I’m David Bell and I’m the anti-casualisation officer for Loughborough University and College Union (UCU). LSU Doctoral Researcher Co-President Nathan Ritchie has kindly invited me to discuss casual teaching at a forum for Doctoral Researcher Representatives on Friday 26th February, at midday. I’m really looking forward to this opportunity to connect with as many of you as possible, and to hear your concerns, hopes and ideas. You don’t have to be currently undertaking any teaching work to get involved, and I’m keen to hear from as many people as possible via your DR Representatives.
Casualisation, which includes hourly paid teaching, has been an increasingly important part of UCU’s campaigning in recent years, with concerns around the prevalence of casual employment, as well as pay and conditions. This campaigning has also been informed by an understanding that the negative effects of casualisation reinforce, and are reinforced by, existing inequalities.
Many Universities – including Loughborough – are taking steps to improve matters. But there is still much to do, and I’d love to work with as many of you as possible to do this. The more of us there are, the more we can successfully determine priorities, give each other support and solidarity, and organise to improve our conditions.
You can either pass your questions to your DR Representatives and we will discuss them at the Teaching Forum on the 26th of February or you can directly email me on firstname.lastname@example.org – you do not have to be a UCU member to get in touch (though you may wish to join – please see below!).
Below are some FAQs about casualisation, and what we’re doing about it at Loughborough.
What is casualisation? Who’s casually employed?
Casual work is that which is fixed-term (e.g. a Research Associate on a two year contract) and/or hourly paid (e.g. a PhD student working as a University Teacher). At Loughborough, hourly paid contracts include both fixed and zero hours contracts. Casualisation refers to the increasing prevalence of such work.
Can casual staff join the union?
Yes! If you’re a PhD student who teaches you are eligible for free membership (see here). If you’re not a PhD student but you’re on a fixed-term contract and/or you are paid hourly at grade 6 or above (grade 5 for researchers), then you are also eligible to join. See here for more details. UCU has a progressive fee structure so you won’t be paying the earth!
Can PhD students who aren’t working join the union?
Yes! You can join as a student member, which is free. You can still get involved in union activity, though you won’t have rights to vote in elections or ballots for industrial action, so if you start doing any work you should switch to a standard membership.
What’s being done about this?
UCU have firmly established casualisation as a topic of concern at the national level, and it is one of the ‘four fights’ which led to members taking industrial action at many universities, including Loughborough, last year. We are increasingly winning the argument, to the extent that many employers are now parroting UCU arguments, which they refused to even consider a few years ago. But agreement that there’s a problem isn’t enough: we need to see concrete action.
At Loughborough, industrial action around the four fights led to the establishment of a series of ‘Task and Finish Groups’ involving representatives from senior management and the three campus trade unions. One of these is focussing on casual employment, and I have been involved in this. Our focus through this has been:
- Ensuring hourly paid staff are paid for every hour worked (including preparation and follow-on tasks).
- Pushing for full employment rights (sick pay, paid parental leave, pension contributions) for all workers.
- Ensuring casually employed workers have access to the space and equipment they need to undertake their work safely and comfortably.
- Addressing the racialisation of casual employment: a report in March 2020 revealed that, according to the then most recent data, 47% of BAME academic staff at Loughborough are on fixed term contracts, compared with 31% of white academic staff.
There are likely to be positive changes to casual work at Loughborough as a result of this process. But there will still be much to fight for.
The more of us there are, the more powerful we will be, and the more we can secure. Do get in touch.