ONE DAY AT THE END OF LAST YEAR the Guardian led with the headline “Universities accused of importing Sports Direct model for lecturers’ pay”. Until the paper ran the story, the steady casualisation of universities had been one of the less reported governmental attacks on education in Britain. That doesn’t make it any less appalling, or the fight against it less urgent. Analysis from UCU shows that 53.2% of staff in universities are on insecure contracts. The situation is worse than average in the elite Russell Group universities, with 58.5% on these contracts.
Insecure contracts might be hourly paid contracts (46% of these are zero hours), or they might be temporary including the AFL-CIO, SEIU, Unite-Here, Teamsters and Steelworkers, ‘alt.unions’ such as ‘Fight For $15’ took to the streets to campaign for pay increases and improvements to employment benefits starting in the fast-food industry and spreading to care workers, contracts. These, which increasingly dominate universities, make it difficult for workers to plan their futures and they contribute to stress. In both cases, not being paid over long vacation periods is a cause of real poverty. According to a UCU survey 17% of staff on insecure contracts have difficulty buying food, 34% struggle to meet housing costs and 36% have had problems paying household bills.
The money to employ insecure staff on proper contracts is there, especially in the elite institutions which are the worst offenders. UCU has an ongoing anticasualisation campaign, and this deserves support. There are challenges - staff in universities are demoralised especially after the abandonment of a recent pay dispute, and union members in more senior positions are often not aware of the conditions their more junior colleagues suffer. For both of these reasons, lively, visible local campaigns are necessary, as are efforts to chalk up the local victories that can rebuild confidence.
An experienced anticasualisation activist and left winger Vicky Blake is currently standing in a by-election for an HE seat on the UCU NEC. If you have a vote, please support her to advance this important cause.
- The latest news on the anticasualisation campaign nationally can be found online at: https://www.ucu.org.uk/stampout
Leeds Central CLP and member of UCU executive committee at Leeds University,