University of Sunderland preparing materials for Anti Casualisation day on 5th Nov 2014
A day of action for decent jobs in post-secondary education
Casualisation is endemic in post-secondary education. According to the latest figures, 68% of research staff in higher education are on fixed term contracts, while data gathered by a UCU Freedom of Information request last year showed that 53% of universities and 60% of colleges use zero hours contracts, sometimes many hundreds of them, to deliver their front line teaching.
Behind these statistics lies a mass of individual stories that show how casualised contracts shape desperately precarious lives: the adult education lecturer on a zero hours contract, the only wage earner in a family of three who has to be on call but can’t get enough hours’ work from her local authority to make ends meet; the women who report having to put on hold for years their plans to start families and buy homes because their employers insist on re-employing them on fixed-term contracts; the lecturers putting in hours of unpaid labour, yet struggling to access social security and vital tax credits because of their contracts. Behind all of these individual stories are dependent families and households struggling to make ends meet, the real stories of under-employment and hardship at the heart of our so-called recovery.
People on precarious contracts live in a state of perpetual fear that their contracts won’t be renewed or that their hours will disappear. We are regularly told that people on casualised contracts are afraid to stand up for themselves in case it damages their prospects of future work. As one of our members recently told the Scottish Affairs Select Committee “people on those zero hours contracts can’t do anything because they are worried that then they really will get zero hours; they will get no hours at all.”
Individually, casualised workers are almost powerless, which is why it’s absurd to imagine that a better understanding of their rights or a ‘sector-led code of practice’ can really change anything. That’s what makes the collective strength of unions so important. The fight for decent jobs in further, adult and higher education is one of UCU’s biggest priorities. Like other unions, we are pursuing a twin track strategy of building political and public pressure to create better employment rights while driving forward our organising and collective bargaining at local level to win real improvements now. And we’re making progress too, securing a series of recent agreements that represent real progress in winning greater continuity of employment for casualised workers.
Today sees UCU’s national day of action against casual contracts. More than 50 branches have organised events on their campuses, recruiting, profile raising and putting direct pressure on their employers in support of local negotiations. UCU members will be writing to their MPs to urge support for stronger action on zero hours contracts and we’ll be trying to maximise our social media impact with a live blog running throughout the day. Today is part of our ongoing campaign to be the collective voice for precarious workers in our sector and to win decent jobs that take the fear out of going to work.