The Guardian reports on zero-hours contracts make for compelling and disturbing reading. These contracts are an abuse of working people leaving them with highly fluctuating and uncertain income and passing all risk of low income to the employee instead of it being borne by the employer.
However, the Guardian has missed one area where such contracts are becoming ever more common, higher education. UCU, the lecturers’ union, estimates that over 49.5% of higher education lecturers are on fixed term contracts. No figures are available as to which of these are hourly paid and which are fractional, but all of these lecturers face uncertainty of employment.
Admittedly, not all hourly paid contracts are quite as bad as the zero-hours contracts cited by the Guardian. Some universities actually include holiday pay. However sickness pay does not exist. If you are sick you are expected to make up the session. if you don’t then you don’t get paid. The problem of casualisation of HE staff is so great the UCU is running a campaign to ‘Stamp Out’ casual contracts in the sector.
Lecturers may know what their hours are from week to week, but they do not know what hours of teaching they will be offered from one academic year to the next or, in some cases, from one semester to the next, i.e. in January their teaching could disappear until the following October, or they could have no work until the following January. In addition there is generally no teaching, and therefore no pay, over the summer. Depending on the university in question, this can vary from two months without pay to five months without pay. Add to that no pay over the Christmas and Easter breaks in many cases and many part time lecturers are struggling to make ends meet. Times Higher Education found part time lecturers ‘bin diving’ for food.
Is this the way we should be treating highly qualified, highly skilled people?