To all members of the Essex Community,
We are writing to ask you to show your support for your colleagues on temporary and insecure contracts at this very difficult time.
We understand you, too, are worried for your jobs. We understand the gravity of the University’s financial situation. We understand sacrifices will have to be made. And we support the University’s stated top priority: to protect jobs and avoid redundancies.
But read closely and it is very clear: the University defines its Community members as those on permanent, secure contracts, and it is only their jobs which are being protected. More than this: a key part of the strategy for protecting these jobs is for casualised staff to lose theirs.
Our Community’s most vulnerable members – those on insecure and temporary contracts (fixed term, hourly-paid, zero hours) – are already losing their jobs, right now, all across the university. Researchers and professional services colleagues on fixed-term contracts are being told their contracts will not be renewed. The Emergency Budget suggests there will be no money available for either fixed term teachers or GTAs/GLAs. Many would reasonably expect, under normal circumstances, that further employment at Essex would be available – and often an extension of the same job. But a job freeze means there are no positions available.
We must be clear about what this means. These measures will leave your most vulnerable colleagues without jobs at a time when there are no other jobs to apply for. We are talking about unemployment and all the hardships that come with it: universal credit, maybe even foodbanks. And for our PhD students, the situation is even worse. With no means to support themselves, many face the additional prospect of being forced to quit their studies. Hardship funds will not be enough. PhD students are already telling us this.
Of course, there will also be a huge impact on those who remain. Permanent academics will have enormous teaching and marking loads, with no time to research. Already-stretched professional service staff will be overwhelmed with work. There may be fewer students next year, but the demands of moving to blended learning are an enormous new challenge. And don’t forget, the virus will not simply disappear with the lockdown. Sickness levels will be much higher, at a time when expertise will have been lost and with fewer to share the load.
Make no mistake: the experience of Essex students will suffer as a result.
The University tells us there is no alternative. But we do not think the University has yet proven to its Community that all other options have even been explored. For example, the Emergency Budget tells us nothing about how we are discussing all available options with our current lenders. This is the strategy recommended by the Office for Students.
Meanwhile the possibility of a Solidarity Fund, created through a voluntary pay cut, pay deferral or cap on the salaries of the highest earners, has not even been raised by senior management. 72 members of our Community earn over £100K – some earn substantially more. Voluntary cuts or caps on these salaries are unlikely to leave anyone in serious financial hardship. And indeed, such a strategy is not only fairer: it could also be more financially effective, given the paltry salaries of many casualised staff. Ask your Faculty Accountant or Department Manager how much money cutting temporary, fixed term and GTA/GLA budgets will actually save.
We have all experienced how the Covid-19 pandemic has brought out the best in our Communities: residents supporting their vulnerable neighbours, groups organising to feed those going hungry; citizens everywhere showing their support and thanks for the key workers who keep us going. Now, in this moment of crisis, we are asking you to recognise us as valuable and valued members of the Essex Community, and to stand with us to demand the University does everything possible to protect the jobs of all its members.
In the VC’s words, we stand or fall together.
We know the stress everyone is under. If you can only do one thing for your colleagues on insecure and temporary contracts, please sign the petition here to show your support.
If you can, there are also many other ways to support us:
- Share this letter as widely as possible through the Essex Community, past and present. If you can, raise awareness amongst your colleagues about how this will affect those they work with.
- Email your concerns directly to senior management:
- Raise these issues with colleagues in your department and demand Heads of Department/Section raise them with senior management.
- Reach out to casualised colleagues who are affected by these policies. We might all feel isolated whilst working from home, but on the top of this many casualised staff feel abandoned by the University. Your support and your insistence that we are still valued and valuable members of this Community will mean a lot.
- We would love to hear from all members of our Community if you have any other ideas for ways we can work together to protect casualised staff at this time. Contact the Anti-Casualisation Working Group here: email@example.com
The Essex UCU Anti-Casualisation Working Group