Comments about what it’s like to be on a Fixed term or Associate Lecturer contract.

We asked members to tell us what it’s like to be on a Fixed term or Associate Lecturer contract and here are a selection of the replies we received. Thank you to all members who sent us their comments.

(This post consolidates all the previous posts so all the comments we received are in this post.)

“I have been employed for 7.5 years as a researcher at The Open University.  During this time I have worked under a variety of contracts.  Some of them were just a few months; the longest was two years.  Being employed like this has had an effect on my physical and mental health.  I feel like I work hard without making progress – or even moving on from being utterly disposable.  I have put off buying a house for years, watching them becoming ever more unaffordable when I could have paid off several years of a mortgage by now. “

“Being on an insecure contract means that I have to keep up with registration for GTCS and remain on a supply register for secondary teachers, when what I really want to do is focus fully on my career as an AL. I would be so happy if we were given permanent contracts so that we can concentrate on our work and continuing to put our students first.”

“The idea that I somehow don’t deserve a permanent contract because my work is externally funded I find quite risible, but I am wary of pointing this out because of the precariousness of my employment.  I have personally brought in more than £100,000 in research funding and been named on successful bids totalling more than £2 million.  This doesn’t seem to make much difference to anyone.“

“I’m deeply disappointed that as an Associate Lecturer with the OU, my job is so precarious. I’m lucky to have a full time permanent post in Further Education, and while I enjoy my job, doing the OU over and above it is a lot.  I’d happily consider reducing my hours in order to concentrate on delivering the experience my OU students deserve – but on my current contract, this simply isn’t an option.”

 “Recently I was refused a bank loan and I know I would struggle to get a mortgage on my own, because my contracts are complicated and my salary varies month to month.”

“In a difficult relationship, I was frightened to leave because my variable income would so badly affect our daughter.”

“Casualisation in the OU (and the brick uni I teach in) means that we are not considered for any project-based roles other than directly based on our role. We have slim and infrequent opportunities to be part of short working groups, but even then really only as consultees or reps, rather than jointly producing something.”

“Because I am on fixed term contracts I am unable to move my mortgage to a lower rate of interest deal to take advantage of the reduced interest rates currently available, so I am stuck on a mortgage which has a high interest rate.”

“I feel embarrassed to campaign about my working conditions, as I fear showing the students how poor my situation is and ending up being accused of bringing the university into bad repute.”

“One thing that I think isn’t always recognised, is that casualisation can lead to taking on too much extra work, out of anxiety that the current work could disappear within a few months.  I am in that position at the moment, where I am under severe work pressure, because (a) come June my income will reduce drastically, and (b) come October, I have no idea how much of the work I currently do October-June will be available.”

“Even a mortgage broker who was confident he could find something for me – with my 10 years continuous employment at the Open University and good prospects, could not get me a mortgage of any kind. Banks told him they had some confidence in zero hours contracts, but mine were so insecure they couldn’t take the risk.”

“I was invited to an interview and then told I had been deemed ‘unappointable’ for patently absurd reasons.”

I am a single working parent. I now have four contracts with the Open University, each between six to eight months long. This has given me some temporary job security, however it has been a long hard struggle to get to this position.”

“Recently I read an article in The Guardian by a woman (also BME) who struggles on temporary academic contracts. One comment said that she should get over it if she wasn’t good enough to be appointed to a permanent post. I replied that to keep being employed on temporary contracts in the academic world for two decades as I have done, means I am probably a better academic than those who have just had a permanent job all that time.”

I’ve been very heartened by the coverage by The Guardian. I have students who have seen it and been shocked and then asked what the positon is for OU ALs. The message is getting out.”

“This year my work has plummeted and I have been given two thirds less employment than normal. I now only teach on one course of 20 students, normally at this time of year I have between 60 and 90 students. My staff tutors have been great and have moved me over a regional boundary to ensure I have some work, but it is not enough. I do not even make enough to cover my rent in full, never mind any other bills. I am living off savings.”

“It is hard to plan through the year because invitations to do linked consultancy work is often made very late.  We are often not even advised in the latter if our applications have been received and rejected, which continues the difficulty of planning, since we may not ‘know’ that the work will not be forthcoming.  Very late cancellation of contracts that have been organised is quite common.”

 “Another OU specific is the necessity to re-apply for one’s job and without guarantee that one will be appointed to the new revised module. It is time consuming and it involves gearing oneself to interviews on material you have taught successfully before. It is in short, humiliating.”

