THE Labour party has pledged to outlaw waiver clauses for university researchers on fixed-term contracts despite fears that the change could cost the sector millions of pounds a year.
The party's pledge on waiver clauses was confirmed during a meeting between the Association of University Teachers and the Labour's chief employment spokesman Ian McCartney. The AUT has welcomed the commitment.
In a letter to the AUT's parliamentary liaison officer Amanda Francis, Mr McCartney said: "We are opposed to the use of waiver clauses in fixed-term contracts which in effect allow an employer to override a basic legal entitlement."
The use of fixed-term contracts containing waiver clauses is widespread in higher education. It gives institutions greater flexibility and improves cost-effectiveness. But such clauses deprive employees of the right to protection from unfair dismissal and of entitlement to redundancy pay at the end of their contracts.
Steve Rouse, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, estimated that a ban on such clauses could cost the sector around Pounds 15 million a year. Employers would expect extra funding to cover the additional costs.
Mr Rouse said that, because the research councils refuse to cover redundancy costs, universities have been forced reluctantly to use waiver clauses.
He said: "Employers would wish to give redundancy pay but we cannot give what we have not got. It is the research councils who have never been able to agree to pay the costs."
AUT general secretary David Triesman has written to Gareth Roberts, chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, urging the committee to recommend that universities drop waiver clauses from contracts.
Mr Triesman said: "Some 28,000 of our nation's key scientists are now employed on fixed-term contracts. Most of them have to sign away their basic employment rights. Universities should now follow Labour's lead and stop using waiver clauses."