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.
27 November 2014
(Originally posted by UCU at http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=7300&from=7266)
Lecturers at Sheffield Hallam University who are on casualised contracts want proper full-time contracts, according to a survey of staff released today. Four-fifths (80%) of respondents teach students at the university while the other 20% are involved in either research or teach and do research.
The poll, conducted by the local branch of UCU shows how staff on casualised contracts, such as part-time or the controversial zero-hours contracts, do not enjoy the flexibility they purport to provide and want proper working conditions.
Nine out of 10 people questioned (88%) said they would prefer a permanent contract with guaranteed hours of work. The report is a follow up to research carried out by UCU in 2013 that found that only 10 UK universities employed more academic staff on zero-hours contracts than Sheffield Hallam.
As well as concerns about the nature of the contracts themselves, other issues raised by staff included:
- not being paid for preparation, marking and administrative work
- lack of inclusion and participation in day-to-day activities at work
- problems with contracts being issued on time
- negative impact on staff mental health
- lack of clarity and planning regarding recruitment and retention
UCU representative and co-author of the report, Bob Jeffrey said: ‘This report makes a mockery of claims that the flexibility provided by things such as zero-hours contracts benefit staff. People want a proper permanent contract because they want to know when they are working and they want to be able to plan their lives, not exist on a month-to-month or even week-to-week basis.
‘There a host of other issues that casualised staff face such as not being paid for preparation or marking, failing to be included in the day-to-day life of the university and even problems trying to sort out their contracts. We hope Sheffield Hallam will work with us to improve the lot of the casual staff member. We do not believe it is in students’ interests to see lecturers who may not be there the following month.’
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’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 Christina Paine
The use of zero hours contracts in health, retail and catering has been widely publicised recently. Shockingly, at London Met nearly half of lecturing staff are on these contracts, suffering poverty, and precarity, lack of holiday or sick pay and few comparable facilities or opportunities for professional development compared to permanent staff. In the present context, with strikes over student education and staff pay, this often hidden inequity has to be challenged and changed and zero hours contracts abolished. We, UCU, have launched a campaign to raise awareness, and challenge London Met’s use of these contracts. We have a charter and a video in progress; and at the time of writing a Public Meeting set for 13th November with John McDonnell MP, Catherine West (Labour, Islington Council); and John Fox Branch chair of Hovis at Wigan and Angela Lamb (from Edinburgh University) both of whom have had recent success in forcing management to put all staff on secure and equitable contracts. We can do the same. To join our campaign please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christina Paine, London Metropolitan University UCU
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 Helen Lees
When I was a PhD student struggling to make sense of a higher education environment that rendered me at the bottom of its pile in terms of status, I thought well, if I get a job in a university then I will be someone. I will have started a career. It felt like a happy scenario.
Prior to that, after quite a few years in a “what shall I do with my life?” wilderness I had stumbled on work that I could do; for which I was suited and which gave me a sense of meaning and joy. I had read an academic article in the library when training to be a teacher and I knew immediately and exactly what I wanted for my contribution to the world. I wanted to become an academic. I would do a PhD and then write, write, write (and teach). My vision forward was clear. So I sucked up the bad bits of being a Phd student with my eyes on the prize.
You know, the PhD was quite hard work. So were the subsequent two monographs in two years and the setting up of the journal, the papers, the funding applications and so on. I did it all because I thought it would be worth it. For the sake of others and for making a difference to their lives. But to do this properly you need continuity and support…
Watch out for gender issues
Oh, how naïve. Firstly I am a woman, so the odds on my turning a PhD into a (paid) full time, long term career as a public servant of thought, publication and teaching are, in fact, slim. Albeit possible, the chances are sadly less likely than if I inhabited a male body. Weird but true: my genitalia disable me as an academic of value. It’s 2013 and that is still true. But it’s just about the mind in higher education you say? No it isn’t. Not yet and the rate of progress is too slow as a recent Canadian report on professorial promotions for women suggests. What’s being tried just ain’t enough. As if we need to be told, higher education is and remains stupidly, stubbornly dysfunctional in its relationship to women in its midst. Women are still tainted by sexisms which fail to treat their mental capacities fairly. Implicit bias, open bias, covert bias and blatant networking to exclude, serve to mean that women’s work and thought is sidelined, ignored, cited less, “presumed incompetent” and belittled. Men do better in a highly competitive domain. What’s happening right now through official schemes to address this isn’t nearly enough.
