Hourly-paid teaching at Goldsmiths - there is a better way

3 November 2014 | last updated: 22 January 2016

It's been a long road for the Goldsmiths branch, but at the end of it they've come out with a series of agreements that show there is another way to treat teaching staff in our universities.

Negotiations around the implementation of the Framework agreement for hourly-paid staff began in 2008 and did not conclude until 2013. In that time, it was vitally important to support this long and arduous work with active campaigning. 'We relied on both pressure from local activists (including our anti-casualisation rep) as well as the national days of action in relation to anti-casualisation' says branch Secretary Des Freedman.

The pressure paid off. The agreement that finally emerged established hourly-paid teachers in a clear set of roles that provided equality of treatment across the various departments and also placed many hourly-paid teachers on fractional contracts.  All hourly rates of pay for hourly-paid lecturers have been tied to the pay rates of salaried academic staff, thus ensuring parity of pay across departments and between hourly-paid and salaried academic staff.

For example, associate lecturers with less than 150 hours teaching in a year and less than four years' service are employed as temporary hourly-paid lecturers but on reaching four years' service they are offered either a permanent fractional or associate lecturer post.

Postgraduate students without prior teaching experience would be employed as 'Graduate Trainee Tutors'. While these are graded at 6, below the established academic scale, they are provided with a training programme and after one year, they proceed automatically to grade 7. Importantly, therefore, there are clear and transparent routes whereby hourly-paid teachers can progress and, with sufficient service and hours, expect to move to a fractional contract.

But crucially, the branch didn't see this agreement as the end. As Freedman puts it, the 'Assimilation Agreement' was, above all, about ensuring equality more than tackling precarity. So we realised that we would still need to do far more to deal with the insecurity and exploitation faced by what are now called 'Associate Lecturers'.

So in 2013 and 2014 discussions began to secure greater continuity of employment. Once again, the agreement that emerged contained a critical progressive commitment: 'In order to maximise stability for staff and students, where appropriate, Associate Lecturers can reasonably expect employment by the College for three years (subject to performance, recruitment and other employment issues)'.

In addition, if an Associate Lecturer is contracted for 350 hours or more in any one year, this would automatically trigger a contract review which would normally lead to the creation of a fractional post. Departments are committed to monitoring the hours of their staff and the branch have won agreement that staff will be notified no later than June of any year about their employment in the coming academic year.

There's no doubt that looking round the sector, these are good agreements, negotiated with the support of the UCU regional office throughout. But as Freedman says, active campaigning helped to keep the issues of its associates near the top of the branch's agenda: 'Our ALs were more active than ever during the 2013-4 pay campaign and I think that this focused the attention of the branch on extending the struggle on pay to the other issues that affect hourly-paid staff.'

Why did Goldsmiths' management feel able to go further than so many other university employers? For Freedman it was a combination of a management that recognised the contribution made by its Associates with the campaigning pressure.

It's also worth noting the solidarity between casualised and permanent members. At Goldsmiths, solidarity between different staff groups was expressed in a unified branch collective bargaining agenda. Casualised and permanent staff supported each other's struggles.

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