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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can tweet it on the day.
Watch this space for more and check the Stamp Out Casual Contracts web page.
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.
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.
Manchester University is one of the biggest research intensive universities in the UK, employing more than 1,700 research staff. With such a large body of researchers, the use of casualised fixed-term contracts has long been a big issue at the university, which is one reason why the local UCU branch has made it a long-term strategic objective to win greater security and continuity of employment and fairer treatment for these staff. What’s notable and interesting about Manchester UCU’s approach is how long they have persevered, combined organising, campaigning and long-term negotiations to win comprehensive local agreements that cover their casualised staff. As we’ll see, problems remain, which make it necessary to organise, campaign and negotiate constantly to police how these agreements are implemented. But the lessons are there, nonetheless.
Greater security for fixed-term staff
When the fixed-term regulations came into force in 2006, like lots of other branches, Manchester’s used it as an opportunity to press their HR department to transfer large numbers of fixed-term staff. As it became apparent that this wasn’t happening, they sought to press management for a local policy and started to campaign and organise among fixed-term staff to create pressure from below. Under joint union pressure, a university working group was convened in 2006 and by May 2007 it was discussing an initial draft policy.
It wasn’t till December 2010 that the branch was finally able to win agreement on a progressive policy covering fixed-term contract staff. This included the crucial policy commitment to ‘seek to employ people on permanent contracts where possible’. The agreement also included a tight and narrow definition of the circumstances under which it was appropriate to use a fixed-term contract.
Perhaps most importantly, the university made a commitment to end the use of ‘hybrid’ open-ended contracts with a stipulated end date. Instead, Manchester agreed to recognise only two kinds of contract: fixed-term and permanent. This meant that research staff whose employment depended on external funding won important new protections. They were contractually no different from other permanent employees and won equal rights to other permanent staff when the term to their funding placed them at risk of redundancy, including being properly consulted with a view to avoiding redundancy, being placed on the redeployment register and getting redundancy pay. In addition, individuals made redundant via this route would continue to be paid employees, on the redeployment register for three months after their funding ceased. Finally, the termination of fixed-term contracts, the threat of redundancy among externally funded research staff and the general policing of the policy were to be monitored by a fixed-term contracts committee. The agreement would, the university said, give the ‘opportunity to enhance the quality of employment’, while ‘working toward a balance between flexibility and efficient and fair working practices’.
The branch continue to use the new machinery established under the agreement to ensure that the policy is implemented properly, which needs constant vigilance. There continue to be plenty of examples where the policy is not followed, so it needs constant monitoring through the bargaining machinery established through the agreement. But the agreement is a major improvement for research staff at Manchester and the branch continue to organise around it to ensure that researchers know their rights and they included it in their recent recruitment work.
More rights for Graduate Teaching Assistants and no Zero-Hours contracts
In 2010, as the research contracts policy was being signed off, the branch also began to organise and campaign around the need for a similar policy to cover its Graduate Teaching Assistant population, mainly, but not solely comprised of PhD students. Meetings of GTAs were organised to find out the extent of the problems and build support for an agreement during June and November 2010.
In April 2011, the university agreed to set up a teaching assistant review group and the branch sought to ensure that GTAs were able to feed into these group meetings. Consultation meetings on early draft policies were organised with GTAs and other hourly paid staff. Then, late in 2012, the branch signed off a final GTA agreement.
Under the final policy, the university agreed to ensure that GTAs all received one of a family of formalised job descriptions referenced against the nationally agreed academic role profiles and all received a formal contract of employment. Under the agreement, all GTAs were assimilated to the National Pay spine and those who had worked up four years service had incremental progression.
A key win under the policy was the general policy commitment to ensure that teaching assistants ‘should not be treated as casual’. This commitment is delivered on via a range for mechanisms including the transfer of staff after four years of fixed-term contracts and can include the use of pro-rata contracts.
Another critical achievement was the commitment to eradicate zero hours contracts. Zero hours contracts had been widely used in some faculties but the branch scored a major success in winning management to the idea that there was benefit in moving all these staff on a‘defined hours’ contract with a few retained on ‘minimal hours contract’ to allow for specific flexibilities. The branch were able to convince management that such defined hours contracts ‘would give greater stability and reliability in the use of teaching assistants.’
Again, of course, there remain problems with implementing the agreement, yet despite this its mere existence gives local reps the opportunity to hold management to account.
What’s most impressive about Manchester UCU’s achievement is the fact that as far back as 2004, the branch identified casualised staff as a strategic priority. Having done so, they made a long-term commitment to the issue and to combining campaigning, organising and collective bargaining over the long-haul. It’s not perfect and like any policy, it needs to be constantly policed which requires the branch to keep organising and talking to management. But there’s no doubt that these agreements have paid off in the form of real improvements for many vulnerable staff.
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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