Source: Fractionals for Fair Play
A campaign for fractional teaching staff to be paid for all the hours they worked at one London university has sparked a groundswell of support at other institutions, a conference has heard.
Participants at a national meeting in London on 7 February spoke of building a network between groups fighting for fair pay and conditions at institutions across the country.
Representatives from at least nine universities who attended the event are considering, or have now begun, campaigns of their own to fight for fair pay and conditions.
In January 2014, a group of graduate teaching assistants, teaching fellows and senior teaching fellows at Soas, University of London united to form the group Fractionals for Fair Play in a bid to improve their employment terms.
A survey of those on fractional teaching contracts at Soas revealed that about half their time was unpaid. The finding led to a marking boycott and talks with university management about improving the situation.
But negotiations broke down after the group rejected Soas’ final offer of improved terms and conditions, saying that there was a “fundamental failure” to address major issues. Talks have since reopened.
To highlight the issue, the FFFP group hosted a conference, Fighting against Casualisation in Education, which attracted about 100 graduate teaching assistants, fractional and hourly paid teaching staff from several universities to discuss the issues surrounding their work.
The event explored victimisation, the relationship between unions and local campaigns, how to survey working conditions and provided information about employment rights and the shape of casualisation in higher education.
Lorenza Monaco, a PhD student and graduate teaching assistant in the department of development studies at Soas, said: “I am sure that this [event] will be a starting point to build up strong networks. We need to do that in the UK.”
The Soas campaign itself was still strong, she said. “The main outcome that we got was we finally felt that we had broken the isolation that we were living in before.”
Representatives from several universities spoke about taking action after being inspired by their Soas counterparts.
Several groups have sprung up to focus specifically on the issues faced by postgraduates who teach, who say they can spend hours preparing classes and marking work for little pay.
Campaigners at University College London and King’s College London, for example, have launched their own surveys of graduate teaching assistants to better understand their pay and conditions.
Harry Stopes, a PhD student in the history department at University College London, said that their campaign had decided to conduct a survey to provide a “clear quantification” of issues.
Discussions at the event also suggested that not all campus branches of the University and College Union are equally supportive of such grass-roots campaigns.
A UCU spokesman said combating casualisation was a “key part” of the union’s work and it was “always keen to ensure there is involvement at grassroots level”. He added: “We…would encourage all members to…bring our work to the attention of staff on casualised contracts who may not be UCU members yet.”