As several studies by UCU and by researchers have demonstrated, precarious work is extremely stressful for the employees in question. The question remains why so many universities continue this detrimental practice of employing such large numbers of staff – in many institutions, like Edinburgh, the precariously employed outnumber the securely employed staff – when it is harmful for both staff and students.
UCU Edinburgh recently (February 2018) submitted a local claim on anticasualisation, which followed an earlier claim (March 2017) and over five years of anticasualisation campaigning. Three months have elapsed since we presented the claim, and the University is only now beginning to respond to our demands. One specific demand in this claim is that no teaching fellowships should be shorter than 12 months.
We have recently been contacted by UCU members both at Edinburgh University and elsewhere, to highlight that University of Edinburgh is currently advertising a two year long Teaching Fellowship in German, in the school of Literatures, Languages, and Cultures, but with pay only during 10 months of the year, which makes the post in essence a double ten-month contract.
This advert follows two recent adverts for 9-month long contracts in French in the same school, and indeed it is common practice in the school to employ even open-ended teaching staff on 10-month contracts. As laid out in our February claim, UCU Edinburgh disagrees with this practice.
The above job post – which essentially leaves the employee without paid work two months of the year and without adequate paid time for scholarship – shows just how urgent it is that the University address our claim satisfactorily. Just two weeks ago UCU Edinburgh branch passed a motion at our AGM to step up our action on anticasualisation, which we will now do. Given the recent welcome decision at Durham University to scrap 9-month teaching fellowships and ensure that all contracts are at least 12 months in duration, surely the University of Edinburgh can act in a similar manner? Staff’s working conditions are students’ learning conditions, and this move by Durham is not only crucial to ensure fairer working conditions of staff but also better teaching:
‘The University wants to ensure that our Teaching Fellows have an opportunity to prepare their teaching and that they be given a full calendar year to work in the University. Henceforth, therefore, the University will only employ Teaching Fellows for a minimum period of 12 months.’
Edinburgh, why not take a step in the same direction, for the sake of staff well-being and student education? And, of course, for the sake of the reputation of the University. One staff member at another UK university, who had considered applying for the above mentioned post in German, stated to the branch in an email:
‘I was considering applying for the job at Edinburgh, but have decided against it because of this insulting and poor employment practice, unless there is pressure on the department to change it’.
We now have a meeting with management planned for 6th June, in which we will seek to schedule time-limited negotiations in relation to the February claim. If we do not, the branch will be forced to step up our campaigning and action, as mandated by our members at the recent AGM . The large numbers of casualised UCU members at Edinburgh University simply cannot wait any longer for fair working conditions.
Motion passed at UCU Edinburgh AGM 16 May:
ENABLING MOTION FOR UCU EDINBURGH AGM: ANTI-CASUALISATION
Proposer: Lena Wånggren
Seconder: Suzanne Trill
This branch notes in December 2017 a branch meeting agreed to submit a claim on tacking casualised staff at the University of Edinburgh. The branch congratulates the UCU post-graduate and researchers’ network and the branch officers for pursuing this policy and submitting a claim in week one of the new Principal’s arrival.
This branch notes:
* It is 3 months since the claim was submitted and the university management have failed to engage in serious negotiations;
* casualised staff played a major role in the USS action;
* casualisation is an issue affecting permanent staff, as it is part of the approach to an increasingly fissured academic workforce;
* casualisation is part of a management approach that divides the academic workforce and can drag down overall pay and conditions;
This branch demands that the University management to commit to a timetable of negotiations that would deliver a new collective agreement by no later than December 2018.
This branch resolves:
1) to pursue the University management for a timetable for direct, UCU/Management, negotiations;
2) if management fail to agree a realistic negotiating6) timetable by the JNC on 12 June, to lobby Court on 18 June;
3) to continue work with the PG network on developing a campaign and organising timetable for engage members in pushing for an agreement by the end of the calendar year (to include using various publicity activities, senate, court, open days, the NSS);
4) to work with the Edinburgh Students’ union on a pack explaining to new students the plight of casualised staff at the University of Edinburgh;
5) to seek advice on developing a legal trade dispute on the issue and balloting for industrial action;
6) the branch committee should organise further general meetings to fit with the negotiating timetable to enable report back from the negotiations and, if necessary, to call for an industrial action ballot.