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.
This is written as clarification to an article in The Student, 29 Nov 2016
The below is the comment sent by UCU Edinburgh officers to The Student newspaper, a comment from which quotes were included in their recent article on tutors’ working conditions. UCU Edinburgh committee thought it might be useful to publish the full comment below, including statistics and references.
A note of clarification: The Student article mentions two surveys, one carried out by UCU UK (not UCU Edinburgh) in 2015, and one currently in circulation at the University, the latter carried out by a group of tutors based in the School of Literatures, Languages, and Cultures. The latter survey is carried out both to gauge University of Edinburgh tutors’ view of the cap on working hours for PhD students, and to follow up from the petition letter penned by tutors in the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences earlier this year, as the tutors in question reportedly have not seen enough positive change from the University.
UCU, or the University and College Union in full, is the largest trade union representing university staff and postgraduate students in the UK. We have over 110,000 members across the country, with over 1,500 members here at Edinburgh. We represent casualised (that is to say, people employed on precarious contracts, with limited or no job security) researchers and teaching staff as well as permanent lecturers, and also ‘academic-related’ staff such as librarians and administrators. As a union we believe that higher education should be a public good, and have campaigned for decades against the marketisation of our profession, including campaigning against tuition fees for students and for better working conditions for our members.
The University of Edinburgh is one of the country’s worst offenders when it comes to employing its staff on precarious contracts. UCU has campaigned against the extended and ever-increasing use of hourly contracts for a long time, but at the University of Edinburgh this work was picked up also by major newspapers. Following on work in previous years, including a 2012-2013 survey on the conditions of casualised staff members (https://ucuedinburgh.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/zero-hours-survey/ ), in 2013 a Freedom of Information request showed that 23 percent of all staff, and 47 percent of staff in Humanities and Social Sciences, were employed on zero hours contracts (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/ucu-homes-in-on-widespread-use-of-zero-hours-deals/2007035.article ), that is to say hourly contracts with no guaranteed minimum hours of work (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/ucu-homes-in-on-widespread-use-of-zero-hours-deals/2007035.article ). Despite the University’s promise in 2013 to improve job security for its workers (http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/university-of-edinburgh-agrees-to-stop-using-zero-hours-contracts-8802279.html ), and despite tutors and demonstrators having issued two petitions (in 2012 (http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/professor-sir-timothy-o-shea-university-of-edinburgh-principal-ensure-fair-treatment-of-tutors-demonstrators-and-hourly-paid-staff ) and in 2016 (http://blake2.ppls.ed.ac.uk/~s1264545/petition_tutors) ), not much progress has been made. While many staff members previously employed on zero hours contracts have now been moved to ‘guaranteed hours’ contracts (a type of hourly contract stipulating a specific guaranteed number of hours of work for a year), the use of such contracts has not decreased; instead they have been accompanied by an increased use of one-off payments (so-called ‘form 100’) which is an even more precarious way of employing staff.
While employers maintain that insecure contracts are needed to maintain ‘flexibility’, or that hourly paid teaching provides a ‘valuable opportunity’ for PhD students, in reality insecure employment causes anxiety and stress among staff as well as far from ideal learning conditions for students. The move to ‘guaranteed hours’ at Edinburgh should in theory give hourly paid staff an improved job security, but in practice they are very similar to the older zero hours contracts. Some hourly paid staff the union has talked to report not receiving their contracts until the end of term, which means they have no guaranteed hours of work at all and could be fired (or could quit) the next day. Others report being given only a small number of guaranteed hours but then being asked to work above this minimum, which means those extra hours are in-effect on a zero hours contract. Many tutors and lecturers are also employed on very short fixed-term posts, only covering term time, meaning that they have work for twelve weeks at a time (twenty-two weeks of the year), and without a guarantee for continued work. Many of us on casualised contracts do not know how to pay our rents, or where we will be living in a few months in case we have to move to another city or country for work, or – for those daring enough to start a family while in such a precarious working situation – how to feed our children. Many of us work up to five jobs at different workplaces in order to make ends meet. A survey of members in insecure contracts in 2015, carried out by UCU (https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/7279/Making-ends-meet—the-human-cost-of-casualisation-in-post-secondary-education-May-15/pdf/ucu_makingendsmeet_may15.pdf ), revealed significant numbers of them struggling to get by:
- 40% said that they earned under £1000 per month.
- One in seven (14%) earned less than £500 per month, which places them below the Lower Earnings Limit for National Insurance Contributions.
- 17% said that they struggled to pay for food.
- One third (34%) said that they struggle to pay rent or mortgage repayments
- 36% said that they struggled to pay household bills like fuel, electricity, water and repairs
One respondent states: ‘I especially dread the summer and Easter periods as I have no idea how I will pay the rent.’
