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UCU wins landmark fixed-term employment tribunal

5 June 2008

UCU has successfully won a permanent contract for a researcher at the University of Aberdeen who had been employed on a succession of fixed-term contracts for nine years.

A tribunal ruled that Dr Andrew Ball, a research fellow in the department of Zoology, must be recognised as a permanent employee. Dr Ball was continuously employed at the university under three successive contracts which began in April 1999. Each contract had been linked to external short-term funding.

The union used legislation, which became fully operational two years ago to specifically curb the continued use of fixed-term contracts, to argue that Dr Ball must be afforded the security of permanent employment. The Fixed Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 state that employees who have had their contract renewed or who are on at least their second contract and have four years' service can regard their posts as permanent unless continued employment on a fixed-term basis can be justified on objective grounds.

In finding for Dr Ball, the tribunal rejected the university's case that short-term funding could automatically provide a justification for employment on a fixed-term, and found that the university had failed to carry out any assessment as to whether Dr Ball could have been offered a permanent contract in 2002 when his third contract was offered.

The tribunal found that employment on fixed-term contracts gave rise to genuine disadvantage to the employee, particularly around the uncertainty of future employment, damage to career progression and professional development, and potential difficulties in obtaining credit. It found no objective grounds for continuing Dr Ball's employment on a fixed-term basis.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt said: 'This is a very important victory for thousands of university and college staff on fixed-term contracts. Dr Ball had a just case and we will be using this victory to help take on other institutions who refuse to acknowledge the just call for full-time contracts from their staff.

'I think it is a source of great shame for UK higher education that only the hotel and catering sector employs a greater percentage of staff on temporary contracts. The widespread use of fixed-term contracts is the unacceptable underbelly of higher education in this country.

'Despite specific guidance agreed by the employers and trade unions to discourage the abuse of fixed-term contracts universities seem to be ignoring it and persisting with short-term and short-sighted employment practices. The best brains in Britain are held in positions of insecurity and it is no wonder that they look for jobs abroad or outside higher education.'

Last updated: 14 December 2015