Visiting lecturers shout for fair deal

August 18, 2006

Hourly paid staff have united to fight the management at the University of the West of England in the first non-union group of its kind.

The group, which dropped its original title of Shout (Support for Hourly-paid, Oppressed and Undervalued Teachers), is threatening legal action over the new contracts at UWE.

European Union employment laws that came into effect in July state that staff members who have been on fixed-term contracts for more than four years must be placed on permanent contracts.

But the group, now called the Visiting Lecturers' Group, said this week that UWE planned to introduce open-ended "zero-hour" contracts. Terryl Bacon, an hourly paid lecturer in cultural and media studies and one of the VLG's founding members, said: "This is in effect a permanent contract, but it does not provide any guarantee of actual employment or any obligation to provide equity with full-time colleagues.

"It is time something was done about our 21st-century serfdom."

Ms Bacon has taken legal advice, and others in the group are also considering independent legal action. She hopes that they will set a legal precedent to prevent other universities from introducing the same arrangements.

If a negotiation meeting with human resources staff this week is not successful, the group plans to write to all hourly paid workers suggesting that they do not sign the new contract without seeking advice.

The organisation may prove a model for visiting lecturers at other universities. Ms Bacon said: "I certainly hope that will happen. I would be happy to offer support to anyone who wants to do this."

She said that many hourly paid lecturers felt frustrated and maltreated but were not union members and therefore had no communal voice. As well as fighting the management, the VLG provides a social forum for temporary staff who feel isolated.

Ms Bacon said: "After 20 years as a visiting lecturer, I face retirement in two years with no pension and I am angry enough to stick my head above the proverbial parapet."

UWE said this week that it was offering "variable-hours" contracts and not zero hours.

Gareth Vaughan, head of personnel services said: "UWE values the contribution visiting lecturers make to our excellent teaching reputation.

We have no plans to worsen the position of visiting lecturers, and indeed many will now have permanent contacts.

"Some of our visiting lecturers seek a flexible contract, others are more involved in the university. We are having discussions with the University and College Union about this and hope to reach an agreement in the near future."

anna.fazackerley@thes.co.uk  

 

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