Get involved! Two quick items:
Casualisation in the press
On Saturday, an article appeared in the Guardian called ‘My students never knew’: the lecturer who lived in a tent. This article details the reality of casualisation in HE, featuring stories of extreme precarity from several workers in higher education, including a UCU activist who had so little money she had to live in a tent while doing her PhD.
Since UCU was created, we have consistently worked to raise awareness about precarity in higher education and campaign to reduce it. The most recent UCU report on casualisation reveals that 68% of research-only academics are on fixed term contracts, as are 44% of teaching-only staff. These are just examples of how casualisation impacts two specific job types; many professional services staff members and grad student workers in HE are hourly paid, and some don’t even have contracts.
When contacted for comment, our employers’ representative body, the University and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA), had the opportunity to express some level of compassion for the horrific personal circumstances detailed in the article, or at least provide an acknowledgement that this was an issue facing higher education that needed to be dealt with. Instead, the chief executive of UCEA, Raj Jethwa, dismissively downplayed the amount of casualisation in this sector, stating that “the vast majority of teaching is delivered by staff with open-ended contracts”. This statement is misleading, at best, and made in the context of the above figures, which UCU (and the other HE trade unions) continue to supply UCEA with in our annual bargaining claims, represents a fundamental disregard for the staff of this sector. This is why casualisation is part of our Four Fights ballot: HE employers will not acknowledge that there is a problem, let alone reduce their reliance on casualised labour, unless there are enforceable, sector wide standards that force them towards secure working.
Mr Jethwa also chose this moment to attack UCU by making the inaccurate claim that we have “repeatedly reject[ed] opportunities to work with employers in this important area.” Every year the joint HE trade unions ask employers to work with us to identify sector-wide baseline standards on precarity, and UCEA responds by saying we could consider developing a working group to ‘identify the issues’ and ‘make recommendations of best practice’ which individuals employers can choose to follow – or not. This sector is beyond the need to identify issues in relation to precarity. The issue is that employers are increasingly choosing not to provide staff with secure contracts. You can read a response to the article, by UCU President Vicky Blake and our Communications Officer Robyn Orfitelli, in Guardian letters, here.
This sector needs negotiated baseline standards for job security that apply to all HE institutions. When employers are willing to work with UCU on developing those, we will join them in doing so. They have not yet been willing. This is why your vote in our Four Fights ballot is so important: we need to stand up for all of our members, and make this a more secure sector.
If you haven’t voted yet, Tuesday, 2 November is the last safe day to post your ballots for Four Fights and USS! Don’t lose your chance to vote: find a post box in the morning!