Note: This petition was written at the beginning of lockdown and now has over 2000 signatures! Please continue signing to show your solidarity and join our mailing list. The campaign continues: follow us on @CoronaContract; https://coronacontract.org
We write as UK university staff employed on a variety of precarious contracts, including ‘fixed-term’, ‘zero-hours’, 'GTA stipends', and other forms of casualisation. We make up approximately 70% of researchers in HE, and do between 25-30% of the teaching in many universities. Our Vice Chancellors are continuing to pay themselves salaries of £253,000 on average (many much more) from taxpayer money, while we face an unprecedented situation.
Like everybody, we are struggling with the global crisis brought on by COVID-19, and the weaknesses it has exposed at the heart of governments, institutions and businesses. Like our colleagues on permanent or open-ended contracts, our employers have required us to make onerous changes to our teaching and research in order to keep our universities running, typically without any additional pay despite the sector’s already gross underestimation of the hours we work.
For us in particular, the clock is ticking. In a few weeks or months, our contracts will expire. We will be rendered jobless at a time when it is highly probable that most, if not all, university hiring will freeze, even while impossibly stretched departments will need our help more than ever. Despite some advocacy from UCU, it is still unclear how many of us are eligible for the government's 'furlough' scheme (which only lasts for a few months). Those of us with work permits sponsored by our universities may face deportation.
Casualised contracts are a way for universities to avoid taking responsibility for their own staff, with especially devastating consequences for us at this point in time. The unsustainable requirements for survival in this sector have become even more impossible: we cannot be expected to transition jobs across the country or potentially out of the country during a global pandemic.
It is difficult to overstate the consequences of this impending crisis of unemployment across the sector. Many of us were already at breaking point before COVID-19: working part-time and cobbling together work from multiple employers, earning at or below minimum wage, facing homelessness or going into debt. The suffering and death from COVID-19 will be at least as much economic as viral.
There is no indication that this pandemic will be over any time soon. Some estimates are up to 18 months. This is for the pandemic itself, and does not even reflect longer term economic impacts.
Many of us have already reached out to our deans and VCs, only to be told that nothing can be done. This is unacceptable. Industries from airlines to sugar are demanding bailouts from governments to keep running during the crisis, and workers from Starbucks baristas to Premier League footballers are currently negotiating new contracts based on crisis conditions — why aren’t our universities advocating for us?
We cannot assume that universities will do the right thing in this crisis. There have already been reports of universities announcing early termination of casualised staff, and USS preparing to exploit the crisis to destroy university pensions. The last financial crisis served as an excuse for managers to push austerity and weaken working conditions – we cannot let this happen again.
We see that those who fight back are winning. Most recently, outsourced cleaners at UCL won the right to full pay after Sodexo laid them off. Dining workers at Harvard likewise won 30 days of paid leave after coronavirus layoffs and are fighting for more. These struggles for secure employment across all sectors of university work, globally and across different union lines, are beginning and they will not end any time soon. We must take up this fight within our unions and on a grassroots national level.
WIth these issues in mind, we demand an immediate contractual guarantee of two years work, at or above current level of remuneration, for all casualised university staff.
If this is not secured, we are prepared to fight.
The below casualised university staff, and those in solidarity with us