UCU’s Annual Meeting for members on casualised contracts – Friday 13 February, UCU HQ Carlow Street, London
UCU is stepping up its campaign against the scandalous casualisation in our sector, seeking to recruit and organise more casualised staff and looking to involve more casualised members in the democratic life of our union.
Our Annual Meeting is a vital part of that democracy. The Annual Meeting:
• Elects the anti-casualisation committee, which advises the NEC;
• Sends motions to the committee to inform its work for the year,
• Features discussion and workshops to help members build the fight against casualisation in their own branches.
What’s happening at this year’s annual meeting?
This year’s annual meeting will feature speakers on the fight against zero hours contracts and on women and casualisation.
There will also be workshops on legal challenges to casualisation, on researching and communicating the effects of casualisation and on building effective local campaigns on casualisation.
It will be a great opportunity to contribute to the democratic life of the union and to help build the union’s campaign against casualisation.
Interested? Make sure your branch is represented at the Annual Meeting:
Each branch/local association is entitled to send two voting representative to the annual meeting. If you wish to attend, please contact your branch now.
Each branch delegate must have been been approved either by a quorate branch meeting, quorate branch committee meeting or by a properly constituted meeting of members on casualised contracts.
The deadline for registration is Friday 30 January 2015. If you would like to register please get in touch with your branch/LA committee asap! The registration form must be completed by Branch Secretaries / LA Presidents or other officers of the Branch/LA on behalf of members wishing to attend the conference.
For full details of how to register, click here
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Travel costs are reimbursed as per UCU guidelines, and if you’re coming a long way you may be able to request overnight accommodation. If you think you might struggle to cover the cost of travel upfront, contact email@example.com to discuss options.
This Private Members’ Bill gets its second reading in the House of Commons *today* – Friday 21st November (probably about 1pm)… Have you asked your MP to make sure s/he is there yet? There is still time to do it here! You can also join us in putting pressure on MPs by tweeting on #ZeroHoursContracts, copy in @ucuanti_cas and you can also find your MP on Twitter here.
This isn’t a “perfect” Bill (it doesn’t abolish them or anything) but it would be a significant step if it got through. It is arguably the first serious attempt at a definition of a Zero Hours Contract. Even if it does not get through (sadly I’m guessing it’s unlikely but *hope*) calling attention to it helps keep the injustice that comes part and parcel with this exploitative form of employment in public view. It helps underline the point that we think it is unacceptable to continue routinely exploiting workers.
Let’s not forget that zero hours contracts quite literally mean you are guaranteed ZERO HOURS of work. Let’s not forget that research (and common sense) links the increase in zero hours contracts and the growing problem of under-employment which has been on the rise for at least the past 6 years.
Let’s not forget that research also shows that people on zero hours contracts “receive lower gross-weekly pay (an average of £236 per week) than those who are not (an average of £482 per week) and workplaces that utilise zero-hours contracts have a higher proportion of staff on low pay (between the National Minimum Wage (NMW) of £6.19 per hour and £7.50 per hour) than those who do not” [Resolution Foundation, 2013].
Let’s not ignore that all zero hours workers necessarily receive rights and treatment many people take for granted at work, like proper holiday and sick pay – I didn’t, and these people don’t.
Let’s not pretend that zero hours workers appear in small numbers when the ONS estimate went from 200, 000 in 2012 to a revision of at least 1.4 million in April of this year which may well still be an underestimate because there is a lot of confusion among workers as to whether they are even on a zero hours contract, whether that’s in the public or private sector. UCU research shows that 46% of universities and 60% of colleges use zero hours contracts to deliver teaching – and we know that many institutions are under-reporting. At least 307, 000 care workers in England alone are on zero hours and this has been linked to difficulties in maintaining quality of provision (how can people provide that quality when under pressure and treated unfairly?!). Zero hours in the retail sector is rife; well-known offenders like Sports Direct consign 80% of their workers to them.
Let’s not forget that zero hours contracts can significantly disrupt people’s lives and even prevent you from claiming benefits you need when your hours fluctuate wildly. Let’s also not forget that in May, the minister for employment Esther McVey started talking about JobCentre staff ‘mandating’ unemployed people to accept zero hours contracts or face benefit sanctions.
