Cambridge flouts concordat

January 14, 2000

Cambridge University is defying a sector-wide concordat by persisting with a policy to force its non-permanent research staff to waive their rights to statutory redundancy payments.

The use of waiver clauses, partially outlawed in the 1999 Employment Relations Act, is discouraged in a concordat for contract research staff agreed between the funding councils, vice-chancellors' leaders and employers. A 1998 best practice guide produced under the concordat's research careers initiative said:

"Universities are encouraged not to include a waiver clause in fixed-term contracts for contract research staff."

Waiver clauses are condemned by lecturers' unions. Amanda Hart, national officer for Natfhe, said this week: "We oppose waiver clauses absolutely. They may be legally permissible, but they are morally objectionable. They are not good employment practice. They demoralise staff."

Cambridge's reiteration of its policy of applying waiver clauses to employment contracts comes in the annual report of its general board.

The board said that it was reviewing policy on contract research workers in the light of the concordat and of the follow-up action by the research careers initiative, which is currently monitoring institutions' progress in conforming to the agreement and is due to report in spring.

Cambridge said that moves were afoot, "as far as is practically possible", to ensure that contract research workers were treated "on similar terms as established staff". "Although," it said, "the board's policy is to continue to apply waiver clauses in contracts of employment."

The use of waiver clauses to prevent contract staff from claiming unfair dismissal was banned in the 1999 Employment Relations Act, but employers can still waive staff rights to redundancy payments.

Natfhe said that Cambridge was not alone in persisting with the policy. "I'm not surprised that some institutions are continuing to use them," said Ms Hart. "But we are beginning to see a decline in their use."

The Association of University Teachers is campaigning for better treatment of the UK's 30,000 fixed-term contract research staff and has set up a working group with the abolition of waiver clauses as a key aim.

Cambridge's general board outlined significant improvements to the terms and conditions of its contract staff and a continuing review. Salary scales have been aligned with national pay scales; support to contract staff by the university careers' service has been made available and is under further review; faculties and departments have been encouraged to use their own funds to support bridging appointments where there is a strong prospect of renewed funds, and to help staff find new employment if no new funds are forthcoming.

But the general board said: "This board (is) very conscious that more needs to be done in this area through review and development of existing policies and procedures."

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