Like permanent members of staff, who often struggle to cope with unrealistic workloads and other increasing pressures, casualised staff suffer from deteriorating health caused by prolonged insecurity and overwork. A 2015 article (http://www.jfsonline.org/issue7-8/articles/lopesdewan/ ) highlights the emotional impact of job insecurity and exploitation on tutors and lecturers on casualised contracts. Interviewees mention anxiety and negative thoughts of the future, some of them mentioning ‘being close to “breaking point”’. One respondent states that ‘“I’ve reached the stage where I’m thinking I don’t even know if I can do this anymore, I really don’t”’. As the comments from tutors in The Student article shows, hourly paid teaching staff at the University of Edinburgh are no strangers to unpaid work and anxiety caused by their working conditions.
As data released this month shows (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/nov/16/universities-accused-of-importing-sports-direct-model-for-lecturers-pay ), the University of Edinburgh is still – in 2016 – one of the universities in the UK with the largest percentage of staff on casualised contracts. This is one league table in which we should be ashamed to be in the top three. In terms of employing numbers of staff on ‘atypical’ contracts, that is to say hourly rather than fixed-term contracts, the University of Edinburgh is still – as in 2013 – the worst offender, with the largest number of ‘atypical’ workers: 3,760 staff members (https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/8384/Precarious-work-in-higher-education-November-2016-update/pdf/ucu_precariouscontracts_hereport_nov16.pdf ). Importantly, most tutors and lecturers on hourly contracts do not get paid for research, which goes directly against the University’s aim to provide research-led teaching. Many also do not get paid, or are insufficiently paid, for meeting with students, or to prepare their classes properly.
We in UCU know that bad working conditions for teachers means bad learning conditions for students. As we have seen casualised staff members’ conditions deteriorate, with many of them living hand to mouth with no job security, we have also seen – despite our best efforts as teachers – education becoming less of a priority for UK universities. While the university cares about getting good NSS results, when teachers and researchers raise issues regarding workloads and insecure working conditions – both of which ultimately impact students – we are not listened to.
Lena Wånggren, UCU Edinburgh Vice President
Clara Martinez Nistal, UCU Edinburgh Officer for Fixed-term and Hourly-paid Staff
Our branch will be on strike on June 14.
Pickets will primarily be at Old College from 9-11am on June 14, where
there will be a meeting of the influential Central Management Group. If
you plan to picket or would like to volunteer to be a picket captain,
please email email@example.com. Alternatively, on June 14, just come to the
union office at 12 Buccleuch Street at 8:45am to find where available
picket locations are.
A social event with light food will be follow at 11am-1pm (location to be
confirmed). Even if you aren’t available for picketing, feel free to stop
by and say hello to fellow members. This will also be a forum for people
to discuss anything they wish to raise.
The issues are pay, casualisation, and the gender pay gap. More
information can be found at www.ucu.org.uk.
You are NOT legally required to inform your line manager about your plans
for strike action before striking, and we recommend you do not. However,
you must answer truthfully if asked by your line manager after the fact.
We appreciate that June 14 is very soon. This is the first time that UCU
branches are striking on different dates at different universities across
the country. The national leadership decided that in the current
industrial action, each branch should select a day in June or July that
would be most effective locally. At this stage in the industrial dispute,
the branch committee was unwilling to call a strike on a day when a small
number of members would be much more strongly affected than the rest of
us, such as the graduation day for a particular school. Within this
constraint, we believe that June 14 is the most effective strike date in
the next two months.
We were legally obliged to wait until UCU nationally had officially
notified the University before issuing this notice to members.
Unfortunately this has led to you hearing both from both Sally Hunt and
UoE in advance of our notice, for which we apologise.
UCU Edinburgh are organising an ‘anti-casualisation lunch’ on Monday 16th May, 1-2pm in the UCU offices (12 Buccleuch street), to bring staff together to discuss the use of hourly-paid, fixed-term, and other casualised forms of contract at the university. In addition to a sandwich lunch, with tea and coffee, we will have John Slaven from STUC (Scottish Trades Union Congress) visiting to talk about their anti-casualisation campaign Better than zero (http://www.betterthanzero.org), and tutors from Humanities and Social Science will be there to update members on their campaigning for better conditions (see their petition here: http://blake2.ppls.ed.ac.uk/~s1264545/petition_tutors). Everyone is welcome, casualised or not. Non-members are also welcome, so please invite colleagues who are not (yet?) members. If possible we would appreciate if you could RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, so we have an idea of how many sandwiches to order.
UCU Edinburgh zero hours survey – November 2012/January 2013
- 83% of respondents are tutors.
- 26% tutor at postgraduate level and 44% at undergraduate level.
- 40% of respondents do not get paid for preparation time.
- 48% of respondents do not get paid for marking.
- 34% of respondents have no office space. The rest have space of varying types and suitability.
- 31% of respondents have been on zero hour contracts for four or more years.
- 55% of respondents do not receive increments. 26% do with the remaining 20% in post less than a year.
- 66% of respondents have received some specific training.