Did I experience a belittling of my work as an academic in the first three years of employment – post PhD – in higher education (2010-2013)? Alas, dear reader, I did. Not from everyone because some male colleagues were and are amazingly supportive, but from too many men I received a sort of drip drip snub. Was I not being male enough? All the schemes in the world (Concordat, Badge of Excellence, Athena Swan, the law…) did not help to stop me feel slightly bewildered. Why was he getting on so much better than me? Why is his work paid attention and taken seriously whilst mine is passed over as a “novelty”? Why is his work put into the REF and mine not? Why are they discussing his work in the meeting and never mine? Do I exist? Why does he have solid networks whilst I struggle to fit in? Why am I, as an employee, described as “in and out”? Is he better than me? Why does he have a permanent job and an office, a laptop, an ipad and responsibilities and I – and all these other women – linger on precarious short term contracts, dependent on funding, often infantalised into serving professorial staff and not much more unless we turn our face away and become difficult and, shall I say, “entrepreneurial”?
Mysteries which increasing levels of research on bias against women’s thought and inclusion on equal terms in higher education begins to unravel. Given I was a woman on a research contract I never stood a chance.at equity or fairly tendered respect as a general rule – it became the exception. That PhD student self I had back then thought research would be a viable pathway to make my desired contribution to knowledge and the world. Dear dear silly little me. I had no idea how difficult that would be to make true given my gender.
But sexism aside, perhaps my status as an early career researcher on a contract might help because I am to be supported – we are told – to create a flourishing career? So I can contribute this talent I have, this latent potential? So says the Concordat and Vitae for example. They are set up to help me in the early stages and in a researcher role, so I’ll be all right! After all, the European Commission has identified that without researcher personnel to develop the knowledge economy the future looks a little troubled. So, making sure researchers flourish, feel included, happy, find meaning and develop to do research and make their vital contributions is a big priority. But this is idealistic.
Those in power forget (do they?) to factor in that in any institution without proper democratic structures someone has to be the kicking horse. Is it likely to be the early career researcher on a contract? Perfect. Cheap minds on seats to serve the ambitions of permanent colleagues. At an interpersonal level, let’s make sure the contract researchers don’t matter much because then that means we “permanents” matter more than them. Let’s get the early career researcher down in the dust somehow in exchange for a reference or another research post. Another research post that also is likely another contract because, once you get branded as a contract researcher and have spent your time serving the egotistic hierarchies of a department where permanent colleagues get the career support, you have nothing to show on your CV in the way of teaching and supervision and no-one values a researcher anyway. They are the new “house-wife” or the easily “expendable factor” when the gaming begins. This is the reality. Something’s got to give.
So forget your contribution to society dear researcher (especially female but not exclusively because men on contracts suffer too). Because of the contract you have signed, the last nine months of it will be easily spent filling out random (all different format) online job application forms in any free time you may have; taking tremendous amounts of time (that could have been spent on research or, crikey, with your family or friends) and you may or may not get another post. Of course you could have taken that redeployment in the face of redundancy by accepting the junior level project post in the social work department, but you have academic pride and a sense of your own value? Oh dear dear. You expect a viable, recognizable career pathway? What silliness. They were right to not bother about you after all because you are clearly too stupid to work in higher education. And, by the way, we are right to patronize and ignore you whatever direction you turn because that stops you making even more complaints which are really bad form, dear. Oh, and by the way, we wish you would shut up. We have a university to run.
Helen Lees email@example.com