Dismissed at a moment's notice

May 5, 1995

For the past five years I have worked as a part-time lecturer in the department of adult education at Hull University. Last month I was dismissed at a moment's notice and without any prior warning by means of a brief telephone call. I understand that the same thing has happened to several other lecturers also in the department. The reason given for these dismissals is the national re-organisation of adult education, under which we appear to have become surplus to requirements.

The department feels confident that it can act in this manner because of its long-standing practice of issuing contracts of employment for only one term at any one time to its part-time lecturers. This results in a very poor deal for the lecturers. For example, as our contracts end each time the holiday period begins we never receive any holiday pay. Nor did I receive any sick pay when I was ill and there was only one small adjustment to our salary during the five years that I worked there. Of course there was no job security under this arrangement of repeating short-term contracts, as has now been illustrated by these abrupt dismissals.

According to an official of the Association of University Teachers, from whom I sought advice, the practice of issuing short-term contracts seems to be widespread in educational establishments, although he agreed with me that it is discriminatory and exploitative. Nevertheless, he came to the conclusion, after making extensive enquiries on my behalf, that it is not illegal. On the other hand, an employment lawyer whom I have also consulted has offered to support me at an industrial tribunal if I wish to follow that course of action, pointing out that he felt sure that a tribunal would find in my favour.

Recently, the Government has brought in legislation to protect part-time workers' rights and bring them more in line with those of full-time workers but I have never known of any full-time lecturers being dismissed at a moment's notice with no recompense.

What is the point of the legislation if it is so easily sidestepped by employers issuing short-term contracts over and over again? I will be writing to the Secretary of State for Education and the Shadow Secretary for Employment to acquaint them with this situation and I would be pleased to hear from any lecturers who have been employed under similar conditions in other educational establishments.

MARGARET E. WEBSTER

116 Newland Park, Hull, HU5 2DU

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