The following letter has been sent to Zoe Lewandowski, Director of HR.
UCU Edinburgh Branch
As you will be aware, the issue of insecure contracts in the higher education sector now has a very high public profile. You will also know that this is a UK wide priority issue for the University and College Union.
We believe that we have a common interest in improving the contractual terms of employment of academic and related staff in higher education. While a few individuals may find them appropriate to their circumstances, the truth is that for the vast majority, insecure contracts have a seriously detrimental effect on their well being. The results of locally organised surveys of Guaranteed Hours staff have clearly demonstrated dissatisfaction about working conditions and staff engaged on casual contracts have expressed a strong desire for more secure employment.
We are pleased that the University of Edinburgh recognised our concerns on casual contracts some years ago and that in 2014 replaced the practice of engaging staff on “hours to be notified” (HTBN) with the introduction of the Guaranteed Hours (GH) contract. However, while the move away from the HTBN model was a positive step forward, in reality it just replaced one precarious contract of employment with another.
Addressing casualisation within the workforce remains a priority for UCU and we want to ensure that we have the appropriate mechanisms for monitoring and enhancing employment practices.
GH staff still report limited access to training and development, lack of career progression, lack of job security and inconsistent rates of pay. Although GH staff are guaranteed a minimum number of paid hours in an academic year, these hours are reviewed and renewed annually and some teaching staff report that their working hours remain unconfirmed the week before teaching starts. Indeed, in 2016-17, in some areas of the university GH tutors did not receive their contracts until after the teaching term had finished, leaving them working for an entire semester without a contract, which is dangerous to both the institution and the staff member in terms of securing teaching for students. In the same period, some staff on GH contracts report having been given such a low number of guaranteed hours on their contract that after a few weeks of teaching they were effectually on a zero hour contract with no secure pay (as they had worked the minimum number of hours stipulated in the contract) which leaves the university left without any certainty of having enough staff to teach students.
UCU is concerned that a significant amount of student teaching is being delivered by staff on GH contracts and that this will have an impact on learning and teaching quality. So, in addition to asking whether GH contracts are the most appropriate model of employment, we would question whether this model is the most appropriate. While there is a narrative repeated that most staff on GH contracts are PhD students who teach as part of their professional development, the reality is that many GH staff obtained their PhD many years ago, and are kept on as part of a kind of ‘pool’ of tutors to call in when needed. These postdoctoral tutors, who often teach not only on pre-honours but also honours and postgraduate levels, are not paid for research, which makes the University’s commitment to research-informed teaching ring hollow.
We believe that this should be a priority issue for both ourselves and the university, and we know that when we have negotiated in good faith we have seen positive progress in the interests of staff, students and universities. At the heart of the claim we are making is a call to establish a permanent joint mechanism for reviewing, monitoring and negotiating around the issue of secure contracts, building on our existing arrangements. We are calling on the university to make a commitment to work with us to reduce insecurity through this apparatus.
Specifically we are calling for negotiations on our claim which is the following:
1. The establishment of a standing joint review group with a remit to:
a) Review the GH contract model with a view to developing an alternative contractual model.
b) Monitor and review the arrangements under the Enhancing Employment strategy for transferring staff onto more secure contracts, and ensure that this is working effectively
c) Receive, review and monitor data on the employment of staff on non-permanent contracts
d) Review the working hours of GH tutors and demonstrators to ensure consistency of pay and allocation of marking and preparation time
e) Review the issue of training, support and career progression for GH tutors and demonstrators to ensure consistency across schools
2. An understanding from the University that this process will not be cost-neutral and agreement that investment in contractual employment that supports high quality research informed teaching will require additional resources.
We look forward to building on our positive negotiations on the Enhancing Employment strategy and welcome your response to our claim.