protesting this system were motivated by money is laughable too. After all, why shouldn’t they be? There’s nothing wrong with expecting a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Expecting people to surrender that to help the bottom line of the university as it seeks to increase its research output as cheaply as possible is madness, and calling them greedy for this is insulting.

On Dublin’s main street, a statue of Jim stands among heroes of Ireland, rebels who fought for the country’s freedom; some who lost and some who won. To me, they are all heroes. But Big Jim Larkin was more than just a rebel and a hero; he was a union man. So many fights like this are won with no statue, but the victories benefit so many regardless.

So, to the 239 scholarship PhDs of Groningen who signed the petition and fought for their rights, stand tall. Well done.


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