Staff feel stress of insecure contracts

January 19, 2001

Almost two-thirds of contract researchers and teachers in geography fear insecurity at work is affecting their health and well-being, a pilot survey has found.

Caitriona Ni Laoire of Queen's University, Belfast, and Nicola Shelton of Leeds University carried out a survey on behalf of a contract staff forum, funded by the Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers.

They found that 63 per cent of staff on temporary contracts complained of stress, anxiety and mental torment. The main cause was worry over the future, particularly where the next job would come from, as well as fear of isolation, and financial insecurity.

"The average contract geographer would be 33, with a PhD, on a two-year contract," said Dr Ni Laoire. But while about half the male researchers earned £20,000 or more, only one in 16 women had reached the same salary level. This was age related, since most of the women were 30 or under.

Almost 40 per cent of those surveyed felt being on a temporary contract had a negative effect on their work.

Forum member David Harvey of Exeter University's geography department said that temporary contracts were also bad for the quality of research. "People have to settle in, which takes a few months, and often start looking for another job months before the contract ends. The longest contract we found was four years and the shortest was two months. Our message to the universities is that this is not a good route at all."

More than three-quarters of contract geographers would prefer permanent contracts, but some 12 per cent liked fixed-term contracts, arguing that this gave them variety and flexibility.

The RGS-IBG contract research and teaching staff forum hopes to carry out a more in-depth study. It can be contacted through Dr Harvey. Email: D.C.Harvey@exeter.ac.uk .

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