Two-thirds of Scottish universities use lecturers on zero-hour contracts

5 September 2013 | last updated: 10 December 2015

Scottish universities are far more likely to have staff working on zero-hour contracts than other workplaces, according to new research by UCU.

Two-thirds (66%) of Scottish universities that responded to the union's Freedom of Information request have teaching staff on zero-hour contracts. Overall, a quarter (27%) of companies use zero-hour contracts, according to recent research from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation*.

The union said the use of zero-hour contracts is rather haphazard and it is difficult to truly reflect just how widespread their usage is. Despite the number of universities using zero-hour contracts, only a handful of institutions said they had policies on them.

Of the universities that reported they use zero-hour contracts:

  • just under half (44%) had more than 100 staff on zero-hour contracts
  • at the remaining institutions the number employed on zero-hour contracts ranged from eight to 44
  • one institution had more than 2,000 people on zero-hour contracts
  • of the institutions that supplied information about zero-hour staff in work, just one in five (19%) said all their staff on zero-hour contracts currently had work.

The union said its findings shone an important light on the murky world of casualisation amongst teaching staff. UCU said that recent attempts to uncover how prevalent zero-hour contracts are have highlighted just how difficult it is to get to the bottom of the problem.

Research released at the start of August suggested that there could be around one million workers in the UK on zero-hours contracts^ - a marked increase on revised estimations from the Office of National Statistics of just 250,000~.

UCU Scotland president, Dave Anderson, said: "Our findings shine a light on the murky world of casualisation in higher education. As well as the uncertainty that comes with being on a zero-hour contract, many staff suffer exploitation through other temporary contracts. Their widespread use is the unacceptable underbelly of our universities.

"Employers cannot hide behind the excuse of flexibility. The flexibility is not a two-way street and, for far too many people, it is simply a case of exploitation. We are encouraged that both the government and the opposition have said they will be looking at zero-hour contracts, but neither side has yet said anything that will give the thousands of people subjected to these conditions much hope.

"The extent of the use of zero-hour contracts is difficult to pin down, as various groups have found, but their prevalence in our universities leads to all sorts of uncertainty for staff. Without a guaranteed income, workers on zero-hours contracts are unable to make financial or employment plans on a year-to-year, or even month-to-month basis."