Sort out casuals problem, says UCU

July 14, 2006

New law sets union on warpath, reports Claire Sanders

Universities must shift casual staff to permanent contracts if they are to avoid a rash of tribunal cases, the University and College Union has warned.

European Union regulations on fixed-term contracts came into force on Monday. They state that staff who have been on successive fixed-term contracts for four years or more should become permanent - unless the university can "objectively justify" continued use of a fixed-term contract.

In a statement, the UCU said: "Despite knowledge of these provisions over four years, most employers have done nothing to accommodate the new legislation."

There are nearly 70,000 academic and related staff on short-term contracts, which is more than four in ten, says the UCU.

The most recent statistics from the union show that almost half of staff on short-term contracts have been employed for four or more years at the same university.

Three out of ten have been on employed fixed-term contracts for six or more years. The problem is particularly acute in the case of researchers, nine out of ten of whom are on fixed-term contracts.

Sally Hunt, UCU joint general secretary, said: "Universities need to take the new legislation seriously and get their acts together.

"Staff on short-term contracts are less likely to get promoted, are paid less and work long hours with no extra reward. Universities cannot continue to exploit them."

In a joint statement, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association and Universities UK said: "Employers are fully aware of the new employment laws relating to fixed-term contracts. To suggest that they are failing to accommodate the new legislation is unjustified."

They argue that several factors, including continuous service, determine whether a fixed-term contract becomes permanent. Their statement says:

"Employers can extend or renew a fixed-term contract for objective business reasons, including uncertain student demand for a particular course,"

In May, the Association of University Teachers carried out an online survey of 1,200 fixed-term and hourly paid academics. It revealed widespread discontent. Some academics said that their universities deliberately sought to undermine legislation by engineering breaks in service.

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