We welcome the Vice Chancellor’s announcement which commits to addressing the issue of job insecurity at the University of Leeds. Acknowledging the damage insecure contracts do to the functioning of the university but, more importantly, to the people who hold them, is an important first step in addressing what is a widespread problem. We fully agree with the VC that insecure contracts undermine fairness at the university. We are glad that casualisation is now part of the conversation after being ignored for so long.
Members may remember that we have been urging the University to move on the issue of casualisation for some years. In January 2019 Leeds UCU formally submitted an anti-casualisation claim, which set out our proposals to end job insecurity at the University of Leeds. The claim included, but was not limited to:
- an end to the use of ‘worker’ contracts;
- hourly-paid staff to be moved onto fractional contracts;
- equal treatment for all staff, regardless of contract type (specifically equal rates of pay, and access to progression and professional development); and
- a reduction in the use of fixed-term contracts (FTCs).
Today’s announcement represents movement on one aspect – fixed-term contracts – and as such, we view this as some progress against our existing ongoing claim. The University’s stated aim of “converting the majority of fixed term contracts where colleagues have served more than three years – or possibly even less – to ongoing contracts” essentially amounts to the enforcing of its existing fixed-term contract policy. We hope that this new approach will see the end of the category of “open-ended fixed funding (OEFF) contracts, which UCU have been saying for some time are indistinguishable from fixed term contracts. Above all, we recognise that being made permanent is likely to have a tangible and positive effect on the work and lives of the unacceptably large number of staff who have been on FTCs for more than three years.
We are pleased to note the VC’s stated commitment to consult formally with the trade unions on the issue of fixed-term contracts and secure work, however these are matters for formal negotiation. In the three years since launching our claim, Leeds UCU has repeatedly requested formal talks with university senior management. While issues pertaining to the claim have been discussed at meetings between HR and the unions, senior management have not engaged in formal talks with UCU. Since October when the Fairer Future pledges were made, discussions on FTC policy and wider issues around the use of casualised contracts have been abandoned by HR.
In light of this, consultation is welcome and we look forward to a resumption of talks on addressing job security but, ultimately, given that we have lodged an anti-casualisation claim with the university, the terms of which have been reaffirmed by Leeds UCU as recently as March 2021, this is an issue for negotiation.
While we have some misgivings about the VC making this major announcement in an all-staff email at a time when the UCU is involved in national and local disputes over casualisation, we welcome her stated willingness to work with the unions. We want members to be clear – we are in no doubt that today’s announcements by the University have been prompted by the strength of industrial action taken by our members over the Four Fights.
In terms of our national dispute on casualisation, these plans to address job security laid out by the VC today leave several important factors unaddressed:
- The plans we have been presented with show a willingness to act on the issue of casualisation, but we need to see the detail of how this will be implemented and whether it will become lasting policy which minimises job insecurity going forward. Until the substantive details of UEGs plans are clear, UCU will be entering into discussions cautiously;
- Fixed-term contracts are only one aspect of casualisation; we need to know how (or whether) other aspects of job insecurity will be addressed; and, relatedly,
- While there is much that can be done at the institution level to address casualisation, this is also a national issue. As the address acknowledges, insecure work is “hardwired” into many of the national institutions that are a core part of UK higher education —and, as such, it requires a coordinated national response. We need to know what efforts University of Leeds will make to engage with the national structural causes of casualisation. We believe taking an active and constructive role in negotiating with the UCU’s proposals around Four Fights is the best chance the sector has to do this.
- All aspects of our Four Fights dispute intersect with casualisation; casualisation often results in low pay and overwork as a result of unpaid and unrecognised work. Importantly, casualisation is central to our equalities demands where women, staff of colour and staff with disabilities are more likely to be on insecure contracts and remain on them longer. These continue to be issues of serious concern for our members and all university staff and we are still waiting to see serious action on them.
In summary, we welcome the VCs new commitment to addressing casualisation. But this announcement only deals with one part of one of the Four Fights, and we have seen no movement from the VC regarding the erosion in pay that we have witnessed since 2009, equality pay gaps and unsafe workloads. Further to this, we would like to see a commitment to tackling casualisation at a national level which would make these changes more sustainable for the future. For this reason, we encourage all members to vote YES, YES, YES, YES and post their ballots TODAY.
This page was last updated on 20 April 2022