“As an early career academic I would like to think I would be an asset to a university department. In the past I have gained up to six commendations a year for my teaching from students wishing to acknowledge the benefit of attending my tutorials. I have recently published my first academic book, I have been awarded a Fellowship by the Higher Education Academy. There is nothing else I can do to make myself more attractive to a university. I can’t afford to take off any more time to enhance my prospects. I just need to earn a living wage.”

In terms of my ability to do my job, the lack of support to do research impacts on my ability to teach, since I believe teaching is informed by research.

For the past few years I’ve received letters in August warning that there may not be work in one or more modules. Numbers are not finalised until September. It would be far too late to find other work. I feel that the OU asks us to carry most of the risk associated with student numbers. We are asked to commit to an organisation that will not commit to us.”

“I can only survive because I already own a mobile home (as a single person I could never get a mortgage on my OU contract), and because I have several other contracts, but mainly because I inherited a large sum when my parents died.  I enjoy my OU work, and I love being able to claim ‘University Lecturer’ as my job title, but no adult can live on £4000 a year without either a wealthy partner or another source of income.”

One of the colleagues who I team taught with recently was made redundant. Terrible for morale. Terrible for any sense of loyalty to the institution. Really clarifies in stark terms that we are lowly disposable components in the HE machine.”

“Over a number of years, I built up to a teaching load of two 60-point modules and two 30-point modules.  However, when the 30-point modules were replaced by a new merged 60-point module, I was required to re-apply, for which I was unsuccessful, despite having had overwhelmingly positive feedback about my teaching. This has led to the remaining teaching I have being an unsustainable way for me to earn a living.”

“I live in permanent fear about future employment at the OU. To add to this, soon after term ends we receive e-mails regarding potential tutorials in the coming year to modules we may or may not be teaching. I end up spending many hours trying to put together a timetable for a scenario I know is entirely fictional. Over the summer this is repeated many times and is followed by threats of redundancies and yet more fictional timetables.”

“In March we tried to apply for a mortgage with a lender we have used before, I was told that my OU employment was so insecure that income from it would not even count towards our combined income. Without my husband I would not be able to buy a home at all, despite working for the OU and teaching the same module since 2004.”

“It was impossible to prepare properly for new students starting my next module. Since I was usually under redundancy notice, I couldn’t be asked to do much preparatory work with them.”

“Research contracts only pay for the RA to work on them. Other activities need to come out of their non-paid time.  The RA has a continuing dilemma on where to spend their limited time: furthering the research, furthering their career, looking for job.”

 “The longer a researcher stays at the OU the more their future is tied up with it – they’ve developed intricate knowledge of the OU, they put all their effort into making a project successful, their friends and support network is there.  However, on the OU’s part there is no commitment. There is no reward for loyalty to the OU, in fact loyalty to the project can be punished because extra time spent making the project a success means less or no time for searching for a follow on position.”

“A three year research contract is not very long – about long enough to develop a research track record if joining a thriving group, but not enough if you are starting from scratch. A one year research contract is too short to do anything but deliver on the project outcomes – there is no time for publications”

“The longer one stays the more one’s future is tied up with the people one works with, however, this can be lost at any point.”

“Without a permanent job it is not possible to get a mortgage, or to make financial plans for the future.”

Last set of comments on what it’s like to be on a Fixed term or Assoicate Lecturer contract.

We asked members to tell us what it’s like to be on a Fixed term or Associate Lecturer contract and here are a selection of the replies we received. Thank you to all members who sent us their comments.

“One of the colleagues who I team taught with recently was made redundant. Terrible for morale. Terrible for any sense of loyalty to the institution. Really clarifies in stark terms that we are lowly disposable components in the HE machine.”

“Over a number of years, I built up to a teaching load of two 60-point modules and two 30-point modules.  However, when the 30-point modules were replaced by a new merged 60-point module, I was required to re-apply, for which I was unsuccessful, despite having had overwhelmingly positive feedback about my teaching. This has led to the remaining teaching I have being an unsustainable way for me to earn a living.”

“I live in permanent fear about future employment at the OU. To add to this, soon after term ends we receive e-mails regarding potential tutorials in the coming year to modules we may or may not be teaching. I end up spending many hours trying to put together a timetable for a scenario I know is entirely fictional. Over the summer this is repeated many times and is followed by threats of redundancies and yet more fictional timetables.”

“In March we tried to apply for a mortgage with a lender we have used before, I was told that my OU employment was so insecure that income from it would not even count towards our combined income. Without my husband I would not be able to buy a home at all, despite working for the OU and teaching the same module since 2004.”

