In the news 28 June 2019

28 June 2019

Staff on casual contracts visiting food banks as they struggle to make ends meet

Staff on insecure contracts working in further, adult and prison education are holding down multiple jobs and visiting food banks in an effort to makes ends meet, warns a report released today by UCU.

The report says people without secure contracts aren't paid for around a third of their work and struggle to find somewhere to live. It also reveals the toll of casualisation on their mental and physical health with 71% saying they believed their mental health had been damaged by working on insecure contracts and 45% saying it had impacted on their physical health.

UCU head of further education Andrew Harden told Tes that the survey lifted the lid on the damage that insecure work is doing to people's health in our colleges and prisons. 'It doesn't have to be this way. UCU has worked with colleges to improve the security of employment for teaching staff and will work with any employer willing to engage with us on this issue. But it is no longer acceptable for employers to ignore the problem,' he said.

In FE Week, Nicola Gibson describes working on casual contracts. She said that she really enjoys her work, and believes she is privileged to work with the students, but says she doesn't feel she can bring them her best and be recognised for it. She said she has considered leaving the profession, as she wants to be a "grown-up", which she doesn't feel she can be because of the nature of her job. She describes her situation as like that of a student, scraping to make ends meet.

Writing for Tes, Gwen Vickers says she is also proud to have been a communication support worker supporting deaf learners in colleges, but lays bare the harsh reality of life on casual contracts. In a difficult read, Gwen explains how there are always problems with money due to never knowing when you will be paid and how much. She says her situation is so bad she became homeless and had contemplated suicide. She concludes that, although it's probably too late to impact on her own career, something must be done for staff entering the profession or those contemplating a career in further education, students and society itself.


Another bad week for USS

It has been another bad week for the Universities Superannuation Scheme. A USS trustee has spoken out saying she was unhappy with the quality of information available at USS and that she still does not know why she was suspended. She told Radio 4's Today programme [3mb] that all she did was ask how the watchdog's views were presented in the USS consultation document.

Last week it was revealed that USS was taken to task by the Pensions Regulator for misrepresenting the watchdog's views in a key document. Responding to all this, USS has decided to launch an investigation into the whistleblower. UCU general secretary-elect Jo Grady told Times Higher Education that Bill Galvin, USS' chief executive, and Sir David Eastwood, its chair, should resign. She said that, in light of recent revelations, it was difficult to "see how anybody is to have any confidence or faith" in the USS board's conduct.

Presumably unimpressed by USS' response to the whistleblower's revelations, the Financial Times reported that Frank Field MP, chair of the work and pensions select committee, has written to the chief executive of the Pensions Regulator asking a series of questions about the whistleblower's complaint.

Rivalling USS for an inadequate response is Universities UK who say they are confident that the USS trustee board is "conducting business in line with its fiduciary responsibilities" and that expressing no confidence in the USS board or executive "would be an irresponsible move".

UCU's higher education committee meets later today to discuss the USS dispute having warned earlier this month that strike action could be on the cards later this year if universities do not respond positively to the union's call for no increases in the cost of USS pensions and no cuts to benefits.


Protests in Stourbridge over plans to sell off college

Protesters will take to the streets of Stourbridge tomorrow to protest against the planned closure of Stourbridge College. Crowds will assemble from 11am at the college's Hagley Road site for a march beginning at 11.30am.

The plan to sell off the college, which merged with BMet in 2013, was announced in May following a recommendation by the FE Commissioner. BMet has been subject to a financial notice of concern since July 2015, and the Commissioner was called in to review the college group's operations in February this year.

Andrew Harden told Tes that closing the college would be a huge blow to the community and mean an end to vocational education in Stourbridge. Speaking to Stourbridge News he said: 'Students are understandably worried and unhappy about the prospect of having to travel further and pay more to access their courses. Local people should not have to pay such a high price for years of poor management by BMet.'

Staff spoke out against the closure on Radio 4's You and Yours yesterday when college funding was the first story. One said that if the college closed then there would not even be a library left for local people.


Strike on at Nottingham College on Monday

UCU members at Nottingham College will walk out on Monday 1 July as part of a row over plans to impose new contracts. Staff will be on picket lines from 7.30am at the Clarendon Campus on Pelham Avenue. There will also be a bake off, music and learning activities at the John Farr Rest Garden (opposite the main entrance) from 8 am.

The dispute centres on the college's proposal to dismiss anyone refusing to sign up to new contracts. The plans would leave over 80 staff more than £1,000 worse off. The contracts would see all staff lose up to eight days' holiday and cuts to sick pay. Staff at the college have not received a pay rise since 2010.

Speaking to Tes, Andrew Harden said: 'Strike action is always a last resort, but the college has repeatedly refused to address our concerns so UCU members feel that they have been left with no choice.'


Protests over sacked UCU activist

Protestors took to the streets of West Bromwich on Saturday to protest against the "heavy-handed" sacking of Sandwell College lecturer and UCU activist Dave Muritu. Speakers at a rally following a march through West Bromwich included Dave, UCU general secretary-elect Jo Grady and UCU vice president Nita Sanghera

The row centres on the sacking of maths lecturer Muritu for writing on a poster promoting the controversial Prevent programme. Muritu's colleagues are balloting for strike action at the college and the ballot closes on Friday 12 July..

Speaking to Metro this week, Dave said he sticks by his beliefs that the Prevent is racist, given that it "disproportionately targets Muslim students", however he has apologised for the methods he used. He told the paper that one of the initial guidance notes that was issued by the government for the scheme was that if teachers saw "groups of Asian students hanging around a computer together, then they should report it".


Last updated: 30 July 2019