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Durham University in unpaid job advert row

21 October 2013 | last updated: 10 December 2015

Durham University has been asked to clarify whether or not it pays all its teaching staff after extracurricular classes being taught by unpaid volunteers in the university's theology and religion department were advertised on the university's website.

UCU said the adverts clearly indicated that teaching and preparation work was required and said the people delivering the courses needed to be properly remunerated to protect both themselves and the university.

Last summer the university gave an unequivocal statement that unpaid staff were not recruited by Durham. Responding to a letter sent by UCU to all universities asking for a commitment that they would not recruit staff to undertake paid work, the Director of Human Resources said: 'it is neither policy nor practice at Durham to recruit unpaid research staff'.

UCU said the university could not hide behind the fact the courses were voluntary as an excuse not to pay staff. The union said those delivering the courses needed the protection of being in paid employment in order to ensure their courses passed necessary quality standards and they had proper protection if any issues arose that needed to be dealt with. The union also questioned whether the teaching work complied with national minimum wage legislation.

The Durham advert follows two attempts to 'hire' unpaid research assistants by the University of Birmingham and University College London last summer. Both those adverts were swiftly withdrawn after complaints from UCU and on social media.

UCU said unpaid posts undermined the principles of equal pay, exploited people able to work for free, and discriminated against those who simply cannot afford to.

Jon Bryan, regional support official for UCU said: 'The advert says it requires applicants to devise and deliver courses without payment, which is completely at odds with the firm commitment Durham gave us last year that it does not recruit unpaid staff. The university needs to make a clear statement outlining its position on people working for free.

'We simply do not accept the defence that teaching for free is a development opportunity - clearly it is not available to people who cannot afford to work for free. Universities should be striving for excellence, not seeking to exploit those who can afford to work for nothing as free labour.'

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