Zero-hour numbers still unclear despite year-long study

Unions and universities divided over extent of ‘casualisation’ despite major joint initiative

July 23, 2015
Man carrying plant
Source: Getty
Branch out: the group said casual staff should be invited to training sessions

Insufficient data make it impossible to quantify the number of higher education staff on zero-hours contracts, a report says.

After more than a year of collaboration between universities and trade unions to shed light on the “casualisation” of academic staff, a working group was unable to reach a consensus on how many staff were employed on casual or hourly paid contracts.

That is because universities do not report their staff numbers and job categories to the Higher Education Statistics Agency in a uniform way, which makes it difficult to obtain sector-wide figures on employees on zero-hours or other casual contracts, according to the report compiled by the joint working group on hourly paid and casual staff, formed by the New Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff.

Hesa should consider implementing a “more consistent and reliable recording and reporting framework [so] categories of staff could be established”, the group recommends in its report, published on 23 July.

In the absence of official data, trade unions put forward their own statistics, obtained via Freedom of Information requests to universities, claiming that about 25,000 academic staff were on zero-hours contracts in 2013.

That figure, however, does not capture the complexity of employment in higher education, employers claim.

It may, for instance, include the “casual, temporary or variable arrangements [that] are either inevitable or actually appropriate”, such as short-term cover required for sickness and other absence, students working on campus and industry specialists employed for brief periods.

Despite the lack of agreement on numbers, Paul Bridge, the University and College Union’s head of higher education and a member of the joint working group, welcomed the “timely” report as a “first joint step in considering the issue of widespread casual and precarious employment in higher education”.

He highlighted in particular the group’s call for institutions to consider their treatment of staff on casual contracts, such as whether they are invited to take part in training and induction days.

Universities should also “consider arrangements and safeguards they can put in place to reduce the degree of uncertainty that exists with such employment”, the group says.

“Planned employment patterns based on guaranteed minimum hours, decent and transparent rates of pay and other locally agreed terms and conditions should be the norm, not the exception,” Mr Bridge said.

While employers and trade unions disagreed on points of principle, such as the use of zero-hours contracts, the “joint working has, we believe, contributed to a better understanding on all sides”, said Helen Fairfoul, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments


Print headline: Zero-hour numbers unclear despite year-long study

Reader's comments (1)

I'm amazed that the University sector, a truly knowledge economy, tolerates the casualisation of staff. Casualisation leads to vulnerability, lack of permitted dissent and thus a lemming like approach to the newest fad and fashion.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Preceptor in Statistics

Harvard University

Postdoctoral Fellowship in Electrochemistry

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Research Positions in Nanotechnology

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Academic English Instructor

Nazarbayev University
See all jobs

Most Commented

Doctoral study can seem like a 24-7 endeavour, but don't ignore these other opportunities, advise Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman

Matthew Brazier illustration (9 February 2017)

How do you defeat Nazis and liars? Focus on the people in earshot, says eminent Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt

Improvement, performance, rankings, success

Phil Baty sets out why the World University Rankings are here to stay – and why that's a good thing

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Warwick vice-chancellor Stuart Croft on why his university reluctantly joined the ‘flawed’ teaching excellence framework