“It was impossible to prepare properly for new students starting my next module. Since I was usually under redundancy notice, I couldn’t be asked to do much preparatory work with them.”

“Research contracts only pay for the RA to work on them. Other activities need to come out of their non-paid time.  The RA has a continuing dilemma on where to spend their limited time: furthering the research, furthering their career, looking for job.”

 “The longer a researcher stays at the OU the more their future is tied up with it – they’ve developed intricate knowledge of the OU, they put all their effort into making a project successful, their friends and support network is there.  However, on the OU’s part there is no commitment. There is no reward for loyalty to the OU, in fact loyalty to the project can be punished because extra time spent making the project a success means less or no time for searching for a follow on position.”

“A three year research contract is not very long – about long enough to develop a research track record if joining a thriving group, but not enough if you are starting from scratch. A one year research contract is too short to do anything but deliver on the project outcomes – there is no time for publications.”

“The longer one stays the more one’s future is tied up with the people one works with, however, this can be lost at any point.”

“Without a permanent job it is not possible to get a mortgage, or to make financial plans for the future.”

SallyHunt-GC photo Mar2017

Sally Hunt, UCU General Secretary speaking at our Open Meeting on 15th March 2017 – photo by Gill Clough.

OU UCU members comments on being on a Fixed term or Associate Lecturer contract.

We asked members to tell us what it’s like to be on a Fixed term or Associate Lecturer contract and here are a selection of the replies we received. Thank you to all members who sent us their comments.

“For the past few years I’ve received letters in August warning that there may not be work in one or more modules. Numbers are not finalised until September. It would be far too late to find other work. I feel that the OU asks us to carry most of the risk associated with student numbers. We are asked to commit to an organisation that will not commit to us.

“It is hard to plan through the year because invitations to do linked consultancy work is often made very late.  We are often not even advised in the latter if our applications have been received and rejected, which continues the difficulty of planning, since we may not ‘know’ that the work will not be forthcoming.  Very late cancellation of contracts that have been organised is quite common.”

“Another OU specific is the necessity to re-apply for one’s job and without guarantee that one will be appointed to the new revised module. It is time consuming and it involves gearing oneself to interviews on material you have taught successfully before. It is in short, humiliating.”

“As an early career academic I would like to think I would be an asset to a university department. In the past I have gained up to six commendations a year for my teaching from students wishing to acknowledge the benefit of attending my tutorials. I have recently published my first academic book, I have been awarded a Fellowship by the Higher Education Academy. There is nothing else I can do to make myself more attractive to a university. I can’t afford to take off any more time to enhance my prospects. I just need to earn a living wage.”

“In terms of my ability to do my job, the lack of support to do research impacts on my ability to teach, since I believe teaching is informed by research.

IWDay-Exec photo-with text

“I can only survive because I already own a mobile home (as a single person I could never get a mortgage on my OU contract), and because I have several other contracts, but mainly because I inherited a large sum when my parents died.  I enjoy my OU work, and I love being able to claim ‘University Lecturer’ as my job title, but no adult can live on £4000 a year without either a wealthy partner or another source of income.”

More comments from our members about being on a Fixed term or Associate Lecturer contract.

We asked members to tell us what it’s like to be on a Fixed term or Associate Lecturer contract and here are a selection of the replies we received. Thank you to all members who sent us their comments.

“Even a mortgage broker who was confident he could find something for me – with my 10 years continuous employment at the Open University and good prospects, could not get me a mortgage of any kind. Banks told him they had some confidence in zero hours contracts, but mine were so insecure they couldn’t take the risk.”

“I was invited to an interview and then told I had been deemed ‘unappointable’ for patently absurd reasons.”

I am a single working parent. I now have four contracts with the Open University, each between six to eight months long. This has given me some temporary job security, however it has been a long hard struggle to get to this position.”

“Recently I read an article in The Guardian by a woman (also BME) who struggles on temporary academic contracts. One comment said that she should get over it if she wasn’t good enough to be appointed to a permanent post. I replied that to keep being employed on temporary contracts in the academic world for two decades as I have done, means I am probably a better academic than those who have just had a permanent job all that time.”

I’ve been very heartened by the coverage by The Guardian. I have students who have seen it and been shocked and then asked what the positon is for OU ALs. The message is getting out.”

“This year my work has plummeted and I have been given two thirds less employment than normal. I now only teach on one course of 20 students, normally at this time of year I have between 60 and 90 students. My staff tutors have been great and have moved me over a regional boundary to ensure I have some work, but it is not enough. I do not even make enough to cover my rent in full, never mind any other bills. I am living off savings.”

