Workplace Relations Commission: University must finalise detailed promotions scheme ‘as a matter of urgency’

A university lecturer has had her request for the re-run of an allegedly unfair and biased promotions scheme refused by the Workplace Relations Commission.

However, stating that she was “struck by the lack of a formalised detailed processes that would be expected around a promotions scheme such as the one which took place”, Adjudication Officer Louise Boyle recommended that the university’s new promotions scheme needed to be finalised “as a matter of urgency”.


The complainant is a lecturer who has been employed by the respondent, a university, since 2001. In June 2017, the lecturer applied for promotion but was advised that she was unsuccessful in October 2017.

In January 2018, the lecturer appealed the decision regarding her promotion; however, this was dismissed. In June 2018, the “Report of the 2017 Senior Lecturer Promotions Appeal Board” was published, and a minority report was issued by an independent assessor on the appeals board referred to as Professor A.

Complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission

In September 2018, represented by the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU), the lecturer brought a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission seeking adjudication under section 13 of the Industrial Relations Act 1969. The lecturer claimed that her application for promotion was treated unfairly and that there were procedural breaches in the process.

The grounds upon which the lecturer’s complaint was founded included:

  • Variations in scoring including where one assessor awarded particularly low scores compared to other assessors;
  • Incomplete, illegible or missing notes;
  • Historical school disciplinary bias which particularly impacted the lecturer and other applicants in her discipline. The lecturer also outlined that no member of her School in the university had been promoted since 2007.

The lecturer also submitted that many of the issues which Professor A’s minority report detailed were not referenced in the report that was put forward by the appeals board. The lecturer highlighted that it was irrational and unfair not to do so, and that overall it was a very unfair process.

The university confirmed that Professor A had issued a report of her findings of the scheme which set out concerns about the quality of the promotion scheme, but also that Professor A did not suggest that she was unhappy with the overall outcome or report of the appeals board.

The university said they were engaged in negotiations with SIPTU regarding further rounds of promotion, and that, when an agreement has been reached, the lecturer will be eligible to apply under any new scheme agreed.

Disputing the complaint that the process was unfair, the university said it would be hugely unfair on successful applicants, some of whom were members of SIPTU, to have to rerun the promotions process.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Adjudication Officer Louise Boyle noted the lecturer’s dissatisfaction with variations in scoring, bias towards her discipline, and discrepancies in the constituency. She also noted the issues raised in Professor A’s minority report which were not recognised.

Further, Adjudication Officer Boyle noted the work being done by the university and SIPTU in finalising a promotions scheme – but said that this “appeared to be taking a longer time than one would expect for such an impactful scheme”. 

Considering all the evidence submitted to the Commission, Adjudication Officer Boyle said that there were not sufficient reasons to uphold the lecturer’s specific request for rerunning the promotions scheme.

That being said, Adjudication Officer Boyle said she was “struck by the lack of a formalised detailed processes that would be expected around a promotions scheme such as the one which took place”. In those circumstances, Adjudication Officer Boyle made the following recommendations:

  1. As a matter of urgency, the university and union(s) should finalise the promotions scheme, taking on board, if deemed appropriate, the general concerns raised by Professor A. This should include the risk of bias across schools/disciplines of the university.
  2. Any promotions scheme which is implemented should include a formalised detailed process for each step of the process and those involved with the process. This should include but is not limited to (a) the role of assessors who are tasked with reviewing job applicants such as the one which the worker completed; and (b) the role of members of the appeals board including how the appeals board deals with concerns such as those raised by Professor A.
  • by Róise Connolly for Irish Legal News
Share icon
Share this article: