TeachHigher UPDATE

This update was written by a local trade union branch member 

Significant changes have been made to the TeachHigher website since the pilot was first announced in mid-March. The word “Clients” has been changed to “Departments” and there is no longer any mention of Warwick Employment Group or what was said by the Director of WEG at the TeachHigher launch in January 2015. Management are now saying:
 
1) TeachHigher at Warwick will be an academic services department, not a subsidiary, though they are still intending to sell the concept as a commercial franchise to other universities in due course; 
 
2) The pilot will not start until October 2015 – originally, it was to start with invigilation in the summer term.
 
These two changes demonstrate that a unionised and organised workforce can successfully resist attempts by management to further erode our rights at work. However, there is still much to be done for the reasons outlined below.
 
Warwick UCU and the Hourly-Paid Working Group continue to oppose TeachHigher and believe it remains a pressing issue for all academic staff at Warwick.
·         TeachHigher will institutionalise and entrench a two-tier system of academic staffing at Warwick – further separating off hourly-paid academics from those on more secure contracts.
·         TeachHigher will put HR in the driving seat, reversing the existing balance of power between academic departments and HR. This has many worrying potential implications and represents a significant shift in the way our university is run. Teaching staff could end up being recruited by HR personnel with no academic training or specialist expertise. There is also potential for HR bypassing the preferences of departments and taking full control over the hiring process and staffing of modules. Both academic standards and departmental autonomy are therefore at risk.
·         TeachHigher will make it easier for Warwick central management to recruit ever larger numbers of hourly-paid and casualised staff to teach modules, while continuing to reduce the number of secure and permanent positions.
·         Management have failed to engage productively with Warwick UCU on TeachHigher. What little information we have received has been tardy and contradictory. TeachHigher was established (we believe) in October 2014 and it was not until six months later that management provided Warwick UCU with any information whatsoever about it. It is unacceptable that management provided Andrew Thompson, the Student Union Postgraduate Officer, with more details of the scheme than Warwick UCU, the recognised trade union for academic staff. We learnt things we did not know from reading Andrew’s blog.
 
We also refute management’s claim that staff contacted by TeachHigher will be no worse off than under the existing system organised via VAM (variable monthly) payroll.
The existing VAM paperwork states two things:
 
a) “All individuals who perform work for any department at the University of Warwick will automatically be assumed to be employees of the University” – page 1 of the HR form for a one-off lecture available on the university website.
 
b) “Please note, changes in employment legislation (e.g. the Part-time Working Directive, the Stakeholder PensionsLegislation) mean that there is an expectation that part-time workers should be given the same terms and conditions of service as full-time staff. Where there is a significant commitment over a full academic year, departments are asked to consider the desirability of offering a fractional appointment e.g. Teaching Fellow / Associate. Where the total payment exceeds £5,000, it should be assumed that a fractional contract will be necessary” – page 2 of the HR forms for occasional/daily-paid staff and for part-time teachers.
 
By contrast, the TeachHigher Temporary Worker Agreement requires “candidates” to waive their basic rights as employees. They will be offered “a contract for services” that “does not give rise to a contract of employment between you and us or between you and the Client with whom you are placed”. Moreover:
 
“The Client will be entitled to terminate an Assignment immediately without having to give any reason … TeachHigher or the Client may terminate any Assignment at any time without prior notice or liability”.
 
Warwick UCU and the hourly-paid working group wholeheartedly support improved fairness, transparency and consistency in the treatment of hourly-paid academics across departments. In fact, this has been one of the main demands of the Hourly-Paid Working Group since it was formed in 2013. Unfortunately, management have ignored a number of requests to meet with us, and have failed to respond to a letter sent over a year ago by UCU regional office to Mike Blair, Employee Relations Director. This contained 10 questions about hourly-paid Staff which the university ought to have been able to answer within a matter of days.
 
In criticising TeachHigher, we in no way wish to endorse the present VAM system. The rights it offers hourly-paid staff are meagre enough in theory, but we know from working with our hourly-paid members that often even these are denied in practice. We welcome management’s decision to provide more detailed job descriptions for hourly paid staff and to link their pay more explicitly to the National Framework Agreement. We would also welcome any steps taken to put an end to the illegal practice of paying different amounts for work of equal value. We would support improving hourly-paid staff’s access to CPD, though we want to be reassured that tutors will be paid for the time they spend on this.
 
We continue to insist that the best way to increase fairness, transparency and consistency is to place hourly-paid staff on fractional contracts, and give them the same pay, conditions and rights as those on open-ended contracts.
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