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
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.
If casualisation is endemic in post-secondary education, it’s fairly rampant in Adult and Community Learning. In some urban areas, like the West Midlands, UCU has agreements that govern the use of casual contracts, ruling out zero hours contracts entirely, for example and ensuring that staff are employed on fractional or limited variable hours contracts. In many rural areas in the South however, highly exploitative zero hours contracts are rife. Targeting employers who maintain large numbers of their teaching staff on zero hours contracts is a priority for UCU and the union is looking at Adult Education services as well as colleges and universities.
On a related issue, the importance of collective union strength was demonstrated again recently as UCU scored a win for casual staff employed by an Adult and Community Learning Centre in North Lincolnshire and successfully fought off attempts to make detrimental changes to the way tutors were paid. Part-time variable hours tutors at the service are given a core hours contract for the year and until recently, were also paid extra in their monthly salary on an overtime basis for any extra hours they perform during the pay period, over and above the scheduled core hours.
Recently, the employer announced that the system for overtime payments was to be stopped and in the future no overtime payments would be made until the Tutor had achieved their annual contracted hours. That meant that tutors could be doing regular overtime and incurring work related travel and child care costs for example, while not being paid for this work for many months, once the annual core contractual hours had been fulfilled. For tutors who are often low paid and relied on regular overtime payments this could have a big impact on their income and standard of living.
Fortunately, the UCU branch had some new reps, one of whom was a part-time variable hours tutor and who took this up as a collective issue with the services’s management. The result was that management agreed to revert to the previous system of making regular payments in the same month as the work was performed. Collective strength expressed in collective bargaining and campaigning, made the difference for these precarious and low paid workers.
If you’re on a casualised contract worrying about your pension might seem remote, perverse even. For the tens of thousands of staff who endure on fixed-term teaching or research contracts, who worry about where their next funding pot is coming from or who struggle on hourly paid teaching contracts, it’s the lack of job security that causes immediate stress and anxiety.
This is all completely understandable but the reality is that what’s happening to the USS pension scheme is a matter for every member of academic staff working in the pre-92 university sector.
The pension benefits that are available to staff through USS are under an attack that is designed to create greater insecurity in retirement for staff. That might sound extreme but it’s true.
USS is one of the last pension schemes to keep what’s called a ‘defined benefit’ pension structure, whereby you know roughly what you will get in retirement, whether it’s defined by your final salary or your career average salary. In the last 30 years, private sector pensions have almost universally become ‘defined contribution’ schemes that place more risk on individuals and produce lower benefits in retirement.
USS is also a major investor with a portfolio of different investments, including shares in the City that earn income for the scheme. The government’s pensions regulator wants to make sure that USS remains solvent so that its costs never fall on the taxpayer, so it is demanding that USS ‘de-risks’ its investments and raises the contributions being made into the scheme, while cutting the scheme’s liabilities (otherwise known as your pension benefits). That’s why the USS board is insisting on a valuation methodology that artificially creates a big deficit. This provides the justification to call for higher contributions and to cut benefits.
University employers don’t want their contributions to keep rising, so they are putting forward proposals that shift more risk onto you by cutting your retirement benefits.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the final salary section or the career average section now, your pension in retirement will be worse as result of these proposals.
If you are on a casual contract you may not even be in the scheme, but it’s still vital to vote for action.
If you want to stay in the sector, build a career and work in a pre-92 university, USS will be your scheme. The employers have imposed highly detrimental changes on USS once already, back in 2011 and the danger is that they will do so again now. And it is improbable to suggest that they won’t come back again.
That’s why the fight for USS is just as much a fight for casualised staff as for the permanent. If casualised staff don’t take action now, the danger is that their future retirements will be even more insecure than their current employment.
The fight for security is one that unites all UCU members. UCU is campaigning against insecurity in employment and we fight with the same vigour for security in retirement.
That’s why we urge all members, whatever their employment status, to stand together and fight for greater security in work and greater security in retirement.
Download and distribute this new leaflet aimed at casualised staff now. Make sure that all members stand together for security in work and security in retirement.
VOTE YES TO ACTION
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 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