IMG_2418

 

Anti Casualisation comments

We asked members to tell us what it’s like to be on a Fixed term or Associate Lecturer contract and here are a selection of the replies we received. Thank you to all members who sent us their comments.

“Recently I was refused a bank loan and I know I would struggle to get a mortgage on my own, because my contracts are complicated and my salary varies month to month.”

“In a difficult relationship, I was frightened to leave because my variable income would so badly affect our daughter.”

“Casualisation in the OU (and the brick uni I teach in) means that we are not considered for any project-based roles other than directly based on our role. We have slim and infrequent opportunities to be part of short working groups, but even then really only as consultees or reps, rather than jointly producing something.”

“Because I am on fixed term contracts I am unable to move my mortgage to a lower rate of interest deal to take advantage of the reduced interest rates currently available, so I am stuck on a mortgage which has a high interest rate.”

“I feel embarrassed to campaign about my working conditions, as I fear showing the students how poor my situation is and ending up being accused of bringing the university into bad repute.”

“One thing that I think isn’t always recognised, is that casualisation can lead to taking on too much extra work, out of anxiety that the current work could disappear within a few months.  I am in that position at the moment, where I am under severe work pressure, because (a) come June my income will reduce drastically, and (b) come October, I have no idea how much of the work I currently do October-June will be available.”

support-secure-employment

Anti casualisation comments from OU UCU members

We asked members to tell us what it’s like to be on a Fixed term or Associate Lecturer contract and here are a selection of the replies we received. Thank you to all members who sent us their comments.

Anti-casualisation table-sm

Exec Committee members in the wind tunnel on the Anti-Casualisation day of action, November 2016

“I have been employed for 7.5 years as a researcher at The Open University.  During this time I have worked under a variety of contracts.  Some of them were just a few months; the longest was two years.  Being employed like this has had an effect on my physical and mental health.  I feel like I work hard without making progress – or even moving on from being utterly disposable.  I have put off buying a house for years, watching them becoming ever more unaffordable when I could have paid off several years of a mortgage by now. “

“Being on an insecure contract means that I have to keep up with registration for GTCS and remain on a supply register for secondary teachers, when what I really want to do is focus fully on my career as an AL. I would be so happy if we were given permanent contracts so that we can concentrate on our work and continuing to put our students first.”

“The idea that I somehow don’t deserve a permanent contract because my work is externally funded I find quite risible, but I am wary of pointing this out because of the precariousness of my employment.  I have personally brought in more than £100,000 in research funding and been named on successful bids totalling more than £2 million.  This doesn’t seem to make much difference to anyone.“

“I’m deeply disappointed that as an Associate Lecturer with the OU, my job is so precarious. I’m lucky to have a full time permanent post in Further Education, and while I enjoy my job, doing the OU over and above it is a lot.  I’d happily consider reducing my hours in order to concentrate on delivering the experience my OU students deserve – but on my current contract, this simply isn’t an option.”

Report on TUC Discrimination Law Conference— 20 January 2017

The Conference took place at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) Congress House, Russell Street, London. Below is a summarised version of the programme, including the topics covered, some of which I will elaborate on in the report. One particular thread running through the conference was Brexit and its impact on the law in the UK. Another blow to “equality” in the UK is that the funding for Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the body tasked with upholding workers’ rights as part of its remit, has been cut by 25%.

Keynote Address – What’s so different about employment tribunals? –Judge Shona Simon, President of Employment Tribunals (Scotland)

Pregnancy, maternity and parental rights – Rachel Crasnow QC, Cloisters Chambers

Discrimination because of religion or belief and sexual orientation discrimination – Robin Allen QC, Cloisters Chambers

Equal pay and age discrimination – Michael Rubenstein, Equal Opportunities Review and Industrial Relations Law Reports

Disability discrimination: Recent developments – Sean Jones QC, 11KBW Chambers

Sex and race discrimination: recent case law – Karon Monaghan QC, Matrix Chambers

Judge Shona Simon in her keynote address, provided the audience with some interesting facts. None more so than the fact that the government has hired G4S as its employment tribunals (ETs) advisor. In addition, since tribunal fees were introduced there has been an 80% fall in claims taken to ETs. There is a consultation currently being carried out, with a view to modernising and reforming the ET and Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) systems.  Further information on the consultation process can be found here: https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/review-of-fees-in-employment-tribunals/. The current system frightens prospective claimants, who are not represented by a solicitor, from going to tribunal. Judge Shona also suggested that the consultation should consider that some “fast-track” and standard ETs could be better dealt with online, thereby costing less money and taking less time to conclude. The role ACAS plays in ETs should also be reviewed within the consultation.

