Sally Hunt: Casualisation of contracts - an equality issue
Wednesday 30 July 2014In our blog series on atypical contracts in the changing world of work, Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the University and College Union, talks about the casualisation of contracts.
Sally Hunt, General Secretary, University and College Union
Sally is the General Secretary of the University and College Union (UCU). Sally was elected as the first General Secretary of UCU in 2007, and is a member of the TUC general council.
There are many types of casualised contracts, but what unites them all is the lack of security for the people working on them. This is an industrial issue and an equality issue which impacts upon the everyday lives and wellbeing of staff.
The key disadvantage is that individuals on zero-hours contracts are 'workers' not employees and so not covered by employment law relating to redundancy pay, minimum notice periods, unfair dismissal etc.
We must ask the question: can they carry out their jobs properly with no job security or ability to plan for the future?
To answer this, UCU undertook a survey of post-16 education looking at zero-hours and other casual contracts in further education (FE) and higher education (HE) in 2013. We sent FOI requests to 162 HE Institutes and 275 FE colleges across the UK.
Of the institutions that responded:
- 61% of further education colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had teaching staff on zero hour contracts
- 53% of UK universities had staff on zero hour contracts.
Amongst university researchers, two-thirds of staff were on temporary contracts. Despite the large number of colleges and universities using zero hour contracts, only a handful of institutions have formal policies about them.
Turning to the different sectors, we found that:
- In HE zero hour contracts were far more prevalent for university staff involved in teaching than in research. Almost half of employers had more than 200 staff on zero hour contracts. Five institutions had more than 1,000 people on zero hour contracts, and just one in four said all their staff on zero hour contracts currently had work
- In FE we found that 60.5% colleges said they do use zero hour contracts and just one in four said all their staff on zero hour contracts currently had work.
The experience of workers on zero hour contracts:
- No guaranteed level of regular earnings
- Regular patterns of work can be reduced to zero at a moment's notice, with no right to redeployment or redundancy pay
- Less access to training, development and support.
The wider implications of this can involve irregular and erratic periods of work, which make it difficult to understand and to claim benefits and entitlements. In education, teaching staff know that they will be without income throughout the holiday periods, without knowing when or if they will be allocated work in the new academic year. Finally, casual contracts have shown themselves to be more open to abuse than regular permanent contracts.
There are also drawbacks for employers:
- In education there is often no guaranteed staff for whole areas of the institution's service provision
- The use of casual contracts will affect the employers ability to attract and retain high quality staff
- Potential reduction in continuity and quality of services provided
- The exclusion of such staff from robust recruitment / induction / training / CPD / appraisals has the potential to affect the quality of service provision.
It is difficult to avoid the view that casual and zero hours contracts are exploitative and the flexibility that employers often hide behind is a one way street. Zero hours contracts are not compatible with developing a professional workforce, which is able to deliver quality services.
We support more attention to the TUC's call for greater regulation of contracts, greater certainty on hours and a much shorter period before a more permanent contract is given. The time has come for workers to be fairly paid and properly treated and a move away from exploitative contracts would benefit both employers and workers.