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Tag Archives: casualised staff
Casual readers may be forgiven for thinking that subtext’s drones are embittered cynics whose philosophy can be summed up as ‘D Floor bad, HR enablers of bad’. In an effort to challenge this notion, here’s a vote of thanks for the new ‘Fixed-term Contracts and Casual Working Policy and Procedure’, drafted by a working group involving the campus unions and approved by the Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC) on 4 November 2019. It isn’t easy to find online, and hasn’t yet been put on HR’s page of policies and procedures, but can be accessed on the intranet here:
The Director of HR comments that the new policy ‘underlines our commitment to making sure staff feel secure and supported at this university.’ It’s been lauded in the House of Commons by Cat Smith MP, who invited the Minister of State for Universities and Science to ‘join me in welcoming the changes at Lancaster University’ (Commons Hansard, 20 January 2020). In short:
1) Fixed-term contracts will only be used in these circumstances: cover for temporary staff absence; cover for one-off peaks in demand; recognised and time-limited training programmes; and if a staff member requests it (the latter includes situations where an external funder stipulates that their funding is conditional on the position being fixed-term).
2) ‘All staff currently employed on fixed-term contracts will be automatically moved onto indefinite contracts,’ unless their role falls into one of these four cases.
3) Casual (in other words hourly-paid) contracts will only be used in these circumstances: very short term roles up to 12 weeks in duration; and ad hoc roles with no regular pattern of work and no obligation between the parties to offer or accept work (i.e. zero-hour contracts).
The unions offered particular praise to HR Service Delivery Manager Matt Ireland for overseeing the drafting and approval process. All in all, a good news story…
…except that doubts are now setting in amongst union activists regarding HR’s commitment to implementing it. Mr Ireland has now left Lancaster to work for an NHS Trust in East Lancashire.
Let’s look at the current list of vacancies. Among them is an advert for a Business Analyst in Admissions and Outreach (ref N2348), who ‘will focus on the implementation of a new postgraduate admissions system.’ This is ‘a fixed term role, initially until 31st October 2020.’ There’s also a role as Business Relationship Officer for the Lancashire Cyber Foundry (ref N2347), part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, which seeks to develop ‘a unique business support programme for small to medium enterprise businesses across a range of industrial sectors.’ This is ‘a fixed term post until 30 September 2022’ – note that, according to the new policy, ‘time-limited funding, in itself, will not be justification to place an individual on a fixed-term contract.’ Maybe you’d like to be a Disability Advisor (ref N2338), leading on ‘support for disabled students on the new Frontline postgraduate Social Work programme.’ This is ‘a two year fixed term appointment.’
Have recruiting managers just not got the memo, or has the memo not been sent in the first place?
What about those currently on fixed-term contracts – can they expect to receive letters confirming their indefinite status any day now? It seems unlikely: HR’s page on ‘ending fixed-term contracts’ has not been updated since March 2019 and still claims that, ‘if you wish to extend a fixed-term contract, you need to submit a Manager Request using Core MyHR. Alternatively, a request to Transfer to Indefinite Contract can be made. If managers are awaiting authorisation so that further employment can be offered it is strongly advised that a case for redundancy is made in parallel as a precautionary measure. Any such proposal can be withdrawn once authorisation has been received.’
It may, then, be some time before Lancaster is, to quote the policy, ‘using indefinite contractual arrangements wherever possible and reducing the use of fixed-term and casual arrangements.’ But the policy is there – subtext would be interested to hear any evidence of it actually being used.
Claire Geddes, the former CEO of LUSU, was seconded to work on ‘strategic projects’ for barely a week before her name appeared on the LU website in another capacity: she is now the University’s Head of Governance Services, overseeing Information Governance (e.g. FoI) and the University’s own internal structures. She has gone from directing the absolute and total failure of democracy in the Students’ Union to overseeing the travesty of democracy in the University. A wise hire for those who wish to consolidate power in UMAG.
My first fixed-term casual research work for Lancaster was in 1991, just after getting my degree and graduating with £100 in my bank account (thanks, funded education!). I worked for 6 weeks at £100/week, minus the 25% emergency tax rate, leaving me with the unimaginable riches of £75/week. I had moved into a vacant room in a student house on Westbourne Road, paying ‘half-rent’ at £12.50/week (thanks, no ‘buy-to-rent’ inflation!). I digress (it happens as you approach 50, apparently). Over the next 28 and a bit years, I worked on and off for Lancaster on fixed-term contracts doing research on matters relating to the environmental crisis, with some major gaps in my work history thanks to jumping on diggers and squatting and sitting up trees ‘In Defence Of Mother Earth’ (how quaint and old-fashioned/scarily prescient!). I didn’t do teaching, and therefore, the possibility of a permanent contract was for nearly three decades an idle dream.
Imagine the hilarity when 13 days after finishing another contract and for the first time becoming an employee of another University (Leeds), the University announced its change of policy on fixed-term contracts, announcing that permanent contracts would be offered wherever possible, and this would even apply to funding-tied contracts such as those I had been on for the entire period we had to avert climate change (ah, those sweet bygone times!). It was almost as funny as when I took my one trans-Atlantic flight to a conference where I was presenting on the environmental impacts of everyday travel, and attending a session on the environmental impacts of academic conferences, and the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted and grounded all flights in the Northern Hemisphere, stranding me in the Belly of the Beast (Washington DC).
