Sussex agreement ends zero hours contracts

UCU has welcomed a new agreement at the University of Sussex that will end the use of zero hours contracts and mean that the hundreds of PhD students who deliver frontline teaching there will be employed on proper contracts with enhanced pay, benefits and set hours.

The agreement follows negotiations that began in February 2014 at the time when the public toxicity of zero hours contracts was growing.

The employment of postgraduate students as Associate Tutors has been an issue at the University for years and both the UCU branch and the Sussex Students Union have campaigned for a long time for improvements.

The agreement between UCU and the university should mean that PhD students teaching at the University will have established set hours, improved multipliers for their teaching pay rates, incremental pay progression and new access to occupational sick pay. In addition, departments will be allowed to create fixed-term or permanent teaching positions for people completing their positions where their budgets allow. 

The Sussex agreement represents more evidence that it is quite possible to operate teaching in a university without using zero hours contracts, 'bank workers' contracts or any of the other forms of bogus self-employment and precarious contract that blight the higher education sector. Other universities should take note that UCU will not stop campaigning on this issue.

The public profile of zero hours contracts, agency working, self-employment and the 'gig economy' provide a valuable context in which to highlight the fact that supposedly enlightened employers have operated for years now by exploiting teaching staff who frequently exist in a state of precariousness and perpetual anxiety, unable to establish viable academic careers and unable to plan their lives.

Until universities start to engage seriously on this issue in greater numbers, their employment practices will continue to see them bracketed them with SportsDirect and other high profile offenders.

UCU has recently launched a new web resource for students, 'Unireport'. Students can use Unireport to check on the levels of casualisation at their university and can lobby their managements to work with UCU on winning improvements for precarious staff. See Unireport for yourself here

Last updated: 20 September 2016