Category: Gender

Calling all Casualised! UCU Annual Meeting for Staff on Casualised Contracts Friday 13 February 2015

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 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 to discuss options.


We Need To Talk About Casualised Staff…Day of Action 7 May 2014


Stamp Out Casual Contracts

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:

  1. 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 Check the website for suggested activities and downloadable resources
  2. 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.
  3. 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)
  4. Forward the recruitment email that comes out on the day to colleagues and talk to them about joining UCU
  5. 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)

 Staff on casualised contracts matter to UCU


The Personal Misery of Academic Casualisation

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

Are you being served?

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 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


Icebergs Ahead!

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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