7 Demands for Casualised University Workers

This is the text of seven key demands agreed at our 2nd National Conference, held at University College London on 21 November 2015. We continue to work on them, and welcome further input – come along to our next organising meeting, or contact us via email, Twitter or Facebook to get involved.

An end to 9-month and other contracts that don’t pay us outside of term time

We are people, not machines! We still need to feed ourselves, pay our rent and raise our families over the summer. We do not all have families or partners to financially support us whilst we pursue work in academia as a hobby. Moreover, we use vacation periods to undertake research and publications that our employers directly benefit from when they contract us to teach. We refuse to do this work for free.

A cap on the percentage of teaching done by casualised staff at every institution

University departments are increasingly structured around the assumption that a large portion of teaching will be done by hourly paid and short-term staff who can be hired at the last minute, and disposed of just as quickly according to the demands of the ‘market’. We all know the damage this does not only to the lives of these teachers and the quality of the education they are able to provide, but also to the conditions of permanent staff who have to take on a far greater proportion of the administrative and pastoral care within their departments. This is also a feature of an intensifying two-tier system of higher education, whereby Russell Group universities may advertise the possibility of being taught by ‘top professors’ as a selling point, while working-class students at post-’92s will suffer from a high turnover of especially overworked and underpaid teaching staff. Ultimately, we want an end to all casualistion in the sector, but as a first step a demand to cap the percentage of casualised teaching will both make visible the extent to which departments currently rely upon it, and insist upon more consistency in conditions across institutions.

Payment for all hours worked on an equal basis

Those in casual academic positions often work far in excess of their contracted hours, meaning that they end up doing a lot of work effectively for free. This is due to a range of factors: the often irregular nature of teaching work, especially the need to respond to students out of hours; outdated or inaccurate mechanisms for calculating hours; the inclusion of a huge number of tasks either in unrealistic “multipliers” or bundled together with payment worked out for contact teaching hours alone; the pressure put on junior staff to take on extra work as a part of unpaid “training”; and even pressure put on PhD students to do teaching work for their supervisors for free. These unfair and unlawful practices need to stop, and they should be replaced with a simple principle: payment for all hours worked, calculated through a fair and transparent mechanism based on actual job requirements and on an equal basis with permanent staff. Hourly pay rates should be consistent across all the tasks that go into casual teaching work, rather than differentiating between different aspects like contact time, marking, office hours, etc. All are part of the same job and should be recognised as such.

Shut down UniTemps like we shut down TeachHigher!

In the face of criticism from both unions and the press, Warwick University rapidly backpedalled on TeachHigher and, before getting rid of it altogether, claimed that they had no intention to ‘outsource’ academic staff. Yet Warwick University-owned UniTemps, an agency for cleaning, catering and security staff across hundreds of UK universities, is already employing academic staff in some institutions including the universities of Leicester and Surrey. Insourcing and outsourcing function as direct attacks on unions, workers’ rights and the public university. In practice, outsourced and agency staff are frequently denied access to sick pay, holiday pay and compassionate leave. Targeting UniTemps is our next step to ensure that all university workers are directly employed. It also represents the possibility of making links with other university workers, cleaners, caterers and security staff who have as much right to secure working conditions as academics.

National pay frameworks, currently negotiated between the UCU and employers, should also apply
to hourly pay rates

In theory, even casualised workers should be covered by the union-negotiated national pay frameworks, but in practice the hourly wage and what it is expected to cover varies not only between universities but even between departments. University employers should be forced to make transparent how they calculate the hourly rate, and how this meets criteria established by national framework agreements. The UCU should ensure that casualised workers benefit from these hard-won union gains as much as permanent academics, and that employers fully implement the framework agreements at all levels of staffing.

Universities must address the racism and racist practices that lead to the casualisation of black staff and People of Colour in universities

British higher education is institutionally racist, a fact which is reflected in the racial stratification of employment where black people and People of Colour (PoC), especially women of colour, are less likely to be promoted to professorships than their white colleagues, are more likely to be on casual contracts and are most likely some of the most precarious workers in HE — working as cleaners, maintenance staff and in catering. Black and PoC academics find themselves with fewer or no job opportunities, a lack of support for professional and career development, are over-scrutinised compared to their white colleagues and receive lower pay than white colleagues — in some cases, thousands of pounds less. There are black and PoC staff who have challenged this racism and have been forced out of their institutions. British universities must cease these colonial practices and stop privileging whiteness within hiring practices and the educational structure within institutions.

Universities must not be complicit in the deportation and harassment of non-EU university workers, and provide security of work and residency for non-EU staff

Universities are increasingly becoming sites of border enforcement. Where non-EU staff are on casualised contracts, it is extremely difficult for them to be shortlisted for positions and even gain working visas, despite offers of em­ployment. Non-EU scholars are increasingly denied visas to attend academic conferences and work on collaborative projects with their British counterparts. There are several cases where non-EU workers in HE who speak out against racism or have actively organised in their workplace have had their migration status used to threaten and silence them. For example, in 2009 when SOAS cleaners were organising to improve their working conditions, university man­agement allowed the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA)/UK Visas and Immigration on campus to conduct immigration checks on cleaning staff, resulting in the detention and deportation of nine staff.  Students are also policed and surveilled in the name of Prevent legislation, which places a burden especially on Muslim students, at whom it is most targeted, and also on staff who are forced to implement it. Universities must provide certainty of employment for non-EU workers and ensure that they are able to obtain the visas they require and ensure that casual workers are not deported when their working terms change or come to an end. And universities must not be complicit in the de­portation of staff, neither should university staff be required to enforce border regimes and the threat of deportation should not become a way of victimising activists or disciplining non-EU staff or students. Towards that end, universities will take no disciplinary action against staff for failure to implement related policies.

Image credit: ‘Cubicus, Universiteit Twente’, by Eenoog.


5 thoughts on “7 Demands for Casualised University Workers”

  1. “We do not all have families or partners to financially support us whilst we pursue work in academia as a hobby”

    I would leave out “as a hobby” — just because you get support from others doesn’t make it a hobby.


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