Contract staff hopes lifted

July 2, 1999

Henry McLeish, Scotland's minister for enterprise and lifelong learning, has pledged a speedy investigation into improving conditions for contract researchers.

Mr McLeish, speaking at an Association of University Teachers Scotland parliamentary lobby on improving pay and conditions, said he was "more than sympathetic" to the union's views.

A former lecturer at Heriot-Watt University, Mr McLeish said he wanted to see the long-term decline in academic pay tackled, but this was not something that could be addressed overnight.

He said: "The Bett committee recognises that it may be 2001 before significant steps can be made. But there are other measures that we can take fairly quickly. I was appalled to read the figures in Bett about the extent to which staff, particularly researchers, are now on short-term and part-time contracts."

Former Scottish education minister, Helen Liddell, had last year announced her support of a research study into whether there was a better way to employ contract research staff, giving them greater security.

Mr McLeish said: "I'm not sure that a great deal of progress has been made on that. I intend to take it up with some vigour."

David Triesman, general secretary of the AUT, praised Mr McLeish's "very encouraging words which we will hold him to".

Nicola Sturgeon, education spokesperson for the Scottish National Party, said higher education staff had been subjected to blatant exploitation for almost 20 years. Instead of being rewarded for effort, they had been forced to watch the erosion of their pay and increasing numbers had been stripped of their job security.

She said: "I think that's something the new (Scottish) Parliament should educate itself to working against. If we want a world- class system of education, somewhere along the line we have to accept the responsibility for paying for it."

George Lyon, enterprise and lifelong learning spokesperson for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, stressed his party's commitment to a pay review body.

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