Rachel Crasnow’s presentation on pregnancy and discrimination raised some interesting issues around choices & parental rights, “proving disadvantage”, Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and of course, the impact of Brexit. In essence, both the employer and employee need to know what their choices are in relation to this topic. Breastfeeding whilst working is also about choice and has been examined in depth. The surge in discrimination against pregnant staff by employers resulted in a review and recommendations from the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee and The Government’s subsequent response. There have also been cases where pregnant women who have been indirectly discriminated against have been asked to prove that they have been disadvantaged due to breastfeeding and pregnancy. Several successful cases were quoted: McFarlane & Ambacher v Easyjet [ET SEP 2016], Cooper v House of Fraser (Stores) Ltd [2012] and Seville v Flybe [2016], amongst others. SPL is an area not fully understood by employees and something worth considering. In a nutshell, it actually allows both parents to share the maternity leave, subject to certain terms and conditions being met.

Robin Allen’s interesting and illustrative cases relating to discrimination due to religious belief and sexual orientation also proved very enlightening and informative. The claim by an assailant, who murdered a newsagent in Glasgow, that he was motivated by his religious belief to commit murder was thrown out by the judge. The convicted man’s appeal against his minimum 27-year sentence was also not upheld. In another case in Northern Ireland related to sexual orientation: Lee v Ashers Bakery Ltd [2016], the court found in favour of Gareth Lee who had placed an order to Ashers Bakery for a cake with an iced slogan “Support Gay Marriage”. The bakery refused to fulfil the order on the grounds that they were Evangelical Christians and opposed to gay marriage.

Michael Rubenstein, highlighted the current gender pay gaps, which on average, in the UK is 9.4% for full-time staff and almost double at 18.1% when part-time employees are included. In England it is slightly wider at 18.9%. He quoted reasons for, and impact of the gender pay gap from several research papers including the Resolution Foundation and Deloitte. Another important development is that on 6th April 2017 gender pay gap reporting will become law for private and voluntary sector organisations who have 250 or more employees, with the first set of reports expected in April 2018. In respect of age discrimination Michael cited the interesting case of Kratzer v R+V Allegemeine Versicherung AG [2016[, where Kratzer regularly applies for jobs that he is not really interested in and then when he doesn’t get them he brings age discrimination proceedings against the organisations. The European Court of Justice (EUCJ) ruled against Kratzer.

Almost all of Sean Jones’ presentation was dedicated to the famous case of FirstGroup PLC v Paulley [2017], where Mr Paulley a wheelchair user was denied entry to a bus because a carer who had a baby in a pram didn’t want to vacate the wheelchair-designated space. “Mr Paulley issued proceedings in the Leeds County Court against FirstGroup for unlawful discrimination against him on the ground of his disability. His claim was based on the proposition that FirstGroup had failed to make “reasonable adjustments” to its policies contrary to section 29(2) of the Equality Act 2010”. The primary question in the case was whether Mr Paulley was a victim of discrimination, and secondarily die the bus company make reasonable adjustments to allow Mr Paulley to board the bus. Basically, the final judgement by the Supreme Court on appeal, found in favour of Mr Paulley. For further information, please see the Supreme Court website here: https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/uksc-2015-0025.html.

Karon Monaghan’s primary discussion surrounded Brexit and its impact on domestic equality law. She explained that the “The Prime Minister has indicated that Brexit will not result in a reduction in discrimination law rights because it is intended that the acquis (body of existing EU law) will be converted into British law…”. The problem is what the acquis is and whether it includes case law. She advocated including a non-regression clause in the Great Repeal Bill, at least applicable to the Equality Act 2010. This would mean that the Bill would not be allowed repeal current equality legislation, already in practice.

Finally, from my perspective, three important questions arose from the conference. Firstly, the question asked by all the presenters, in light of Brexit, was what the UK’s future relationship with the EUCJ would be and whether it would have access to both the European Law and subsequent case law. Secondly, whether equality issues are being given the credence they deserve by ye UK government or not in light of the cuts to the EHRC. Thirdly, the issue of tribunal fees and how they are being addressed. In my opinion they should be scrapped.

Denzil DeSouza, Equality Officer, OU branch of the UCU

Further information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/equality-issues

(written 17 February 2017)