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Archaeologists join union over low pay

Thursday, June 19 15:43:15

They may not be the first group to spring to mind in the debate about low pay, but contract archaeologists working in Ireland have joined a trade union in a bid to improve their terms and conditions, it has emerged.

The trade union Unite now has an archaeology branch committed to challenging "poverty pay".

"At present site assistants, most of whom have postgraduate degrees in archaeology and related disciplines, earn little more than a euro above the minimum wage," according to the union.

At its inaugural meeting, members of the new archaeology branch said it was necessary to negotiate a registered employment agreement similar to the agreements governing other occupations that ensure that workers' terms and conditions cannot fall below a specified floor.

Commenting, Matt Seaver - who was elected chair of the new branch and is the union representative for the Leinster Region - said: "Site assistants comprise the majority of field archaeologists: they are the ones tasked with excavating and recording our country's heritage on the ground," said Matt Seaver, who was elected chair of the new branch. "Yet many site assistants are working for between E9.50 and E10 per hour. At little more than a euro above the minimum wage. That is poverty pay.

He said the low pay rates were compounded by job insecurity, with many archaeologists working on short term contracts or as self-employed contractors, and others seeing no option but to emigrate.

Connacht representative Jean O'Dowd said "The only weapon workers have against low pay and job insecurity is collective action through a trade union. Unite's new archaeology branch has already secured recognition in a number of workplaces, and our next challenge is to ensure that all archaeologists in Ireland are covered by an industry-wide employment agreement."