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
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.
Since 2013 I’ve been fortunate enough to be on a permanent contract as a lecturer, with teaching and research in my workload. But for the past two years after finishing my PhD, this was a much different situation, as I was on casualised teaching-only contracts. Don’t get me wrong; there were many valuable things about working at these jobs: they allowed me to pay the rent (which I desperately needed at the time) and, while the pay was significantly less than what I am earning now, it was at least enough to survive on (which is not the case for many casualised jobs, such as hourly paid teaching). I have met some fantastic colleagues, and in one of the institutions where I worked, was given some very helpful mentoring. I was able to get some important teaching experience and now have a better understanding of how things work in different institutions.
However, because these contracts were teaching-only, they did not include the time or resources to do research. And it’s very difficult to do research when you’re doing it on your own time and it’s not officially part of your job. Temporary teaching-only contracts often have quite heavy teaching loads, in part because research is not included. I know this sounds unfair (because it is!), but my teaching load was actually heavier when I was working on part-time contracts than it is now on a full-time contract (which is why I’m now able to be much more productive), and the temporary nature of the post meant continually having to apply for the next job, which took a lot of time that could have been spent on research.
And—here’s the catch-22—in HE, research is the only way to escape casualised employment. In other words, no time to publish=no publishing=no permanent job. That’s the reality of today’s job situation in HE, particularly because October 2013 was the cut-off point for including staff in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) census. I should point out that if I did not have publications for the REF, I probably would not have my current job today.
In retrospect, the only way I was able to publish was through literally sacrificing any amount of free time I had: I would write on evenings, weekends, on the train (because these temporary contracts were not really long enough to make it worth relocating, I had to commute). In retrospect, I don’t know how I kept my sanity. I don’t have children or caring responsibilities and have a sympathetic and supportive partner, which made this possible. Otherwise it would have been much more difficult.
Also, I got to know others employed on similar contracts working at the same institution (as we shared the office) and noticed that they were mostly 1) early career academics and 2) younger women (although the HESA statistics do not show a gender disparity in terms of staff employed on temporary, teaching-only contracts). I don’t know how representative these experiences are, but it does make me wonder if the generation of academics is being stuck in these sorts of temporary, teaching only posts to free up time for more established academics (or at least those on teaching-and-research contracts like I am now) to produce publications for the REF, a trap that it is very difficult to escape.
According to the latest HESA statistics, teaching-only contracts are more likely to be temporary and part-time than teaching-and-research contracts. And now, more disturbingly, almost half of teaching-only contracts are now zero-hours. While my previous contracts were temporary, at least I had the certainty of knowing how many hours a week I would be working, and that I would be earning enough to support myself financially. Can you imagine doing research when you have no idea when you will be working, or if you will be earning enough money to live on? How are you supposed to plan time, or have the peace of mind to write?
These contracts are often defended in terms of employers’ needs for flexibility. I also hear arguments about how “some people like teaching and don’t want to do research”—but there’s often an implicit assumption that some people don’t want job security either. I also wonder how many people in these posts actually “don’t want to do research” and how many of these people actually do want to do research but are stuck in teaching-only posts, and furthermore, how many are actually early career academics who are struggling to build a profile when they are having to write and publish on their own time, in some cases with little acknowledgment that they are carrying out research. This is why we need to pay more attention to this issue as UCU activists, particularly as more institutions plan to expand the use of teaching-only contracts and as the next REF approaches. It’s particularly important for us to campaign for time, resources and support for casualised staff to carry out research and build academic profiles.
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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