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Part-time working in FE

26 October 2006

FE colleges rely particularly heavily on part-time teaching staff. Part-time lecturers can work anything from a couple of hours a week, perhaps in the evening, to substantial periods, sometimes with almost as much teaching as many full-time staff.

This section aims to answer some of the questions part-time lecturers ask about employment at FE colleges. Each college has its own employment policies, so the information given is general rather than specific:

National agreements

The national agreement reached in the FE national joint forum on the employment of part-time employees is intended to ensure that colleges meet the requirements of the Part-time Workers Regulations 2000, giving part-timers the right not to be treated less favourably than comparable full time employees as regards their contract of employment, or any act, or deliberate failure to act, of the employers:

Members in Wales should refer to the Wales part-time employment agreement [48kb].

It is important to check the details of any policies with the college concerned. Some staff are employed through agencies such as Protocol and they should look carefully at the section below on agency staff.

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Fractional contracts

The national agreement recommends the use of fractional contracts of employment for part-time work whereby pay and conditions of service are expressed as a fraction of those received by a comparable full-time employee. (So, for example, in a 0.5 contract the part-timer works exactly half the number of hours of a full-timer and receives half of all entitlements such as holiday). Fractional part-timers should therefore check that the terms and conditions in their contract of employment accurately reflect the fraction on which they are employed.

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Variable hours

An increasing number of part-timers are employed on contracts which allow variation in hours worked over the term of the contract. The particular terms and conditions of such contracts will be determined at the local college. However, the national agreement says that it is desirable that such contracts should specify a minimum of contracted hours (ie they should not take the form of zero hours contracts).

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Fixed-term (temporary) contracts

Many part-time staff in FE are employed on fixed-term contracts. This means that, written into the contract, is a specified date on which it will come to an end.

It is important to know whether your contract is fixed-term or permanent. If it is for a fixed-term you need to be clear about the date on which it will come to an end. It will not be necessary for the college to give you any additional notice other than that in the contract itself (unless the college wish to bring it to an end before the specified date). If you are not offered a new fixed-term contract after the completion of your current contract then you may be entitled to have been consulted and compensated for redundancy. In some circumstances failure to offer a further contract can be deemed unfair dismissal. See more in the:

If you have any concerns about unfair dismissal or redundancy rights in relation to your fixed-term contract you should contact your UCU branch for further advice.

The Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 prevent the use of successive fixed-term contracts for periods of longer than four years unless the employer can provide objective justification for their continued use. UCU believes that the test for such justification will be quite stringent.

The most important issue for members that have completed four years of successive fixed-term contracts is what type of permanent contract they are transferred to. Members who have completed four years on fixed-term contracts should contact their branch for advice. UCU and the national agreement recommend the use of fractional contracts as the fairest contract for part-time staff. Zero hours contracts provide worse employment rights than fixed-term contracts and must be resisted.

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Pay and holidays

Most part-time FE staff now receive their pay by credit transfer directly to bank accounts. Usually payments take the form of a fixed monthly sum spread over a year, or the length of the contract if it is for a fixed-term.

Part-time staff in FE are often employed on an hourly-paid basis. It is very important to establish with the employer:

  • the method of calculation of the hourly rate, and
  • what the hourly rate represents.

While superficially it may be paid for the delivery of a number of hours teaching it will often include an element to pay for marking and preparation; the essential principle to be applied by the employer is one of equal pay for work of equal value. The hourly rate should be equivalent to a comparable full-time employee. Under the 1998 Working Time Regulations all workers who work continuously for more than 13 weeks are entitled to a minimum of three weeks paid leave, and contracts of employment should specify this holiday entitlement.

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Right to claim unfair dismissal and/or redundancy payments

When a contract, even a fixed-term contract, comes to an end, there will have been a dismissal for the purposes of statutory employment law. When an employer dismisses an employee is must be for a fair reason, which can include redundancy.

Many FE colleges employ staff on fixed-term contracts which finish at the end of the summer term. Often the college does not know whether it will be offering new contracts until the autumn term when it is clear how many students have enrolled on courses. Staff in this position can sometimes claim a statutory redundancy payment. The sums of money involved are not huge and you must have been working at the college for at least two years.

If your fixed-term contract comes to an end and you are not clear whether it will be renewed you should contact your local UCU branch representative to see whether you are entitled to a redundancy payment.

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Waiver clauses

These clauses are now illegal and unenforceable. Always opposed by UCU these clauses were included in some fixed-term contracts to prevent members' access to unfair dismissal and redundancy provisions. All fixed-term contracts renewed, extended or commencing after 1 October 2002 can not contain redundancy waiver clauses and are unenforceable where they do. Waiver clauses in respect of unfair dismissal have been illegal since 1999.

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Agency staff

Some part-time FE staff find work through agencies such as Protocol. Staff in this position are in a much more vulnerable position when it comes to long-term security of employment.

The good news is that the long awaited Agency Workers Regulations 2010 finally came into force on 1 October 2011. The regulations introduce new 'day 1 rights' which agency workers are entitled to now and from the first day of every assignment. The clock also started ticking on the 12 week qualifying period for access to the new 'equal treatment' entitlements. Agency workers.

You should receive:

  • written details of terms and conditions relating to your employment;
  • the kind of work which you will be supplied with; and
  • the minimum rates of pay.

UCU continues to press for full rights for agency staff and legal cases are being pursued in regards to obtaining the right of protocol to obtain teachers pension rights.

All staff have the right to join UCU and agency staff should try to ensure that their voice is heard through UCU representation at the college. All staff are entitled not to be discriminated against on grounds of race, gender, disability, sexuality or religious belief, and again this can help when arguing for improvements for agency staff at the college.

Members may, of course, contact their branch with any individual issues which they may require representation or assistance with. Under the Employment Rights Act (1996) individuals now have the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative at disciplinary and grievance hearings.

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Last updated: 23 July 2015