Privatisation fight rated above plight of part-timers

Job security, workloads and local pay are lower on list of priorities, poll finds. Melanie Newman writes

June 5, 2008

University and College Union members believe that campaigning against privatisation in further and higher education is more important than improving job security for colleagues on casual contracts, a union survey found.

The 2007 poll of 1,887 higher education members by Jeremy Waddington, professor of industrial relations at the University of Manchester, found that just 15 per cent believed that improved job security for fixed-term, part-time and hourly paid staff was a top priority compared with 17 per cent who said opposing privatisation was most important.

The campaign for "better pay and conditions of UCU members" was the most popular initiative, followed by equality of treatment and protection against harassment, discrimination and bullying at work.

Reducing academic workloads was rated as most important by only 12 per cent of members.

Only 8.8 per cent of respondents listed the union's campaign against the introduction of local pay as a main concern.

Members are "uneasy about the increase in local negotiation, although they do not support the campaign of the UCU against local bargaining with the same vigour as they support other campaigns", Professor Waddington said in his report, presented at the union's annual congress last week.

His report noted that less than 4 per cent of all members are aged under 30 and that about 21 per cent would not go directly to the UCU if management threatened to take disciplinary action against them.

Members had a much more positive view of the union when there was a local representative at their workplace, the report noted.

Only 55 per cent of higher education members said they had a UCU representative at their workplace. "The 'value-added' to the union of the presence of a local representative is difficult to understate," the report said.

Where there is a local representative, 67 per cent of respondents said the rep represented members adequately. "The survey shows a lower coverage of local representatives and lower level of satisfaction among (their) performance ... than is found in several other British unions," the report said.

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Universities in most nations are now obliged to prioritise graduate career prospects, but how it should be approached depends on your view of the meaning of education. Academics need to think that through much more clearly, says Tom Cutterham


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