The Anti-Casualisation Committee was established in 2016 to work to improve the pay and conditions of casually-employed and hourly paid academic staff with the ultimate aim of eliminating precarious forms of employment from Queen’s University. As in many universities in the UK, a very large proportion of the teaching and student-support work at Queen’s is done by an academic precariat employed through a bewildering variety of short-term engagements. This precarious workforce is extremely diverse, ranging from postgraduate students to lecturers, tutors and student support-staff, many of whom have been surviving on short-term insecure contracts and unpredictable incomes for many years. The enthusiasm and hard work of these academic workers is central to the student experience at Queen’s, but the educational importance of these workers is not reflected in their pay or status: indeed, some are in such precarious situations that they are not even officially acknowledged as Queen’s employees.
There are a number of specific issues which have been identified by the ACC which it is working to address. These include:
a). Unpaid work. Workers frequently find themselves undertaking preparatory work or administrative work for which they are not paid or for which payment is wholly inadequate. In many cases, this can mean that staff are effectively working for well below the minimum wage. The ACC is working towards ensuring that all work undertaken is properly paid.
b). Inconsistency across the university. Different schools and departments apply different standards and different rates of pay. The ACC is working to ensure that standards are levelled up across Queen’s.
c). Lack of access to essential resources and communication networks. Many precariously employed academic staff have limited access to the library and other essential educational tools. This has resulted in the absurdity of lecturers and module convenors having to appeal to their students to send them the assigned readings, since the students have greater access to these resources than the lecturers. Such situations not only make teaching extremely difficult, but place teaching staff in embarrassing positions and present an unprofessional image of the university to students. The ACC is working to ensure that all academic workers at Queen’s have full access to the resources they need to do their jobs.
d). Vulnerability to abuse. There is evidence that the insecurity of employment suffered by many academic workers at Queen’s renders them unwilling to protest against any form of abuse for fear of losing their employment. This insecurity may leave academic workers vulnerable to a range of abusive treatment ranging from overwork to bullying or harassment. The ACC is working to improve job security for all academic workers at Queen’s in order to eliminate such vulnerability.
e). Arbitrary caps on pay. In many cases, the university imposes arbitrary caps on annual payments to individual workers which mean such workers are effectively consigned to permanent poverty. These caps can be as low as £5000 a year. The ACC is working to ensure that all workers in Queen’s are able to earn a living wage.
The issue of casualised and precarious work in universities has recently received extensive publicity both on a national level and in specific relation to Queen’s University. The ACC aims to address the concerns exposed by this publicity by encouraging Queen’s to move towards best practice as exemplified by other universities within the UK, and ultimately to eliminate precarious forms of employment from Queen’s University completely.
NOTE: The ACC understands that many casually-employed staff may be isolated and unaware of the services the UCU has to offer them, or may believe that membership of a union is beyond their financial resources. We would like to emphasise that there are highly-reduced membership fees available for casual staff, commensurate with your income, and would encourage all casual staff to join UCU, avail of our services and participate in our campaigns.