We must crack down on exploitation of teachers by colleges and universities

TUC research shows that 63 per cent of FE colleges and more than half of universities use zero-hours contracts, often in large numbers.


TUC research shows that 63 per cent of FE colleges and more than half of universities use zero-hours contracts, often in large numbers

This week is the TUC’s Decent Jobs Week and it’s certainly well timed. As a recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showed, incomes have fallen and the number of working families in poverty is growing.

One major cause of working poverty is the actions of employers and in particular the way they have actively destroyed decent jobs.

The casualisation of work and bogus self-employment and zero-hours contracts have proliferated, most commonly in the low-paid, low-skilled service sectors that make up such a large part of our low-wage economy.

But students in our further education colleges or paying £9,000-a-year university fees might be surprised to learn that many of the people teaching them are also on appallingly casualised contracts and struggle to make ends meet.

The college teacher who wrote so movingly in the Guardian recently about her decision to leave the sector to work in retail is not, tragically, unusual.

Our research last year showed that 63 per cent of FE colleges and more than half of universities use zero-hours contracts, often in large numbers.

Our surveys reveal heart-rending stories of lecturers on zero-hours and short-term contracts living in constant fear that they will have no teaching hours and no income. If you’re a woman working in further or higher education, you are more likely to be on a fixed-term or temporary contract and you are more likely to stay there for longer.

This can have a devastating effect on career aspirations, but also on the ability to plan a family. Women members tell us they are unable or afraid to start a family while working on precarious contracts.

It is easy to see why when you get reports of people struggling to access maternity pay, unable to take proper leave, made redundant while on leave or unable to return to the same job afterwards.

Our colleges and universities like to tell themselves – and other people – that they are enlightened employers. Indeed, there’s a mini-industry in self-congratulating HR awards in our sector. But the reality is that too many of them are mimicking the worst HR practices found in our broken economy.

In lieu of a government that is serious about tackling the grotesque imbalance of power in Britain’s workplaces, it falls to trade unions to fight for decent jobs. It’s an uphill struggle, but we are making some ground.

Through our ‘Stamp our Casual Contracts’ campaign, we’re targeting the institutions who make greatest use of zero-hours contracts and pushing them to change direction, with some success.

We’re pushing for our research-intensive universities to start to abandon their unjust and ridiculously inefficient mass use of fixed-term contracts. Some employers get this and are starting to work with us, but still far too few, so we have to keep building, organising and raising the profile of this issue.

We will be releasing a report early next year that looks at the problems people without secure employment have to deal with, really highlighting personal stories. For too long, employers have hidden behind the excuse of flexibility for workers when defending these sorts of contracts. That flexibility is too often a one-way street, working solely in the interests of the powerful.

Ultimately, we will have to win a political battle for an alternative approach to our economy. We need to focus on creating decent jobs and building high-skilled sectors as part of a new path to growth. High-quality education and high-quality public services will be integral to this project.

But in the meantime, UCU will play its core role as a trade union: organising, campaigning and bargaining with our employers to stop exploitation and to create better jobs in our colleges and universities.

 Jonathan White is Bargaining and Negotiations officer at the University and College Union

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17 Responses to “We must crack down on exploitation of teachers by colleges and universities”

  1. CGR

    I’m a supply teacher for a number of years and my so-called ‘zero hours’ contract suits me and my need for a flexible work pattern perfectly. The one thing I do not need is to be forced into some fixed contract.

  2. swat

    But others with a career path to follow, do need security and opportunity to demonstate their full range of skills, otherwise how can they plan for the future? The strain is begining to tell on our educators and without happy educators you won’t get happy students.

