Zero-hours contracts have been controversial. They appear to have been overused in hiring employees in higher education. This employment arrangement enables employers to hire staff on an on-call set up where employees are paid on a no-work no-pay basis. Income is not guaranteed, employees are not able to get mortgages and there is no job security. Some contracts specify that employed staff cannot freely get gainful employment outside the university or college and do not include paid holidays at work and sick pay.
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Recent research from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation indicate that 27% of employers in the United Kingdom use zero-hours contracts. The ratio is higher in higher education, a study finds. Information used came from requests made by the University and College Union under the freedom of information policy. More than 50% of 145 respondent UK universities and almost 66% of contacted 275 further education colleges say that they have zero-hours contract staff who are in teaching-related functions.
Nature of the Teaching Job a Factor?
Various staff with job descriptions which are related to teaching could be put on zero-hours contracts, interview made by the Guardian indicate. Many of them are visiting lecturers, PhD students who are also teaching, examiners, teaching assistants and specialists who are contracted to be ready on call when help in specific research projects is needed. More than 200 staff in each of the almost 50% of the responding universities are in zero-hours contracts. Based on the survey made by the UCU, the institution with the most zero-hours contract teaching staff appears to be Edinburgh University with an estimated count of 2,317. Edinburgh, Bath, Kingston and two other institutions have at least 1,000 zero-hours contract staff.
An Edinburgh University representative explains that they are employing regular staff with job security as they do more than 95% of the work carried out and paid for in the university. The substantial number of staff employed on flexible terms are freelancers and is not prohibited to get gainful employment anywhere they want. The university had started the process of phasing out its hours to be notified employment contracts, it said in a statement. They have expressed their commitment to offer guaranteed employment to their staff. A majority conversion is what they aim to achieve by the end of the calendar year.
Every PhD student who wants to engage in teaching can put by the university into the zero-hour countract but they may never be able to work for the university, the UCU says. The union says that measuring how exactly the universities use the contract is difficult and the use is “haphazard.” The flexible contract is being used by some universities so that they can cut down some of the costs to stay financially afloat but the staff under the arrangement become financially paralysed.
In your opinion, have the universities and colleges abused their discretion in the manner in which they have put staff under zero-hours contracts? In what specific ways can the government monitor, control, check and balance the usage of the contracts and the manpower involved?