Southampton UCU Rotating Header Image

Higher Education ballots – Four fights – why you should vote YES!

In this four-part blog series, we talk about the issues at the heart of the ‘four fights’ ballot and how they affect colleagues at the University of Southampton. In this first part, we will discuss the issue of insecure and precarious work.  

Insecure work is a prevalent yet often concealed problem at our university. Insecure and precarious work contributes to immense stress and also damages the quality of academic work. Those of us on insecure contracts suffer from uncertainty in our private lives and cannot make plans for our future. We find it harder, if not impossible, to buy a house, sustain long term relationships and support a family. Neither can we make long term plans with colleagues or students and are often treated as second-rank colleagues, excluded from department decisions and meetings.   

Despite these harms, our employer consistently turns to casualised forms of work as a cheaper and “just in time” form of labour instead of providing long term, sustainable and planned staffing. The contemptuous attitude of our management toward insecure workers was confirmed in the decision to consciously exclude hourly-paid workers from the COVID-19 staff bonus, despite the significant contribution that hourly-paid workers made during the pandemic. If you haven’t already, read their dismissive response to our request to reconsider their decision here. Additionally, management continue to deny hourly-paid workers automatic sick pay entitlement, maintaining they will only do so when legally required and they do not automatically inform hourly-paid workers when this is. Consequently, financial insecurity is forcing hourly-paid workers to come on to campus when sick.  

Counting casualisation at Southampton  

In the 2019-20 academic year, 955 academic staff were employed on fixed-term contracts at Southampton—35.2% of all academic staff.  

When considering all those on hourly-paid or insecure contracts, the percentage of academic staff on insecure contracts could be closer to 50%. Unfortunately, the challenges of finding accurate data on the number of workers on insecure contracts is telling of the lack of transparency from our employer on this issue.  

Nationally we know that 30,335 academic staff were employed on hourly-paid contracts in the 2019-20 academic year, around 13.6% of all academic staff. So, if a similar figure were applied at Southampton, it would mean around 48.61% of our academic staff are on insecure contracts. But, of course, the figure could be much higher, and we intend to submit a Freedom of Information request to try and find out.  

What are we balloting for?  

The union is seeking institutional-level action and implementation plans that commit to tackling casualisation. We are asking that the University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) agrees to a process for creating, implementing, and reviewing these plans across each of the institutions it represents. We ask that these plans be based on the principles of: 

  • Ending the use of zero-hours contracts. 
  • Introducing a Graduate Teaching Assistant contract. 
  • Agreeing a process of moving hourly-paid staff to fractional contracts. 
  • Moving staff with 4 years’ service on to open ended contracts. 
  • Introducing minimum contract lengths of 24 months, apart from incidences of genuine cover. 
  • Ending the outsourcing of support services.  

The final offer made by the employers insultingly ignored nearly all of our pay claim demands under the heading of casualisation. Indeed, the final offer does not even mention the word ‘casual’ throughout.  

Our proposals are for a better future for universities, a future which is fairer, more secure and more equal for staff and students. 

The ballot will close on 4 November. To make sure your vote is counted, return your ballot by Tuesday 2 November.  

Worried about not being able to afford a strike? 

Don’t forget that we will have a local strike fund to support members taking industrial action (if we get there!). There will also be a national fighting fund for members to apply to.  So, if financial concerns are a worry, you can rely on the solidarity of your branch and colleagues!  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *