OU senate makes history

March 27, 1998

STAFF at the Open University could win a major victory in the battle to improve employment rights for thousands of academics working on fixed-term contracts, writes Alan Thomson.

Members of senate passed a motion last week calling on the university to stop writing waiver clauses into fixed-term contracts.

The motion, proposed by the university's branch of the Association of University Teachers, was supported by 800 staff signatories.

It is thought to be the first time that such a motion has been passed by a university senate.

The vote is a blow for the university, which also faces claims of sex discrimination by six women employees on fixed-term contracts. The women say they are discriminated against because significantly more female staff are employed on fixed-term contracts that include waiver clauses. A tribunal is expected in the autumn.

It is up to the OU's council, which will meet on May 12, to decide whether the senate vote becomes policy. Staff and trade unions have long argued for the abolition of such clauses by which employees waive their rights to claim redundancy payments and to go to tribunal over unfair dismissal.

Eric Wade, AUT branch president at the OU, said: "Our aim is to have the clauses banned retrospectively for all staff."

Only a handful of institutions, including Leeds, Heriot-Watt and Manchester, have banned waiver clauses so far. The Labour Party said before the last election that it would outlaw waiver clauses when in government. This has not happened yet and unions are pinning their hopes on the Fairness at Work white paper expected before the end of June.

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