Let’s not pretend that the idea of “flexibility” so often put about by those who support zero hour contracts tends to favour anyone other than the employer. If you’re treated well on a zero hours contract that really is luck and fortune, it is not by contractual design. Many zero hours workers have reported that turning down work (supposed flexibility) can mean you’re offered less work in future because you’re not being “flexible” (aka flexploited) enough. Let’s not forget that zero hours contracts can make it utterly impossible to plan ahead effectively, which impacts on the lives of individuals and the people who love them.
Let’s not just shrug our shoulders and pretend it’s “just one of those things” that the lives of so many are blighted by this form of casualisation.
Let’s fight back.
Please email and tweet your MP if you haven’t done so already, and please join the conversation!
Vicky Blake, ACC Chair
UCU has been saying for years that casualised contracts affect the quality of education. We’ve argued that employers with highly casualised workforces often struggle to ensure that there are guaranteed staff for who areas of provision and that employers struggle to recruit and retain staff, leading to high turnover and neglect of professional development.
For students and learners, this means their lessons may not have enough staff, they may not know from term to term who is teaching them, and that it is impossible to build up proper educational relationships with a fast-changing workforce. For staff on casual contracts, it means the endless anxiety of worrying whether you’ll be employed again and the frustration of working for an employer who shows no commitment to you but expects you to deliver ‘excellence’ day in day out. That’s why UCU argues constantly for transferring casualised staff onto secure contracts. It’s in everyone’s interests.
Well, it seems that at least some Ofsted inspectors may be starting to agree with us. UCU, like other teaching unions, is highly critical of Ofsted, but it does seem that inspection teams in the South-West may have combined, if unintentionally, with UCU campaigning to persuade two colleges to reduce the casualisation of their workforces. City of Bristol College and Wiltshire College both received critical Ofsted reports over the course of 2013 and 2014 and in both cases, the quality of teaching was under the spotlight.
City of Bristol College is a significant employer of staff on zero hours contracts, while Wiltshire College employed some staff on zero hours contracts and over 30% of its teaching was delivered by agency workers. In the case of Wiltshire College, Ofsted, which shies away from contractual matters, seemed to come close to addressing casualisation directly. In its report from March 2014, Ofsted notes that ‘over recent years, the lack of stability in a number of teaching teams due to staff turnover and some inadequate cover arrangements has contributed to students’ below average achievement’. Similarly, in its October 2013 report into City of Bristol College, Ofsted noted that there was ‘significant variation in the quality of teaching within and between faculties and subject areas’, together with insufficient attention to planning to meet the needs of individual learners, while assessment and feedback to students was poor.
Both colleges have put in place plans to overhaul their teaching since and interestingly, both have responded positively to UCU calls to address casualisation. City of Bristol has reached an agreement with UCU to end entirely the use of zero hours contracts and to replace them with fractional established contracts. Wiltshire College has similarly agreed to end its use of agency staff and reduce the number of staff on part-time and variable hours contracts.
What’s the ‘learning point’ here? In one sense, it’s simple and obvious. We are right about the connection between casualisation and the threat to quality and other people are only just beginning to cotton on. Professional, committed staff who are put onto casualised contracts are often not given the resources or the time that they need. That’s why this is the time for UCU and its branches to turn up the heat on our employers.
Our sister union in Ireland has sent the following solidarity message for today’s Anti-Casualisation Day of Action:
“On behalf of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) I have great pleasure in sending greetings of solidarity and support to your Anti-Casualisation Day of Action.
Insecurity of employment in any sector of society is a cruel imposition on vulnerable people in the interests of profit and unfair levels of control. However, in the area of higher education, casualisation is a lethal weapon used to undermine the principle and practice of academic freedom. We in IFUT see the campaign against growing casualisation not only as a battle on behalf of our own members directly affected but as part of a wider, more fundamental struggle to maintain not just decent standards of work but also to preserve such socially essential rights as academic freedom and the free pursuit of knowledge.
We are proud to be in the same frontline as you today.”
Irish Federation of University Teachers
UCU’S Anti-Casualisation campaign is fighting the abuses faced by staff on casual contracts within further and higher education. We hope that all members will support this campaign and stand with colleagues on casual contracts to put an end to such abuse.
The UCU National Day of Action aims:
- to recruit staff on casualised/insecure contracts
- to encourage more members to be involved in their union
- to campaign in support of negotiating improvements
Your branch may be holding recruitment stalls, meetings, rights workshops and other events on the day itself and those following. If your branch hasn’t agreed anything yet don’t worry. The Day of Action is about launching ongoing campaigning and organising for the coming year too. Anyone can take part in the campaign, and everyone who does will make a difference! Here are a couple of really easy things you can do to support the Day of Action and the fight for secure contracts that goes beyond it – remember we need support of staff on casualised and permanent, salaried contracts:
- Ask your branch to pledge to hold a meeting on casualisation before the end of term. Once your branch has agreed, email the pledge to firstname.lastname@example.org. Check the website for suggested activities and downloadable resources
- 2. Take a photo of yourself with one of our downloadable posters and email it to us – with your name and institution – so that we can add it to our photo album for the day.
