Astrophysicist on contract with employer gets tenure in WRC claim – The Irish Times

Dublin’s Institute for Advanced Study (DIAS) has been ordered to recognize a leading astrophysical researcher as a permanent employee after the Workplace Relations Commission dismissed his claims that he there had been a break in his service.

The WRC has learned that the researcher attended conferences on behalf of the institute and continued his project work at a time when he denied receiving assurances that he would be re-employed.

The complaint filed by Alessio Caratti O Garatti under the Protection of Employees (Fixed Term Work) Act 2003 against DIAS was upheld by the WRC in a decision released on Tuesday morning.

The court heard that Dr. Caratti O Garatti has authored or co-authored some 130 publications in the field of star formations in major scientific journals, and now works at the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome as a permanent researcher.

He worked for DIAS as a postdoctoral researcher from November 2014 to October 2021 on a series of three fixed-term contracts ranging from six months to four years.

This included a role on the team that developed a key component of the James Webb Space Telescope that launched into orbit last Christmas called the Mid Infra-Red Instrument, or MIRI.

In July this year, the institute announced it was releasing the first color photograph taken by the space telescope using the MIRI device – a spokesperson calling it “the cutting edge of research revolutionary in space”.

Dr Caratti O Garatti’s representative, Frank Jones of the Irish Federation of University Teachers, argued that because his client had accrued more than four years of continuous service, his employment had been ‘transformed into a permanent contract by operation of law”. .

Contract law

A key dispute in the case was a period from April 30, 2017 to October 2, 2017, which DIAS said was a break in service that undermined the scholar’s right to the permanent contract.

According to the complainant, he was “unofficially informed by [DIAS] that he would be employed on a new contract” and that he had been “led to believe in conversations with senior management that he would be rehired”.

Mr Jones said his client kept his office at the facility, continued to use his staff email and a laptop he provided.

Dr Caratti O Garatti had also continued work on two projects at DIAS and had been “explicitly invited” to do so because one of them had an approaching deadline, he said.

Mr Jones added that his client had traveled to conferences as a member of DIAS in May, June and September 2017 and had turned down an offer of employment at another institution in July 2017 “because he knew he would be rehired by the Respondent”.

The institute accepted the complainant’s timeline, but denied that he “ever gave assurances that he would be rehired” after April 2017.

It said its “essential” staff were funded directly by the Treasury while project staff were funded externally on “short-term projects” funded by research grants.

“Team members may be employed for varying terms, but their employment cannot extend beyond the project date,” he said.

Grant applications

He stated that Dr. Caratti O Garatti had not supervised any doctoral students, but accepted that he attended conferences on behalf of DIAS during this time, receiving only expenses and that he had the use of an office, computer facilities and his DIAS e-mail address.

“Such arrangements are not unusual in this area,” the institute said, adding: “The complainant is similar to the majority of postdoctoral researchers on fixed-term contracts working throughout the service and academic sector in Ireland. [He] was encouraged to apply for funding on his own behalf to seek funding for future research and employment for himself.

The institute’s position was that Dr. Caratti O Garatti’s position that he was “sure he would continue his employment” with the institute was contradicted by the fact that he had made a number of grant applications from this guy.

In his decision, adjudicating officer Roger McGrath wrote that the relationship between the parties during the disputed period in 2017 was “extremely close, closer than one would expect from a relationship that was completely over. “.

“The question arises, why pay plaintiff’s fees for three conferences, including one overseas, if DIAS was not expected to reap a reward at a later date?” he wrote.

He noted that Dr. Caratti O Garatti must have looked for his P45 in June of that year and found that this undermined DIAS’ position that he was “finished with little likelihood of returning”.

Mr McGrath also noted a contemporaneous email submitted into evidence which stated that Dr Caratti O Garatti’s contract “technically ends this week, but the intention is to give him approximately three additional months of work on MIRI” – the space telescope project.

“From my reading of that email, it would appear to me that there was no intention to permanently end the relationship; that the breakup was a technicality; that once funding was available, he would return Mr. McGrath wrote.

He felt that DIAS “thought[…]as a matter of likelihood that the Applicant’s employment would be resumed within a reasonable time” and that Dr Caratti O Garatti was entitled to an indefinite contract with the Institute.