THES reporters look at the spread of casualisation and its effects and the campaign against it
Who are casual staff?
At the heart of the unions' campaign are people employed on fixed-term contracts - those with a defined start and expiry date.
Contracts vary in length but average about two years for contract-research staff and slightly more for teaching staff.
Recently there has also been a growth in other kinds of short-term casual contracts, such as hourly paid work, agency work and types of freelance contract.
Academic staff employed on casual contracts include: contract-research staff, lecturers on fixed-term contracts, teaching-only staff employed as teaching fellows, graduate teaching assistants employed to teach a set number of hours a week while registered part-time for a postgraduate degree, and staff paid a set amount per hour of teaching and on contracts of no more than a term or an academic year.
Large numbers of technicians, porters, administrators, cleaners and clerical staff are employed on fixed-term and hourly paid contracts or through agencies.
What are the problems?
Many institutions require fixed-term staff to waive statutory rights to redundancy pay and unfair dismissal.
Casual staff, even those with years of service, usually have no holiday or sick pay. Few fixed-term contract workers are likely to receive more than the statutory amount of maternity leave.
Some universities use teaching-only contracts of nine or ten months to avoid paying staff over the summer vacation. Fixed-term lecturing staff rarely receive sabbatical or study leave.
Like part-timers, those on hourly paid and fractional contracts are not included automatically in institutional pension schemes. They must opt in.
Those who move often between institutions find themselves with fragmented pensions.
Researchers are particularly affected. Some research budgets do not include pension contributions, and a researcher's final salary may be quite low.
Non-permanent staff are rarely included in decision-making. They are unlikely to be eligible for a seat on the university senate or similar body. Some funding bodies and institutions do not allow contract research staff to hold grants in their own name.
Other conditions of service
Fixed-term staff rarely get relocation expenses. Redundancy payments, if any, are generally at a low level. Fixed-term staff have few promotion or redeployment prospects. They gain less access to terms accruing from service because they move often.
Effects on lifestyle
Financial instability is a constant problem. Many building societies will not grant mortgages to workers without proof of permanent employment or grant them only at high rates. Securing other loans is equally difficult. Searching for a new contract is time-consuming and stressful.