Magazine article Times Higher Education

Zero-Hour Numbers Unclear despite Year-Long Study

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Zero-Hour Numbers Unclear despite Year-Long Study

Article excerpt

Unions and employers hail joint initiative but split over extent of 'casualisation'. Jack Grove writes

Insufficient data make it impossible to quantify the number of higher education staff on zero-hours contracts, a report says.

After more than a year of collaboration between universities and trade unions to shed light on the "casualisation" of academic staff, a working group was unable to reach a consensus on how many staff were employed on casual or hourly paid contracts.

That is because universities do not report their staff numbers and job categories to the Higher Education Statistics Agency in a uniform way, which makes it difficult to obtain sector-wide figures on employees on zero-hours or other casual contracts, according to the report compiled by the joint working group on hourly paid and casual staff, formed by the New Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff.

Hesa should consider implementing a "more consistent and reliable recording and reporting framework [so] categories of staff could be established", the group recommends in its report, published on 23 July.

In the absence of official data, trade unions put forward their own statistics, obtained via Freedom of Information requests to universities, claiming that about 25,000 academic staff were on zero-hours contracts in 2013.

That figure, however, does not capture the complexity of employment in higher education, employers claim.

It may, for instance, include the "casual, temporary or variable arrangements [that] are either inevitable or actually appropriate", such as short-term cover required for sickness and other absence, students working on campus and industry specialists employed for brief periods. …

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