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