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
With less than three weeks to go till UCU’s ‘Stamp Out Casualisation’ day of action, more and more branches are reporting in what they will be doing on the day. Many branches are taking the opportunity to organise and recruit new members on casual contracts, organising ‘drop in sessions’, surgeries and social meetings as a way of highlighting what UCU can do for them. Here’s a brief roundup of just some of the action on the day, so far, together with some suggestions for how you can get involved at the bottom…
The University of Aberdeen branch report that they are holding a drop-in clinic for any member on a fixed term or zero hours contract who has concerns about their contract, followed up with one-to-one casework support if required. The University of Central Lancashire branch report that they are leafleting in the run up to the day to promote an open meeting for hourly-paid staff (members and non-members) followed by a members-only advice session. The University of the West of England branch are organising three similar meetings, one on each campus, with a video link between the three sites where they will be sharing “10 top tips” for those on fixed term and part-time/occasional contracts. The University of Leeds branch are holding a series of meetings for GTAs and staff on Fixed-term Contracts, including a social event, afternoon tea, sharing testimony about life on casual contracts and the launch of a survey. Northumbria University branch are holding two meetings for non-members among the Associate Lecturers, asking them what their issues are and showing how UCU can help and a similar meeting is being organised at Birmingham City University for their Visiting Tutors and postgraduate students. Cambridge University branch are holding a stall at an induction event where they will be focusing on casualised staff.
Lunchtime stalls and meetings are being held at the University of Middlesex, Coleg Menai in Wales, Queen’s University Belfast and Oxford Brookes University.
Other branches are using the day of action to directly support their campaigning and negotiating on collective issues for casual staff. Sheffield Hallam University branch are launching a report based on their survey of staff on zero hours contracts as part of their campaign to persuade the university to abandon this form of contract. The branches at Liverpool University and Liverpool John Moores are holding a joint mass meeting as part of their ongoing campaign to win agreements against zero hours contracts. London Metropolitan University branch are holding a social event to which hourly paid non-members will be invited to highlight the branch’s campaign against zero hours contracts, while Goldsmiths branch will be holding a meeting to promote their success in winning a progressive agreement on hourly paid staff and Graduate Teaching Tutors.
UPDATE: 24 October:
We’re getting more reports in of branches organising events for the day of action, including some really imaginative initiatives:
Falmouth University branch are organising a free lunch for all hourly paid members in the main canteen on campus, supported by the local student union, and leafleting all staff with management responsibility with UCU guidance on supporting hourly-paid staff.
Bradford College UCU are using the UCU template to survey hourly paid staff, requesting data on numbers of hourly paid staff, writing to their local MP and recording a series of podcasts – talking about hourly paid work.
Oxford University UCU are leafleting their science area, where there are high concentrations of members on casualised contracts.
Stockport College UCU are organising a lunchtime meeting including a surgery for hourly paid staff.
Sunderland University UCU are planning an open meeting on – including non-members – on hourly or fixed term contracts as well as printing UCU anti-casualisation posters to display in all main buildings.
Blackpool and the Fylde College UCU are requesting a list of all casual staff from their employer and posting UCU leaflets to them, as well as having a stall at one of the sites for casually employed staff. They’re also challenging their employer to remove exclusivity clause from the zero hours contracts.
Keep the reports coming in as it’s shaping up to be a big day!
How you can support the day of action as an individual member:
If you don’t know what your branch is organising them, contact them to find out. If your branch is organising something and it hasn’t been reported in yet, let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The day of action isn’t just going to be organised at branch level. Nationally, the union will be doing its best to give the action as much profile as possible on the web and in social media, so watch your twitter feed in particular.
In addition to branches organising and campaigning, nationally, the union is using the day of action as an opportunity to put more pressure on the political parties to deal properly with the scandal of zero hours contracts.
We’ll be organising a mass letter-writing exercise targeted at MPs on the issue of eradicating zero hours contracts and the exploitation of hourly paid staff, so watch your email inbox for more details very soon.
And finally, if you want to help us boost our social media impact on the day, download our ever-popular poster “I support SECURE employment for ALL staff” and take a photo of yourself holding it and post it on twitter or email it to us at email@example.com so that we can tweet it on the day.
Watch this space for more and check the Stamp Out Casual Contracts web page.
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)