  3. kerpos

    I today left a zero-hours contract in a Further Education college – not because I don’t love teaching, I do. I left because the zero-hours nature of my contract meant that I was paying the college for the privilege of working for it. On a zero-hours contract, a lecturer gets an hourly rate for time spent standing in front of a class only. Okay, the rate might be (although not always) slightly higher than the usual equivalent hour of pay, but that’s no consolation when you have spent two hours preparing a lesson, an hour making sure all the administration is done (lesson plan completed, registers taken and entered on to the college system, photocopying of hand-outs, rooms booked, computer and SmartBoard working), an hour answering student emails or talking to students about an assignment they don’t understand, time spent talking to a tutor about a student absence, illness, learning need or behaviour issue, time spent with the exams office booking students on to ‘on demand exams’… Then there is the weekend of marking and assessing. Then there is the time you want to spend making sure you are on top of new developments in your subject or thinking about what pedagogical approaches might help solve a classroom management issue or what you can do to support a learner with a special learning need. Then there is the uncertainly and the opportunity cost (other work you can’t do or contracts you can’t take). Then there is the fact that there is no sick pay, no pension… It’s not only the lecturers and teachers on zero-hours that are exploited and stretched to breaking point though. If I had a child in FE or HE, I would be asking some serious questions.

  4. Guest

    No surprise, you’re rich and work’s a convenience. The peons? Pfah!

  5. Leon Wolfeson

    To be fair, HE assigns lecturers per-module, there’s a ****load less paperwork. (You’re not responsible for the student’s welfare in the same way, for starters)

    Also, the standard contact rate for teaching undergrads is ~£40/hour, not the ~£15/hour you get in FE. (I do a bit with postgrads, too, and that’s ~£70/hour)

    So…It’s nothing like as bad as FE.

  6. uglyfatbloke

    Good point. I was getting 40.00 an hour teaching history/war studies five years ago and I thought – and still think – that’s a pretty good whack. It paid a lot better than running a small business that’s for sure and involved very little responsibility… and it did n’t fuck me up physically either.

  7. Leon Wolfeson


    The problems I’ve had with HE is more (at least at some Universities) the “turn up and teach” attitude, with no real backing or prior course content access.

    I don’t regret my own brief (4 month) stint in FE because I did PTLLS, and learnt some useful things, but I’d not do it again.

    (There’s a longer-term issue in that that £40/hour doesn’t seem to be rising, but yea)

  8. CGR

    Supply Teacher = Rich

    LOL !!!!!

  9. uglyfatbloke

    I loved teaching, though I’ll admit the OLL stuff was much more satisfying and stimulating than teaching undergraduates. Some opf my colleagues took a ‘any old crap’ll do’ attitude to lecturing and a few were positively resentful about having to do any at all which I found depressing and annoying. If you love your subject why would you not want to share it with enquiring minds?

  10. Sparky

    You hypocrite. You earn between £40 and £70 an hour and yet you’re on this site criticizing people who earn £50k a year (which is about £25 an hour for a 40 hour week).

  11. Leon Wolfeson

    You, as ever, are pontificating on things which you don’t understand, having not read the posts and are hence making arrant assumptions which only show your hatreds.

  12. Leon Wolfeson

    I think to a great degree the level you prefer to teach at is personal preference.

  13. Guest

    Do keep trying to convince people it’s your main income, you’re about as convincing as the “concern” showed in the average Tory pontification.

    (Moreover, of course, it’s a sadly typical diversion…)

  14. uglyfatbloke

    Absolutely. It depends sometimes on the nature to the subject as well. There again, though I have preferred the OLL classes I have also had some really good visits to primary schools – in one instance taking the middle ages into a nursery where they all had an absolutely great time playing medieval games, wearing costumes and being ladies and knights.

  15. Sparky

    So the only reason you’re not earning 80k a year is because you can’t get the hours. If you could get the hours you would be earning the same as the people you despise.

    How would you reconcile that?

    Incidentally, let’s discuss ‘arrant assumptions’. Your post above to the supply teacher accusing her of being rich and having two incomes. What are those , if they’re not arrant assumptions? There’s not a single fact to base your accusations on. So that’s more hypocrisy.

  16. Guest

    Nope, you’re still making up nonsense and demanding I “reconcile” multiple issues which lie entirely in your complete inability to read posts and to understand my views.

    And no, the rich person who does a bit of supply teaching.
    You keep lashing out blindly, whittering on that anything not in your narrative (whatever it is today, combined of course with your hate of me because I hold leftist views) is magically “hypocrisy”. Nope, you’re sniffing your own issues again.

  17. Guest

    And thanks for admitting that you know your other post ID is “female”, there’s no way to know that other that it being you, Sparky/CGR.

    (Free tip for the other post too: I pay tax)

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