Dr Noel Cass
You report in recent issues of subtext that the decision to withdraw University e-mail accounts from retired members of staff was designed to save the University money. I fear that the reverse will be the case when retired/retiring members of staff who in appreciation of their links with the University have named it as a beneficiary in their wills will be seriously contemplating removing such legacies as they no longer feel the attachment to the University which once they enjoyed. Likewise, retired members who contribute generously to the Chancellor’s Guild and other University appeals will no doubt be thinking twice about contributing to these good causes in the future.
Is it too late to ask the Director of Information Systems Services to review this damaging decision in the light of the serious financial damage (and significant loss of goodwill) it will cause to the University and to restore e-mail access to those from whom it has been, or is to be, withdrawn?
Best wishes, and keep up the good work.
No email account, no access to numerous academic resources. Rather an exaggeration, perhaps, but ‘cheap’ cancellation makes life unnecessarily difficult.
Which tense has been used in ‘…be they sat…’? (subtext 191, editorial)
The University of Lancaster is preparing to undertake another staff survey. In order to ensure that the responses are as positive as possible, we at subtext would like to take a look back at where we went wrong in 2017-18 and offer some pointers. We could start by not doing any of the following…
In subtext 166, we reported that the Dean of FASS had drawn up a new procedure for appointing heads of department. This began in the Department of Politics, Philosophy, and Religion, whose natives expressed a clear preference for their next Head of Department (HoD). Dissatisfied with their choice, the Vice-Chancellor decided that future HoD’s should all be professors, and that he should have a direct say in their appointment. The VC’s micromanagement of appointment processes when he doesn’t like a particular candidate, no matter how far down the pecking order they are, is nothing new. But in this case, insisting that HoD’s must be professorial is not only a slap in the fact to the non-professorial staff who have led departments over the years, it also prevents junior (i.e. below professor) academics from developing their experience, and dries up opportunities for women and BME groups, who make up a very small portion of the professoriate at Lancaster.
Then again, being a professor automatically makes you a better candidate for the post of HoD. You only have to look at our report in subtext 167 on the HoD who called an all-staff meeting, at which he berated and humiliated the Criminology personnel in front of the entire Law School, threatening them with closure if they didn’t drive up admissions. With morale boosting like that, it’s little wonder that Criminology at Lancaster is rated 1st in the Times Good University Guide.
Elsewhere, staff members on grade 6 and below were pleased to learn that their bus passes were now 30% more expensive. While this is a negligible amount for those on higher grades, the twenty six quid increase is going to be felt by those who aren’t. The situation is worse for staff on short term contracts, who often are employed on a termly / monthly basis, aren’t entitled to full year bus passes, and therefore have to buy a one term Unirider for a hundred quid. Three times a year if their contracts are extended. And none of these passes entitle them to travel to university during the vacation weeks.
It’s yet another blow to staff on precarious contracts, who make up 65.9% of our workforce. International staff make up a large part of this figure – our report in subtext 178 demonstrated that many of them declined to go on strike for fear of deportation.
Still. At least we can all get on with our research – something which the faculties are keen to help us to do. How? Well, as reported in subtext 179, the Faculty of Science and Technology aims to do this with Research Impact Fund Sub-Committees, scrutiny panels made up of academics often with different specialties to those in the research they’re scrutinising, who decide which academics win five thousand pounds to track their impact. It’s good to free up time to research, isn’t it?
The subtext collective tries to stay aware of the challenges and concerns facing our friends and colleagues who work with us at the university, because we believe our primary purpose is to provide a voice for staff to air those concerns. We think that we did this rather well in 2017-18, and you can read all of it via the links below.
In the last edition of subtext we reported on the problems of staff on termly contracts and their inability to get a staff bus pass. subtext has learnt of similar problems concerning hourly paid teaching staff who drive to work, and although we have historically avoided publishing stories about parking, we felt this one needed some further discussion on the grounds that a group of staff who are already marginalised and on insecure contracts were being treated unfairly.
Teaching staff attending the security building to renew their staff parking permit for the academic year were somewhat shocked to be told that unlike last year, they are no longer eligible for a staff permit. No prior warning, no correspondence informing them of this change in policy. Despite offering to pay the same amount as they had paid last year – and perhaps more importantly, the same amount as other staff still pay (!) – they were told that they are not eligible for a staff permit and would have to park ‘at the bottom end of the campus’.
The fact Lancaster University is situated on a hill is coincidental but this is highly symbolic; those ‘at the top’ (i.e. ‘proper’ staff) were deemed to be worthier in that they are given the ‘right’ to park in a more convenient location, over those ‘at the bottom’. For those staff, the issue with parking ‘at the bottom’ is not related to laziness but is more about feelings of inequality and the apparent power imbalance.
Why is it that these staff are no longer eligible? Is it because they are not ‘full-time’ members of staff. No. So it must be because they are ‘part-time’ members of staff. Well, no. Apparently the explanation given is that due to a lack of parking and over-subscription for permits, a review (which was not communicated to those concerned) had concluded that restrictions needed to be made and teaching staff who are also undertaking a PhD were the group to be targeted for cut backs. Staff-students have been discriminated against over both full-time and part-time staff who are not studying alongside their teaching. Essential teaching staff are vital for our Part I delivery and are apparently valued members of the research community when we tell stories during our strategic reviews and in our REF narratives. Welcome to the inclusive academic community.
Oh, and for those members of staff (regardless of status) who don’t have a permit at all, it seems there has been another price hike. The car park by the tennis courts has tripled in price from £1 per day to £3 per day. Thus endeth our gripe about parking.