- Tweet your solidarity picture to @UCUAnti_Cas and use the hashtag #anticas14 – we’re making a collage of the solidarity photos! (You can obscure your face with the poster if you’re shy or worried)
- Forward the recruitment email that comes out on the day to colleagues and talk to them about joining UCU
- Sign up to and attend the national UCU Anti-Casualisation Training and Organising Conference on Thursday 5th June! (Travel expenses reimbursed by the national union)
THE UCU ANTI-CASUALISATION CAMPAIGN IS AN ISSUE FOR ALL STAFF
On a casualised contract? Tired of feeling alone, vulnerable and underrepresented? On Wednesday, 22nd January, University of Bristol UCU hosted A Precarious Life: A UCU Anti-Casualisation Workshop. Organised by Tracey Hooper, Bristol Vice President, and Jamie Melrose, Bristol Hourly-Paid Teacher (HPT) Rep, as well as Ana Lopes, UWE UCU Research & Associate Lecturer Rep, and Hedley Bashforth, University of Bath UCU Secretary, A Precarious Life saw HPTs, fixed-term researchers, graduate teaching assistants, UCU members and all manner of staff on casualised (as well as full time!) contracts, from around the Bristol and Bath area, come together to discuss and organise around the issue of casualised labour in Higher Education
The sessions that made up the day allowed participants to share their experiences; to detail the increasing institutional reliance on casualised staff in Bristol and Bath Universities and to begin to effectively organise around the issue. A Precarious Life kicked off with a keynote from Vicky Blake, Chair of the UCU Anti-Casualisation Committee (ACC). Vicky drew attention to how the concerns of casualised labour — job insecurity and workloads; the lack of institutional recognition — were becoming a key platform in UCU. The ACC is a good example of this. The casualisation of work in HE and Further Education (FE) is no longer a dirty, unarticulated secret: it is a matter of public concern. Vicky noted that union activity may seem like a bit of a jump for those currently in precarious jobs. One has potentially a lot to lose given the arbitrary way in which such labour is awarded. This acknowledged, UCU is increasingly aware it needs to be an open and inclusive organisation, aware of the casualised staff lot.
Know your rights
The session Know Your Rights, facilitated by Hedley and Nick Varney, UCU South West Regional Officer, focused on what UCU is doing with regard to insecure and low pay casualised contracts. Worryingly, these types of contracts are on the rise in HE and FE. There are egregious zero hours contracts with no working rights, agency contracts, and armies of teaching staff on variable contract (VHC) terms – where hours are agreed on a termly or annual basis. VHCs are often as insecure as zero hour’s contracts: no guaranteed hours or salary; teachers and researchers carrying out the activities of full time staff without compensation or equal treatment. HR departments often don’t even know how many people they employ on these contracts! After all, dismissal is only evidenced by not giving a new contract: many workers’ contracts end in May/June but they won’t know whether they have another contract until September.
In terms of what casualised staff should know, there are three key pieces of legislation:
- Equal pay legislation governing pay differences between men and women
- Part time workers legislation
- Fixed term workers regulations in which if a worker is employed for a series of fixed terms where the gap between terms is because of the organisation of the academic year, after 4 years, these contracts can be made permanent
The last piece of legislation is particularly noteworthy as UCU wants to end VHCs (unless in certain emergency conditions). A key task, then, is to establish clear ‘trigger points’ for when people are given guaranteed hours with exactly the same terms and conditions as full-time equivalent staff. In the Q&A, Tracey added that Bristol UCU is currently leading on moving to fractional contracts.
Early Career & Contract Researchers
In the workshop Early Career & Contract Researchers, facilitator Kirsten Forkert from Birmingham City University explored the lot of the early career researcher (ECR). Participants talked about the ECR ‘catch-22’: having to show publications at job interviews whilst employed in teaching jobs or in roles in which their research does not contribute to their own profile. There is also a lack of institutional acknowledgment of ECRs in universities on the part of managers and full-time staff. Because of cuts in funding, the demise of the post-doc and the demands of the REF ‘complex’, ECRs are expected to perform above and beyond, bereft of the necessary recognition of their precarious, isolated, condition.
