'Ghost worker' dispute

July 31, 1998

A "GHOST worker", employed for five years without a contract and paid almost half the going rate for academically related staff, is locked in a dispute with the University of Wales Swansea.

The Swansea Association of University Teachers has accused the university of "crude double book-keeping", and of abusing its staff, in a grievance paper submitted to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

The dispute centres on plans to stop funding the post of Hamid Hicham, a coordinator of the university's centre for development studies.

For five of his seven years at the university, Mr Hicham did not have a contract and was not officially on the payroll. But his name appeared in the UWS telephone directory and he was even pictured in departmental brochures. The AUT believes he is a victim of creative accounting.

In its grievance paper, the AUT alleges that the university "led Mr Hicham to believe that he was being paid for doing one job at a specified rate while apparently providing a record of his doing a different job at a different rate. In short, a crude system of double book-keeping".

This allowed Mr Hicham's department to pay a minimal salary for a full-time post from a separate pool of central funds limited to ad hoc payments for part-time, occasional, tutorial work.

It also enabled the department to squeeze almost twice as many hours' work from Mr Hicham as they could if they had paid him the proper rate. Mr Hicham's monthly timesheets, obtained by the AUT, show that his actual pay was worked out at a rate of just Pounds 4.09 an hour. But it appears that the department was recording Mr Hicham's work as if he had worked just half the genuine number of hours, and wrongly recorded that he was being paid at Pounds 7.68 an hour.

The informal timesheets, submitted by Mr Hicham to the department, included two calculations, not in Mr Hicham's handwriting. One calculated his pay at Pounds 4.096 an hour, while another calculation reduced his recorded working hours to arrive at the same payment figure, at a higher hourly rate.

For example, in July 1994, Mr Hicham claimed Pounds 368.64 for 90 hours work at Pounds 4.096 an hour. The second calculation also claimed Pounds 368.64, but the sum was falsely based on 48 hours' work at Pounds 7.68 an hour.

The union discovered the situation two years ago, when a routine request to the personnel department to deduct Mr Hicham's union subscription from his pay revealed that he was not formally on the payroll. After negotiation the university agreed to provide him with a standard fixed-term contract, for a year.

The contract was renewed after a year but this year Mr Hicham was told that the university could no longer allocate funding for his post.

Mr Hicham, whose contract ran out last month, was not available as The THES went to press.

In a statement, the university acknowledged that Mr Hicham has had only two, part-time, one-year fixed-term contracts.

A spokeswoman said: "Before July 1996 Mr Hicham was paid with funds available for tutorial/demonstrating type work, as is common practice in academic departments. But there were no formal contracts of employments."

The university declined to comment on the allegations of double book-keeping, but said: "Before July 1996 Mr Hicham's payments were calculated each month on an hourly rate basis. We decided in 1996 that it would be simpler to give him a part-time contract for one year. Mr Hicham is studying for a PhD and the payments have allowed him some support for his research."

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