UCU set to sue over workload burdens

January 26, 2007

Union is ready to take employers to court over long hours as levels of stress rise. Tony Tysome reports

Union leaders warned this week that they are preparing to sue employers over excessive working hours after a national survey revealed that at least a quarter of academics are working longer than the law allows.

Just over 24 per cent of academics responding to the survey, conducted last September by the Trade Union Research Unit, said that on average they were working more than 51 hours a week - at least three hours longer than employers are legally allowed to force them to work according to rules set out in the Working Time Directive.

But the proportion working more than an average 48 hours a week, the maximum permitted under the directive, is likely to be even higher than this because another 22 per cent claimed to be regularly working between 46 and 50 hours.

The survey was commissioned by the University and College Union and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Roger Kline, the head of equality and employment rights for the UCU, told The Times Higher that the union was now actively searching for a test case to challenge employers in the courts over excessive hours and workloads.

"When we find staff who are given so much work that to complete it as expected they need to work more than the Working Time Directive allows, then we will run a test case and we will expect to win," he said.

The survey, which was conducted to gauge levels of stress in the academic workforce, also found that 77 per cent of respondents felt that their workloads had increased over the past three years.

Asked what factors had contributed to this, more than 83 per cent blamed more administrative duties, while more than 47 per cent cited rising student-to-staff ratios as a cause.

Three quarters of staff surveyed said that rising workloads had caused stress levels to rise and morale to fall. And 80 per cent said their institution's management culture actively contributed to stress.

More than 80 per cent of academics said they had suffered from stress-related symptoms, including poor sleep patterns (43 per cent), anxiety (34 per cent), exhaustion (36 per cent) and low self-esteem or confidence (22 per cent).

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

The survey findings can be found at www.ucu.ac.uk

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