Harry Stopes, UCL Fair Play for TAs
‘Zero Hours’ contracts (employment contracts which do not guarantee any hours) have become increasingly controversial in the last few years. In the media they are generally associated with industries such as hotels, food production, and retail, where extreme exploitation of employees is the norm. Figures just released by the Office of National Statistics show that the use of ZHCs has increased by around 28% in the last year. What these figures also show is that the use of such contracts is common across a wide range of sectors, including education. Indeed, while the ONS report from April 2014 showed that 15% of education “businesses” used ZHCs, the February 2015 report shows that figure increasing to 27%.
When I’ve written about this issue in the past, the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association has been at pains to claim that universities don’t really use ZHCs very much. “Universities are not like Sports Direct”, a UCEA spokesman told me in November. While that might be true in a very narrow sense – and the ONS report captures a wide range of employers, most of which are not universities – this is not reassuring. The figures clearly show that the work force in education is increasingly casualised. It’s getting worse, not better. The experience of Adjunct Professors in the United States – who yesterday staged a walkout in protest over their appallingly low rates of pay – shows very clearly that unless arrested, this is the way that education moves in a neoliberal economy and society.
These figures underline how important it is that everyone in UK Higher Education should be fighting against casualisation.