Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/780/17438
Anger at zero-hour contracts in universities
Sam Morecroft, Part-time tutor
Sports Direct, McDonalds, Wetherspoons, Cineworld and... Britain's universities. Many people were no doubt shocked to hear that the use of zero-hour contracts is endemic not just among employers in retail or fast food, but also in some of the country's richest universities.
Research published by the UCU trade union shows that over half of universities and around 75% of further education colleges use the contracts to cut costs - denying staff sick pay, regular hours or any kind of job security.
For most university and college lecturers however, it will come as no surprise. Casualisation has become rife in universities and colleges, with postgraduate students and junior staff routinely used as cheap or even free labour.
While students are paying £9,000 a year tuition fees, the staff teaching them are being paid a pittance and having to take a second job to get by.
It's yet another indictment of Austerity Britain - while bankers are still raking in bonuses, educators are underpaid and exploited.
It doesn't have to be like this. Simply by releasing the report, UCU has forced the spotlight on zero hours.
The University of Edinburgh, the biggest zero hours university in Britain, has been shamed into pledging to scrap zero-hour contracts.
Of course it will require more than just drawing attention to really fight these contracts. Where casualised staff get organised and demand contracts with decent terms and conditions, they can win.
At the University of Sheffield this year, we've secured proper contracts for postgraduate tutors, guaranteeing sick pay and full employment rights.
That has been possible because postgraduates and casualised staff have got organised, joined UCU and fought for something better.
At Sheffield we still have a long way to go - much of the lesson preparation and marking that staff are expected to do remains unpaid.
But the conscious effort by postgraduate students to organise across as many departments as possible means that we can force university management to listen to us.
Whether you work for McDonalds or an Oxbridge University, the way to beat zero-hour contracts is the same - unionise, fight back, and demand proper contracts, full employment rights, and decent pay!
Internships: on-the-job training or just exploitation?
In London banking circles it's called the 'magic roundabout', every intern's worst nightmare. Having worked all night an intern is provided with a taxi ride home, which will then wait outside while they shower and change, before shuttling them back to the office for another long day.
The tragic death of Moritz Erhardt in August has raised serious concerns about exploitation of interns, not just in the banking sector, but across many business sectors in the UK.
Moritz was a 21 year old intern who was found dead at his home after allegedly working for 72 hours without sleep at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Never say no
The labour market has become a hostile place for young people since the financial crisis. Youth unemployment is close to 20%.
The incomes of many young people in their 20s are at 1999 levels. These difficulties can mean that determination to find a foothold in employment has never been higher.
As an ambitious young intern you will, of course, never say no to the colleagues and managers you are so desperately trying to impress.
You are well aware that this opportunity is in fact a 'trial run', an audition for you to showcase your talents.
You have already come so far, beaten the slimmest of odds to secure an internship. But it is not enough unless you convert this opportunity to a full-time position, something which is rarely guaranteed.
While some banking and law interns may face horrors such as the 'magic roundabout' and 24-hour working days, they are at least compensated with wages of around £40,000 pro-rata.
Interns in many other industries, such as fashion or media, often find themselves working for free, seeing internships as their only option to gain the experience necessary to find employment.
In some cases young people are so desperate to gain experience that they actually pay to do the internships, sometimes at a cost of thousands of pounds.
The employer will often have no intention of providing a job at the end of an internship.
Youth Fight for Jobs demands:
- A living wage - decent wages that are enough to live on for all workers, including interns and apprentices
- Proper contracts - guaranteed hours and full employment rights. No to zero-hour contracts and insecure employment. No more uncertainty and insecurity dressed up as 'flexibility'!
- Proper training - work experience, internships and apprenticeships with proper pay, based on preparing for a guaranteed job at the end of the training
- Real jobs - massive government investment into a programme of public works to create millions of decent, socially useful jobs
- We won't pay for the crisis! - build a mass movement of working class and young people to stop the cuts and fight for jobs, homes and services for the 99%
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In The Socialist 18 September 2013:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party youth feature
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party comments and reviews