SCAN Investigates: The issue of zero hour contracts on campus

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Despite the University saying they do not offer zero hour contracts SCAN have been told otherwise.

The University have told SCAN that they have no staff or students employed on zero-hour contracts however, they have said “We believe that the casual working arrangement currently in place are best for students as it gives them non-contractually binding opportunities both within and out-with of the university.”

Damon Fairley VP (Union Development) responded to this and said “The University can call them what they like, but any contract that doesn’t guarantee a certain number of hours is a zero hour contract.”

The University said: “Students register as casual workers, which is a mutual agreement between the student and the University and also allows students to hold other work contracts at the same time. We employ our students on a variable hours basis in teaching support, conference services and other roles. 48% of our variable hours contracts are held by students of Lancaster University where employment maximises their employment prospects after graduation. Students, often relying on fitting flexible and convenient paid work around their studies, value these contracts as they provide both work experience and income without tying them to fixed hours of work.”

Zero-hour contracts are being used more and more frequently and research by the Universities and Colleges Union found that universities, as employers of students, are twice as likely to use zero-hour contracts in comparison to other industries.

A recent study by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) showed that the rise in zero-hour and casual contracts has affected students and the younger population the most. Currently 25.5% of those aged between 20-24 years old are employed on zero hour contracts which is up by 9.9% since 2008. This study has bought to the forefront the extent to which people, especially students and the younger population, are exploited using zero-hour and temporary contracts.

Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, said that students are “pushed into zero-hours and temporary jobs from which they have little hope of escaping” and the TUC report shows that 80.6% of people aged 20-24 years old say that they have taken temporary work because they could not find a permanent job.

Rhiannon Edge, who is currently a postgraduate teaching assistant at Lancaster University told SCAN that she is working on a zero-hour contract despite the university’s former claim. She said that she recognises that zero-hour jobs create insecurity but also flexibility for students that need it: “It’s a good thing for me because it’s quick and simple and allows me a lot of flexibility. I think they’re a good thing overall but then I’m not solely reliant on my uni work so I don’t need the job security”. Unfortunately this may not be the case for many students on zero-hour contracts as they may not have other sources of income.

Fairley disagrees entirely with the use of zero-hour contracts for student staff by the University and by LUSU. He told SCAN: “For me, I believe every student member of staff should have a guaranteed number of hours. This doesn’t mean there would be less flexibility in the system, employers could simply guarantee to offer each employee at least 8 hours a week for example, but each individual student may choose to work less if they so wished.” Fairley’s suggestion of guaranteed hours would allow student staff the opportunity to have a security and flexibility. Fairley also talks about the effect that zero-hour contracts are having on student teaching staff at Lancaster University and said “The use of zero-hour contracts is also a big issue affecting many postgraduates who are employed on zero-hour contracts in teaching roles. Zero-hour contracts are a big issue affecting a vast number of students here at Lancaster and it’s something we need to carry on campaigning about.”

Laura Clayson, LUSU President, and Joe O’Neill, LUSU VP (Education), agree with Fairley when it comes to the use of zero-hour contracts and they go into further detail about the exploitation of postgraduates in teaching positions. They said that, “some postgraduate teachers actually have teaching for free embedded into their offer to study here and that needs stamping out – a fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay.” This is clearly something that has become a hot topic of conversation for these members of LUSU who all agree that they will continue campaign against the use of zero-hour contracts which are seen as exploitative, particularly when it comes to postgraduate teaching positions. Clayson and O’Neill said that “our postgraduate teachers need and deserve the security of regular hours to help them through what can be a really difficult period economically. Flexibility should never come at the expense of security.”

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