Students support Notts lecturers striking against ‘sign or be sacked’ contracts

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UCU lecturers at Nottingham College on strike for three days this week against unfair new contracts – they are escalating the strike to four days next week

STUDENTS are campaigning to support striking staff at Nottingham College and have organised a petition in support of the action which has already topped 1,200 signatures.

Staff, members of University and College Union (UCU), were on strike Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week and next week escalate their action to four days of strike, and the following week to five days of strike.

The strike is over a ‘sign or be sacked’ new contract which the college is attempting to impose.

The petition was started by a recent student of the college, and praises Nottingham College staff for creating ‘one of the most supportive learning environments in Nottinghamshire’.

However, it says staff have been ‘forced to either accept a new unfair contract or face losing their jobs’, and outlines how the new contracts would lead to pay cuts and increasing workloads.

It goes on to say the ‘conditions the staff will be forced to accept will prevent them from giving their students the support they need’, meaning they ‘are not in the interests of either party’.

It calls for Nottingham College management to negotiate better contracts which give the staff the respect they deserve.

The dispute centres on the college’s move to impose new contracts which would see pay cuts for many staff, as well as removing key protections designed to protect staff against work overload. Staff at the college have not received a pay rise since 2010.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: ‘As the support for this petition shows, the move to impose new contracts at Nottingham College has caused real anger – not just among affected staff but also among students and the community.

‘Removing protections against work overload will only damage the ability of staff to provide high quality education for students, and must be resisted.’

UCU members are in the midst of a mammoth 15 days of strike action at the college which will continue into October, with a four-day walkout planned for next week and a full week of action starting on Monday 7 October. The full remaining strike dates are:

  • Monday 30 September, Tuesday 1, Thursday 3, and Friday 4 October
  • Monday 7, Tuesday 8, Wednesday 9, Thursday 10 and Friday 11 October

The dispute centres on the college’s move to impose new contracts which would see pay cuts for many staff, as well as removing key protections designed to protect staff against work overload. Staff at the college have not received a pay rise since 2010.

Meanwhile, the UCU is calling for improvements to working conditions of university research staff.

Action is needed to reduce the use of fixed-term contracts for researchers and to ensure they can access professional development opportunities, the UCU said on Wednesday.

Responding to the publication of a revised Researcher Development Concordat, the union said research staff should be employed on open-ended, rather than fixed-term contracts.

Two-thirds (68%) of researchers are on fixed-term contracts, while many others on ‘open-ended’ contracts have a fixed-funding end date which leaves them at risk of dismissal.

The union said the huge levels of casualisation in universities was bad for staff and bad for students.

A recent union report revealed the toll that a lack of job security has on staff with seven in ten saying insecure contracts had damaged their mental health and eight in ten researchers said their work had been negatively affected by being on a short-term contract.

The revised Concordat states that institutions must seek to improve job security for researchers, ‘through more effective redeployment processes and greater use of open ended contracts’, but the union said universities should be obliged to work with trade unions to reduce the use of fixed-term contracts.

The union said it was disappointed that UCU-backed proposals to allow 20% of a researcher’s time for professional development have been left out of the revised concordat, which instead calls for 10 days pro rata, per year.

UCU head of higher education Paul Bridge said: ‘Whilst we welcome the new Concordat as an improvement on previous versions, we feel an opportunity has been missed to tackle job insecurity and the continued use of fixed-term contracts.

‘The endemic use of precarious contracts in universities is damaging for staff and students and the overwhelming majority of researchers complain that their work has been impacted by being on short-term contracts. Institutions should be obliged to work with trade unions to reduce the use of fixed-term contracts.

‘We are disappointed that the recommendations call for only 10 days of professional development time for researchers, instead of 20% as originally proposed. Professional development is an essential in part of a researcher’s career and benefits staff, students and the sector as a whole.’

  • Commenting on the Audit Scotland report ‘Finances of Scottish Universities’, which shows that universities have been subject to a real terms cut of 12% in the 7 years up to 2017/18, Mary Senior, UCU Scotland Official, said: ‘This report is yet another wake-up call to government that it cannot deliver university education on the cheap.

‘With more than half of Scottish universities in deficit, and the sector suffering cuts of 12% in real terms over the seven years to 2017/18, the need for sustained investment in the sector is crystal clear.

‘When university staff are expected to put up with below inflation pay rises and attacks to their pensions it is difficult to see how we can continue to be a world class university sector.

‘Ministers must act in the forthcoming Scottish budget to reverse the funding cuts and invest properly in the people that deliver the teaching, research and knowledge exchange.’

Meanwhile, UCU says universities must do more to ensure fair access and progression for black and minority ethnic (BME) staff and students.

The union was responding to a new report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), which highlights a number of barriers to achieving race equality in universities.

The report calls for a number of actions including linking research funding to the Race Equality Charter, and more recognition of the informal mentoring and advocacy work undertaken by BME staff.

UCU said the new report echoed issues identified in the union’s own research, which found that nine in ten (90%) BME staff in colleges and universities report having faced barriers to promotion, and many black staff in universities face a culture of bullying and stereotyping.

The union said that there was no room for complacency when it came to tackling racial inequality in universities. It called for all universities to commit to the Race Equality Charter and work with trade unions to address the concerns of BME staff and students.

UCU also called for greater commitments to ensuring BME students can get a foot on the ladder of academia, after a recent freedom of information request revealed that just 1.2% of PhD places funded by UK Innovation and Research in the last three years went to black or black mixed students.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: ‘This report is a timely reminder that we still have a long way to go when it comes to achieving equality for BME staff and students in our universities. Our own research has shown that far too many BME staff in universities still face significant barriers to promotion as well as an insidious culture of bullying and stereotyping.

‘There is no room for complacency when it comes to tackling these persistent barriers to access and progression. Universities need to do much more, including ensuring that BME students from all backgrounds can get a foot on the ladder in academia. A good start would be for all institutions to commit to the Race Equality Charter and engage fully with trade unions to address the concerns of BME staff and students.’