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.
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.
Zero hours contracts have continued to feature in the news, exposing some tensions within the UK Coalition government. In May, Tory Employment minister Esther McVey outlined plans to enable JobCentre staff to ‘mandate’ unemployed people to accept zero hours contracts with the sanction of removal of benefits. On the other hand, in June Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Vince Cable attempted to deflect some of the public attention on this issue by announcing that the government would legislate to make exclusivity clauses unenforceable as part of the Small Business Enterprise and Employment Bill.
As the authors of a new Institute of Employment Rights pamphlet have pointed out the proposed legislation will have almost no impact, partly because exclusivity clauses are probably already unenforceable and partly because this misses the essential feature – and unfairness – of the zero hours contract: the fact that the employer is under no obligation to provide work.
The ongoing political furore over the use of Zero Hours Contracts is an opportunity for unions to press for a proper solution by building political support for legislation that provides a right to continuity of employment. However, we also have a duty to work now to use our collective bargaining strength to win tangible improvements for staff on these contracts. That’s why UCU is working to target major employers using zero hours contracts, making use of their high profile and controversial status.
The advantage of this kind of targeted approach is very visible in the case of the campaign at Gower Collegein Wales. UCU’s FOI revealed that Gower College was the biggest user of zero hours contracts in the Welsh Further Education sector, employing almost 80 staff on such contracts. The UCU Wales regional office and branch agreed to target this employer for a sustained campaign against casualization, beginning by proposing a protocol for fractionalising staff on zero hours contracts.
The college, in common with many FE colleges, pleaded funding constraints and an early agreement seemed unlikely, so the branch and region moved into organising and campaigning mode. Part-time teachers formed a focus-group and from this a part-timers rep came forward for the branch. The college seems to have smelled trouble as it offered some members of the group fractional contracts, but no agreement. UCU continued to press for a comprehensive agreement and began to target Welsh politicians, making good use of the high profile issue, raising it in political circles and maximising bad publicity for the college. A high-profile lobby of the Welsh assembly followed, including part-time staff and the UCU Wales regional official, after which several politicians wrote to the college asking them to explain why they used zero hours contracts and employed so many staff as hourly paid.
In September last year, under growing pressure, the college agreed to set up a working party to look at an agreement. In May 2014, following hard negotiations, an agreement was finally signed. Under the terms of the new protocol for using hourly paid contracts, the college recognises the need to ‘ensure that all staff feel secure and are appropriately supported throughout their employment’ and are ‘committed to appointing staff on contracts of employment that are ‘fair and equitable’, within funding constraints. Concretely, the college have agreed that those staff with four years’ service at above 418 annual teaching hours (including remission) can apply for conversion to a fractional post. The college has maintained that conversion should be subject to any ‘legitimate factors’ that might place provision at risk, but has also agreed to review the policy with a commitment to looking at reducing the threshold of eligibility where possible.
UCU Wales are not sanguine about this deal. It’s not ideal, but it’s a major improvement, a big step forward and a launch pad for further campaigning and bargaining. And it was achieved for vulnerable precarious staff by combining organising, campaigning and negotiation while maximising the opportunity provided by the current political context.
The problems of being on a zero-hour contract are manifold. There is no job security from year to year and you are unable to plan ahead because you never know how much you will be earning in the future.
In my own case, I find it difficult to arrange childcare because of the variability of the hours on offer. Moreover, I have been expected to go to meetings that I am only partially paid for or sometimes I get nothing at all. I attended a meeting recently and my manager was most disapproving because I walked out at the time I had been paid up to.
I work in FE and you are only paid for contact time with the students so all preparation has to be done in your own time. No holidays are paid for so you have some months when you get no wage at all. If the departmental budget is all spent before the end of the academic year then you are told that you have to finish working early; even if a later ending date was agreed in the previous September.
The consequence of this treatment is that you feel under-valued as an employee. Full-time staff do exactly the same job but they are paid for doing preparation and for their holidays.
Zero-hour workers are exploited and vulnerable because no one dares to say too much to management for fear of not getting any hours. Also, the staff who ingratiate themselves with the management are often seen to get the pick of the part-time hours.
The fact is a zero-hour contract is not there to provide an employee with flexibility but to provide an employer with a cheap labour force!
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
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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