We are a growing group of staff employed on ‘casual’ terms, including hourly-paid, fixed term, and fractional contracts, who are building a movement on campus to fight for fair play and respect for our work. Campaigning on pay is only one part of what we do: diminished employment rights, inadequate office space, insufficient training, and a lack of teaching resources are all part of the same problem. Some of us originally met at a meeting organised by the inspirational Fractionals For Fair Play campaign at SOAS (http://fractionalsforfairplay.webs.com/), who are successfully identifying, organising and improving their precarious teaching conditions. But SOAS is not the exception; over a third of staff in higher education institutions across the country rely on casualised labour, including Queen Mary. In our own college, these issues concern not only teaching and teaching-related employment, but also the many staff employed on poor contracts in office, facilities, and service-based or outsourced staff.
We need to act now to counter further and reverse increases in casualised labour, which are detrimental not only to the quality of higher education and its environment, but also to the sustainability and diversity of the sector for staff at every level. As we have started to grow and organise locally, we have identified a number of problems for casualised staff at a national level and in our own college. We are campaigning for the following:
- That all staff at Queen Mary, including outsourced labour, should be employed on fair terms. All staff should be paid a living wage as a minimum, with fair employment rights such as holiday, sick pay, adequate notice periods, good training, and transparency in the hiring process. The college should also strive to offer permanent contracts where appropriate, and should not rely unduly on precarious casualised labour.
- Hourly-paid, fixed term, and fractional teaching and teaching-related staff at Queen Mary should be paid fairly and according to the value and importance of their expertise as part of learning programmes. Hourly rates that are inclusive of preparation and marking can leave staff with an hourly wage in real terms that is significantly lower than the HE national average or general living wages.
- To combat increases in ‘casualised’ labour, such as hourly-paid and fixed term contracts, and its associated effects, including the rise in ‘teaching only’ contracts as a proportion of labour in Higher Education at a national level.
We are beginning our campaign by identifying the concerns of casualised teaching, teaching-related and research staff, and campaigning for improvements in employment conditions:
- The hourly rate for Teaching Associates (who the college also refer to as ‘Teaching Assistants’) and Visiting Lecturers at Queen Mary has not gone up since 2009. This pay freeze means that the value of these hourly-paid staff wages has significantly decreased in real terms over the last six years, and does not match rising prices, living costs, and the pay rises of other staff across the university.
- Despite the hourly rate being the same for all hourly-paid teaching staff across departments, discrepancies in working conditions between departments mean that there is effectively no coherence in how much different TAs are paid. For example, ‘inclusive’ pay rates mean that staff are not paid adequately for all the work that they do. We have also found that some teachers do not receive adequate paid training which devalues not only the labour and quality of the teaching, but also fails to reflect the importance of casualised staff within teaching programme structures.
- Many staff who have completed their PhDs are bearing the brunt of the increasing neo-liberalisation of working conditions across higher education. Early career academics hoping to begin stable and viable university employment must juggle different hourly-paid and casualised contracts across institutions. This precarious situation leaves casualised staff with little time to conduct their own research, which then obstructs career progression, and leaves them trapped in a struggle to pay the rent. We are concerned about the damaging effects this situation has on the diversity of our sector, which may only present a viable career path for those with independent wealth. This situation also disadvantages women, as the nature of hourly paid contracts leaves them with no maternity leave for example, raising questions on the use of casualised contracts to circumvent equalities legislation.
To try to bring some of these issues to the attention of the college and its management, we are going to launch a university wide survey in the following months to collect in-depth data surrounding working conditions. From group meetings we have already identified a number of areas that need improvement. Based on these initial meetings, we are campaigning for:
- Discrepancies between different departmental contracts and conditions to be addressed. All TAs should be paid, and paid the same amount for marking, training and preparation time.
- Adequate, decent and consistent paid training in every department. We hope to deliver the best possible learning experience and environment for our students and demand that this be recognised.
- Discrepancies between preparation times to be addressed. A TA teaching two different modules, for instance, is currently paid the same as a TA teaching two seminar groups on the same module, despite this meaning significantly less planning and preparation time.
- A decent pay-rate for marking. This also means taking into account student numbers in seminars and the effect this will have on marking time.
- The use of ‘demonstrating’ contracts to be minimised, and recognised as a downgrading of teaching opportunities and deskilling of PhD students at Queen Mary. In assigning ‘demonstrator’ roles, departments gain access to cheap labour without needing to provide training or preparation time. Postgraduates who demonstrate get paid far less than teaching staff although they may spend just as much time working in the classroom and preparing in order to meet the demands of the job.
- The recruitment and allocation process to be made more transparent. It is often unclear in many departments how TAs are offered work on certain modules over others. The TA and VL recruitment process is often unclear, which also excludes us from feeling valued professionally as staff alongside colleagues on permanent contracts.
- Functional office space, and suitable provision for private, accessible space for office hours with students. TAs are often left with no private space to meet their students during office hours which is detrimental to teaching and learning. The limitations on working space, for example, means that there is only one TA room in Arts One, shared by TAs from over five departments.
- Sick pay and decent annual leave to be included in all contracts.
- Clarity about how casualised staff are being appraised, and to be given the opportunity to be involved in setting the agenda about the terms of the appraisal.
- A resources fund for TAs and other casualised staff who have to spend their own money on materials required by the course.
- Casualised staff, including TA representatives, on every department board meeting and in every department in order to adequately communicate the concerns and demands of their peers. This would also mean that casualised staff are recognised as colleagues by permanent staff.
- Current TAs and postgraduates to be consulted on any proposals to introduce teaching scholarships linked to PhD funding, and that all departments commit to proper training and support for current and future casualised teaching staff (including hourly-paid TAs).