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Win for PGRs at Newcastle University

14 June 2023

The following account has been kindly provided by our branch at Newcastle University - congratulations to everyone who helped to make this happen.

In May and June 2022, Newcastle University UCU branch resolved to use its mandate for industrial action to undertake a marking and assessment boycott, combined with days of strike action, to press local demands. One of our keys demands was contracts for Postgraduate Researchers (PGRs). We won. From September PGRs who work for Newcastle University will be offered fractional contracts, instead of being zero hours workers.

Our PGR campaign is part of wider anti-casualisation campaigns at Newcastle UCU, spanning a number of years, starting with winning better local fixed term conditions and policies on the back of national action back in 2018.

As a branch we have been building our PGR membership over the past few years. Through adding a PGR rep position to our committee, reps attending departmental PGR inductions, and building a network of PGR departmental contacts. All working to support grassroot organising and campaigning amongst PGR and anti-casualisation activist members. The PGRs as Staff campaign has been vital to this. It clearly evidences that UCU is a union that will fight for PGRs. As a campaign it invites members to envision broad changes to the structural conditions of PGR labour in higher education, but also focus that on demands that can be won in the short term to the benefit of PGRs who are members now.

UK HE employers often rely upon reserves of casualised labour, particularly hourly paid and zero hours, to deal with structural issues of understaffing and over recruitment of students. This is a management decision that needn't be the case. Rather than last-minute notices of work at the start of a semester, the negotiated Newcastle policy makes clear, planning for employment can, and should, be done in advance, with transparent recruitment and allocation of work. As well as the expectation of fractional contracts, other aspects of the policy that our PGR members are particularly keen on is the expectation that all relevant duties are properly renumerated (such as attending meetings), and for candidature extensions for those with larger employment fractions. As with all things, implementation will need to be monitored, and our PGR departmental contacts will be key to this.

We of course have a way to go to have PGR research recognised, and renumerated, as the labour that it is. But this win is an important first step. The PGRs as Staff campaign is one that is growing and strengthening our union, and will no doubt see more wins in the near future.


Last updated: 14 June 2023