This blog has been set up as a companion to the ongoing campaign against casual labour in UK academia, to help with the networking side of things. We welcome contributions in the form of suggestions, comments, stories, articles, whatever. We think one useful project that could emerge out of this blog would be a UK version of the Adjunct Project. Please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested.
Casualisation is a process by which employment shifts from full-time and permanent or contract positions to higher levels of casual positions. At the start of February the Guardian newspaper published an article reporting on casualisation of the workforce in UK universities. The article noted that
According to the latest data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa), more than a third of the academic workforce is now on temporary, fixed-term contracts. Moreover, the official staffing statistics conveniently exclude the 82,000 academics employed in jobs such as hourly paid teaching, which are classed as “atypical”, so the real figures look much worse.
On 6 March Goldsmiths University and College Union (UCU) branch and Students Union held a Day of Action against casualisation as part of the national UCU Anti-Casualisation Committee Day of Action. The focus of the Day of Action was on the national trend towards increasing provision of front-line academic teaching and nuts-and-bolts research by staff on precarious part-time, temporary and/or hourly paid contracts. Many of these staff members are PhD students, many of them on hourly contracts to teach seminars. The National Union of Students (NUS) recently completed a survey of postgraduate teaching that revealed that nationally, one-third of postgraduate teachers are effectively paid BELOW MINIMUM WAGE because their contracts grossly underestimate the length of time it takes to prepare a class or mark an essay.
During the Day of Action, one of the points we sought to emphasise was that UCU, the trade union for academic and academic-related staff which is recognised by the University, has the potential to play an important role in effectively challenging this state of affairs. Goldsmiths UCU branch is currently in discussion with the College about harmonising pay and conditions for staff on casualised contracts so that they are comparable to those of full time and permanent staff and and transferring some hourly-paid staff to fractional contracts with similar terms and conditions to those of permanent staff. But these discussions have been going on for years. By joining UCU and playing an active role in this campaign and in the union, you can help move these discussions towards a more speedy resolution, as well as contributing to dealing with other issues faced by staff on precarious contracts.
During the Day of Action we distributed a leaflet to postgraduates who teach that read: As a student you are automatically a member of the Student Union, which can offer you help, advice and representation on issues related to you as a student. However, it cannot effectively represent you on issues of employment. For that you need a trade union. UCU is the trade union for academic and academic-related staff which is recognised by the University. As a Graduate Teacher, you will likely be on a fixed term, hourly paid contract. This does not mean you should think of yourself as any less a member of staff. If your annual income from teaching is less than £5000, UCU membership is only £2.58 per month. You can join online at https://join.ucu.org.uk
For more reasons to join UCU, see page 3 of this document, which says:
● Funding cuts and reorganisations mean there has never been a better time to join your union. Staff on insecure contracts are vulnerable to redundancy and can be exploited – under-paid, under-valued and unable to exercise their employment rights.
● UCU members with individual problems at work can get support from local trained UCU representatives backed by full-time regional officials, as well as expert legal advice. Last year, UCU’s legal services won more than £7 million in settlements for members treated unfairly at work.
● UCU campaigns for fair pay, increased job security and for all staff to be valued as part of the academic team.
● We negotiate pay and conditions nationally. Locally, UCU branches negotiate on a wide range of issues including workloads, contracts and avoiding redundancies.
● We represent your profession and ensure members’ views are heard by government and professional bodies.
● 24-hours-a-day support is available through Recourse, a one-to-one counselling and advice service covering issues including stress, bullying and debt.
● Members also benefit from pension and financial advice and savings on a range of products.
This Wednesday (13 March) there will be a meeting to discuss ongoing negotiations between UCU and Goldsmiths management around the incorporation of VTs into the pay framework. One of the Goldsmiths UCU negotiators will give us the low-down on the discussions so far. This is an open meeting and will take place on Wednesday 13 March from 4-6pm in room RHB 356.
This meeting will also provide an opportunity for part-time and hourly paid staff to discuss their issues and priorities and decide how to move forward in addressing these. This is a vital next step in the campaign. From our discussions with you so far, we think there might be some improvements in working conditions that could be achieved fairly easily. Join us on Wednesday so we can formulate an action plan and get things moving.