How to deal with all this? When it comes to, for example, setting up support networks, participants felt ECRs might not want to get involved. They are understandably concentrating on trying to develop their own research profiles. Suggestions were also made about UCU setting out a clear vision of an alternative research culture. Equally important is to connect the issue of casualisation with the general trend in HE regarding said culture. It is still difficult to raise awareness about these issues with some senior staff seeing casualised labour as a necessary rites of passage rather than an institutional choice on the part of university managers to devalue the wok of researchers.
In the session Creative Protest, Chris Jury from Bath Spa University talked about the parallels between the 1980s deregulation of labour conditions in TV and film and what is now going on in HE and FE. For Chris, colleagues seem unable to conceive of what is coming their way in terms of casualisation: there seems to be an unwillingness to accept how much worse it can get. Most academics prefer not to oppose/organise but just persevere. Apathy is academia is unfortunately rife: private grumbling is not translated into public, collective action. There was some discussion about how to do this. Participants contended university workers need to focus on raising awareness about casualised contract conditions within universities. Moreover, a range of support and participation is crucial: The 3 Cosas Campaign at the University of London – staff and students working together – is a good example here.
In the concluding Q & A participants again reflected on the perennial issue: what is to be done. Jamie argued we need to think about modifying workplace behaviour: actively treating all university workers equally, rather than just passively assuming the supposed rigid “meritocratic” hierarchies enforced by senior and middle management. After all, when was the last time a Head of School proposed a genuine inclusive policy regarding casualised staff? There exists no real positive vision in our workplaces, our schools and departments, for how our research and teaching environments should resemble some of the values articulated by academics and UCU.
As for the general reception of A Precarious Life, there was a consensus that it represented an important first step in building a local and regional support network for staff on casualised contracts. The opportunity for people to meet fellow casualised staff served an important awareness-raising purpose. A Precarious Life will hopefully, at the very least, be the start of a sustained anti-casualisation effort at Bristol and Bath universities!
If you are interested in participating or finding out more about the above issues, please get in touch with us via email@example.com or Twitter @UCUAnti_Cas. If you’re in the South West please do get in touch with either Jamie Melrose — firstname.lastname@example.org or Tracey Hooper —email@example.com who organised the above event to get involved locally!
A special thanks to Cerelia Athanassiouand Maria Fannin for taking the notes!
by Terry Duffy
An oft-quoted BBC black humour story foretells that when you’re abruptly told it’s your last programme, BBC boffins ridiculously “up-speak” your new career horizons as paved with fool’s gold! So it has come to pass in the world of academia that we are only as good as our last lecture or dusty monograph! From personal experience I would encourage colleagues to think carefully before contemplating post-tenure “nirvana” as mis-spinned by college Human Resources. H/FE directors share a common preoccupation with book-balancing and in a world of financial tricks there can be few more crafty “sleights of hand” than whole-scale or even piecemeal academic casualisation. UCU consider that at least 40% of academic, research and support staff are now “casualised” and some institutions are much worse!
As one of HR’s “black arts”, casualisation offers short-term flexibility for H/FE financial planners- fiscal benefits which are almost in perverse contrast to the personal misery of affected staff. Casualisation not only leads to lower wages and benefits, but also directly increases the ratio of unpaid to paid labour, and the intensity of work-loads for everyone! It is a process where a dual labour market develops, stratified and mutually isolated: a core of permanent workers with a periphery of workers on fixed-term contracts. We need also to ponder how people subjectively experience what is inevitably a miserable process! Staff at the sharp end of casualisation are almost entirely atomised, desperately moving from contract to contract or forced to use recruitment agencies. At worst, in many universities and colleges recipients of zero-hour contracts endure a modern form of slavery! This is also a barrier to the development of solidarity with other workers, and frustrates workplace organising by UCU and other trade unions.
Where agencies are involved casualised staff receive only a portion of each hour’s work, leaving the worker doubly exploited, with two sets of parasites extracting a percentage from their service. In many cases casualised staff don’t qualify for full benefits: maternity pay, sick pay, pensions and holiday entitlements etc. As a result of EU legislation, agencies have to extend rudimentary benefits but this is often a PR con-trick with the incorporation of holiday pay into the hourly rate or other benefits being offered only on paper as part of a crafty exercise in shuffling numbers. From past experience one can be sure that we rarely benefit from the HR calculation of fractional or zero-hour post benefits! These never err on the side of generosity- that would be defeating the purpose- stupid!
