Tackling Precarious Contracts at the University of Bristol: Bristol UCU Update on Our Anti-Casualisation Claim

Where do we stand with Bristol UCU’s Anti-Casualisation Claim? What next and what needs to be done? How far (or not) have we come? Claim negotiators recap recent Claim negotiating, detail what needs to be done and outline future actions.

Tackling precarious contracts, ending insecurity of employment is a key Bristol UCU branch priority, hence our Bristol UCU Anti-Casualisation Claim. There have already been some positive developments as regards the Claim, not least the commitment by the University and some Heads of School to address insecure employment, but there are also key demands that Claim negotiators are keen to press for. These include:

  • parity of treatment for staff technically employed as cover for, for example, staff on research leave and as maternity cover
  • issuing of fixed term, fractional contracts rather than hourly paid contracts
  • bridging fund support for fixed-term research staff
  • offering open-ended part-time contracts to long-serving hourly-paid staff with low contract hours
  • ending use of 9- and 10-month teaching contracts

Where We Are

In October last year, this branch submitted an Anti-Casualisation Claim to the University. This was part of UCU’s existing strategy of encouraging and supporting branches to submit local claims: a concrete list of demands requiring a formal public agreement between individual universities and their UCU branches. See also our Gender Pay Gap Claim in this regard.

Following our highly successful USS industrial action, UCU, at a branch, regional and UK level, saw an opportunity to take our picket line grievances concerning insecure terms of employment and to effect meaningful reform at our institutions. As the strike showed, and arguably last year’s University of Bristol Staff Survey corroborated, the use of short-term, precarious contracts, and the inequitable treatment of casualised staff, was an issue front and centre of Bristol’s ‘staff experience’, requiring urgent remedy.

The Bristol UCU Claim has 20 demands: please click on the link to read the Claim [link]. In summary, these look to reduce the use of unnecessary short, temporary contracts, to see that staff are paid fairly for all work that they do and to ensure parity of workplace treatment for fixed-term and hourly-paid teaching staff.

Following the Claim’s submission, the University of Bristol and Bristol UCU committed to work together to reduce the precarious employment of academic and professional services staff on fixed-term contracts of employment. This commitment was expressed in the joint statement issued by the University and Bristol UCU in January. The statement made it clear that security of work and excellent staff experience are aims to which both the University and UCU are committed.

This was a positive first step on the part of the University, which Bristol UCU Claim negotiators are quick to acknowledge. As well as the joint statement, UCU and University reps established a Special Interest Group to negotiate the Claim, and as a vehicle for ongoing Claim negotiations, we have established a Precarious Contracts Review Group. This Review Group is populated by two HR Project Officers working directly for the project, as well as University and UCU representatives.

This example of constructive partnership working was recently cited in Liz Morrish’s acclaimed report Pressure Vessels: The epidemic of poor mental health among higher education staff as an example of universities rightly taking responsibility for the consequences of precarious working.

What Needs To Be Done?

As members may have noted, timescales in the Claim have not been stuck to, for example, a conclusive agreement was to be reached by January 2019. The ongoing, open nature of negotiations is something that your branch negotiators have largely accepted as many of the Claim’s points are being addressed. Branch negotiators are happy to continue with open negotiations but would be concerned if more concrete agreement on our priorities did not look likely to be achieved in the autumn.

Branch negotiators are keen to campaign on those points of the claim that we feel the University needs to address as a matter of urgency.

We are pushing for:

parity of treatment for staff technically employed as cover. For example, staff with the same length of service, one on a fixed-term contract and one employed on a cover ‘some other substantial reason’ contract, should be treated equally as regards rights accruing from length of their service. Currently, staff on cover contracts do not get access to the University’s redeployment pool or redundancy pay. We have had a recent instance of a member of staff with over 10 years’ service, whose last contract was a cover role, being denied access to redeployment and to redundancy pay. This requires an urgent change to University ordinances, in place by the autumn, to remove reference to contracts for reasons of cover being grounds for a ‘some other substantial reason’ contract.

issuing of fixed term rather than hourly paid contracts. This could potentially end the administrative burden of submitting fee claims when contracted hours have already been established in advance, as well as encouraging contract standardization, making it easier to establish parity of remuneration for staff with the same workload and on the same grade.

bridging fund support for fixed-term research staff. Our research Pathway 2 staff live from project to project, from grant to grant. We believe the modest step of the explicit ring-fencing of bridging funds at, for example, a Faculty level, will support staff in making funding applications, demonstrating a commitment to develop staff’s careers and potentially bringing in important research funding for this institution.

offering open-ended part-time contracts to long-serving hourly-paid staff with low contract hours. We would like to see a progressive revision to the existing policy to recognise those teaching staff that have been employed at Bristol for a substantive period of time, and currently do not have the minimum number of hours needed to be converted to more secure fractional ‘permanent’ contracts.

ending use of 9- and 10-month teaching contracts. Giving fixed-term teaching staff the necessary paid time to prepare and develop their teaching, or to carry out their scholarship duties, is a duty of the University. Stopping the issuing of contracts that do not take workload and career development into account is a principle that the University should support. Durham University has done it; why not Bristol?

What Next?

In advance of the start of the new academic year, the Humans. Not Resources campaign is planning to issue a leaflet highlighting our Claim and its demands. Publicizing the claim, versing the university community in its terms of debate is a vital branch task.

Bristol UCU recognises the positive partnership work that has been so far in this ‘project’. Work is ongoing – the Precarious Contract Working Group has an action grid and timeline, for instance. Branch negotiators are keen, though, to push for those parts of the Claim that we have not seen any movement on, and look to members’ support in doing so.

Bristol UCU’s anti-casualisation work, and UCU’s anti-casualisation work in general, is long-standing, and the progress of this branch Anti-Casualisation Claim is the fruit of these labours.

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