The Irish Federation of University Teachers has said the Government is operating an illegal policy on hiring new researchers.

The organisation said the policy, which stipulates that all new employment contracts be for a specific project or time period, breached the rights of thousands of young researchers.

Addressing the annual conference of the IFTU in Dublin today, General Secretary Mike Jennings accused the Government of engaging in a cynical and exploitative practice by only allowing new researchers to be hired on fixed term or fixed purpose contracts.

He said the new university hiring policy meant up to 4,000 researchers were placed in constant insecurity and viewed their jobs as transitory and short-term.

Mr Jennings said the practice breached Irish employment legislation and European Union directives designed to protect workers.

The organisation viewed this as hypocritical when universities were also trying to attract young people into research careers to further Ireland's 'smart economy'.

Mr Jennings called on Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to intervene to protect those who will lead the way on research and innovation in the future.

He said the practice was also affecting young librarians and lecturers.