Universities have spent an average of nearly €2.7m a year on external legal fees since 2006 with up to two thirds going towards resolving staff disputes.
The highest spend on external legal fees was by University College Cork where almost €2.9m of the total €4.6m legal bill in the seven years to 2012 was allocated to human resources cases.
The figures obtained by the Irish Examiner show that 65% of University of Limerick’s legal fees go on HR matters, but its total legal spend of under €1.3m since 2006 is the second lowest.
The legal bill for the seven universities totals nearly €18.75m in the period covered and includes €5.6m — or almost one third — spent on cases relating to staffing matters across the sector.
It is understood that, in most instances, the figures do not include the costs of settlements, payment of other parties’ costs, or money paid for conciliation or mediation.
The figures emerge as third-level bosses continue to pressure for improved funding amid threats of further cuts in next month’s budget. Higher Education Authority figures last year showed that colleges were catering for 15% more students than four years earlier, but some have 10% fewer academic staff.
While cases were being fought by universities, which employ tens of thousands of staff between them, more than €8m was paid in unauthorised allowances and unapproved pension contributions to more than 200 staff between 2005 and 2011.
Overall legal costs at University College Dublin, the country’s largest third-level institution, were nearly €3.8m but details of its outlay on human resources cases is not known. However, more than €1.2m was spent just last year, more than double its external legal fees in any year in the previous decade.
Only Trinity College Dublin (TCD) — where over €4.4m in total has been spent since 2005 — and UCC spent more than UCD. TCD and UCC spent over €1m each on legal costs in 2008 and both have been involved in high-profile industrial relations cases in recent years.
The Irish Federation of University Teachers slammed TCD last year for not implementing a Labour Court recommendation to reinstate three staff it had made redundant. A long-running pay parity dispute between staff of the Tyndall Research Institute and UCC was subject of a recent Labour Relations Commission recommendation for talks to move towards establishing if staff are on correct pay rates.
UCC spent just €219 short of €1m on HR-related legal fees in the 2007/2008 academic year. The lowest proportional outlay was the 3% at NUI Galway, where less than €67,000 out of total legal fees close to €2m were linked to staff issues.
Across the seven-year period, the sectoral external legal spend has varied but it rose from around €1.6m in 2006 and 2007 to a €3.9m peak in 2008.
Source: Education News