So across the H/FE sectors with such a large potentially compliant labour force, managers are shifting staff into low wage, low security college “McJobs”, often socially subsidised and highly casualised. Often even course co-ordination is casualised. In such H/FE environs, staff are conditioned to tone down their expectations and to accept inconveniently peripatetic work. Consequently, in looking at this depressing terrain, we need to be aware of the development of new subjectivities. In responding to atomisation we should certainly consider our collective identity based on the shared experience of casualised work but we must also assert our position in the entire academic work-force. Yes, “wake up”; it’s an issue for us all! Your ostensibly permanent position is at risk too!
The stark reality is that casualisation presents a threat to the whole work-force, not just those affected by it right now! The encroachment of fixed-term contracts and the reduction of job security are threats to everyone. If a casualised academic worker finds a better job, they leave behind a position that another worker must fill. The most promising route for our anti-casualisation struggle is the development of stronger links between temporary and permanent staff. To that extent the strategy being favoured by UCU promises to reap some benefits for academic, academic-related and non-academic staff groups across the H/FE world. But it would be naive not to see this as an up-hill struggle! And behind the awful collective reality of the statistics on casualisation are the individual stories of personal misery which threaten to blight all our lives at work and at home!
Terry Duffy, Glyndwr University
by Vicky Blake
It has been a very busy year for anti-casualisation activists. We have long fought for, but seldom received the kind of widespread attention to atrocious pay and insecurity faced by workers on casualised contracts as exploded over zero hours in the media this summer. Activists from UCU, our sister unions and from broader social justice campaigns have been brought closer together and we continue to receive support from the wider public, trade unionists and non-trade unionists alike. Some MPs have even taken notice, with several doing research in their local areas and organising debates.
Zero Hours Contracts (ZHCs) are the tip of the casualisation iceberg which has finally nosed into public view. Figures obtained by UCU on the use of ZHCs in tertiary education warrant the sounding of the loudest alarms. As activists we need to keep shouting “iceberg ahead!” to demonstrate and to fight the myriad ways casualisation of our labour oppresses us and undermines not only our working conditions and the tertiary education labour market, but also the labour market as a whole.
We have made a great deal of impact, and some very good progress in our fight against ZHCs but it would be a mistake to imagine that the news coverage alone will eradicate them. We must come together now more than ever to oppose not only ZHCs, but all forms of casualisation. Ask your colleagues if they support secure work for all staff and fair pay, and ask them to stand alongside us in our campaign — because we must keep up the pressure on our employers to treat us fairly and with respect. The only really effective way to do this is collectively. The fight for fair pay and conditions in Further and Higher Education is a fight is for all our members and all those who work in our sectors.
Colleagues who understand and support our campaign to Stamp Out Casual Contracts understand that casualisation is both an industrial and an equality issue. Its pernicious effects manifest in ways that affect all workers in post-16 education. Heavy workloads and erosion of pay in tertiary education are underwritten by patterns of increasing casualisation. It affects students too. Staff on part time contracts are working disproportionate amounts of overtime, in many cases undertaking workloads more appropriate to full time staff. Hourly paid staff are frequently required to undertake far more work than is possible to do in the hours for which they are paid. UCU is pursuing a complaint to the European Commission because changes to the law mean that since April 2013 employers no longer need to include fixed term employees in collective redundancy consultations. This discriminates against workers on the very basis of their fixed-term employment status.
Now is the time to organise more than ever before
There are many ways to join the campaign and to show your support, whether or not you are currently on a casualised contract. For example:
- Get in touch with your branch to share your experiences
- Organise! Call meetings for staff on casualised contracts to reach out to fellow colleagues
- Participate! Go to meetings, use the Anti-Casualisation Email Network and @UCUAnti_Cas: share ideas and campaign strategy
- Put up posters! This is a great one for all staff to display!
- Submit your solidarity photos to the Collage 4 The Casualised
- Check out the rest of our online resources
- Start planning for the 2014 Day of Action (Spring date TBC) – meanwhile some highlights from 2013
Share your ideas with us, and don’t forget to get your branch to elect and register delegates for the 2014 Annual Meeting of Staff on Casualised Contracts on 28 February: watch out for updates about how to register!
Vicky Blake is the current UCU Anti-Casualisation Committee Chair & NEC Representative of Staff on Casualised Contracts in Higher Education
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