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Stamp out casual contracts

Victory for the anti-casualisation campaign: the new GTA contracts at University of Nottingham

24 March 2021 | last updated: 29 April 2021

The UCU branch at University of Nottingham have won a major victory for PGRs who undertake teaching duties with a new model for hiring postgraduate researchers (PGRs) to teach, to begin in the 2021/22 academic year.

This model will replace the current practice of using hourly paid sub-contracted roles (teaching affiliate roles)  for the preparation and delivery of seminars ; provision of student contact hours; and marking responsibilities.  While still hourly-paid, the new GTA contracts will be fixed-hours, in-house contracts of employment with the university; will grant employee status to PGRs who teach; and will secure pay and employment rights accordingly. This should be seen as a massive win in the fight against casualisation in higher education.

This win comes off the back of several years of successful campaigning which began in 2015, with the launch of UoN's Living Wage Campaign followed by the establishment of an anti-casualisation campaign in 2017-18. The campaign saw the UCU branch working with grassroots activists and with the students' union to force the employer to engage in agreeing fair employment for those engaged in this crucial work. The initial work managed to secure a number of wins including ensuring that staff were paid for all hours worked, including lecture attendance in some areas.

When Teaching Affiliate positions were drastically cut across the University in 2020, a series of letter-writing campaigns and petitions to the vice-chancellor, deputy vice-chancellor and director of HR - organised by PGRs and supported by the branch UCU - resulted in management returning to the negotiating table and opening the door to a conversation about how PGRs should be employed. The combined work and solidarity of PGRs on the ground, UCU members and representatives, and the officers of the student union resulted in the outcome we have today. This successful combination of grassroots collective organising, alongside the efforts of UCU and SU branch officials to lobby management and support members' demands, provides valuable lessons for future campaigns and other branches.

The branch are aware that there is still work to be done, to make sure the new contracts are implemented quickly and fairly to make up for a year of lost teaching opportunities for PGRs, and to help reduce the enormous workload which permanent staff have had to shoulder following cuts to PGR teachers. This is also part of ensuring that all teaching work is properly paid, and that PGRs are not asked to volunteer their labour for free as a result of cuts to previously paid positions. These new contracts greatly improve the conditions of PGRs who teach, and the branch are also pushing for these improvement to go hand in hand with improvements for all precarious staff. 

Many thanks to the branch and to Daniel Edmondson and Joe Kearsey for use of the text above.