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Letter to the VC from a Fixed Term Member of Staff at Essex (27.5.2020)

A Letter to the VC from a Fixed Term Member of Staff at Essex (27.5.2020)

Dear all,

We have received the letter below from a fixed term member of staff at Essex. They wish to remain anonymous (for obvious reasons) and so we have forwarded it to the VC on their behalf. We are also sharing it publicly with you. We think they make many important and valid points and that they deserve a public response.

Please listen to the voices of casualised staff at Essex who need your active support right now. In these very worrying times, we all need to stand together.

Best wishes, The Essex UCU Anti-Casualisation Working Group

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Dear Anthony,

Your latest all-staff email, sent on 26th May 2020, is an insult.

It is an insult to the intelligence of your colleagues that you do not feel compelled to give us a proper explanation for the move to this more pessimistic outlook. You are asking for big sacrifices from permanent staff and are making hundreds of fixed term staff unemployed. We deserve to know why. Noting unspecified developments ‘chime’ with the UCU report does nothing to explain which specific, recent developments in recruitment at Essex have led to this shift.

More precisely, what has occurred in the last few weeks which legitimises a dramatic shift from Scenario A to Scenario C, when we still have several months to go before students will even arrive?

This, of course, is presuming we have moved to Scenario C. Nowhere in your correspondence or the FAQs is this actually stated outright. Do not insult us with delusions of candour. We have come to expect long and imprecise correspondence from Senior Management since the crisis began but your latest email was obfuscatory even by these standards. Are you too ashamed to admit it, or are you hoping we might not notice? The staff of the University of Essex are not fools. We are all thinking: what are they hiding?

But the hundreds of fixed term staff at Essex are not surprised. We are used to being insulted by University Senior Management. GTAs and GLAs – for whom the University morally has a duty of care – have been treated terribly and still you refuse to provide them with any certainty or security with regard to next year. But at the very least you are talking about them, even if you rarely feel compelled to talk or listen to them. By contrast, fixed term staff have been almost entirely absent from any university correspondence. The University has not even had the common decency to acknowledge that we exist.

Now we have finally received a position on fixed term staff. I was not surprised, though I remain insulted, that I had to click through the email to the FAQs to find it. In explaining why we must lose our jobs, you have resorted to a lecture on the definition of the phrase ‘fixed term’. In this, you insult fixed term staff like me who are obviously and painfully aware that their contract has an end date.

So perhaps it is you, and not us, who needs a lesson on the meaning of ‘fixed term.’ Perhaps you need a lesson on the damage caused by casualised contracts to individuals. It might help you to read the testimonies of fixed term staff here at Essex who are losing their jobs because of your decisions.

Perhaps you need a lesson on the existence and extent of casualisation at Essex? Our insecure and precarious labour is used systematically to plug the hole created by the marketized Higher Education model. To replace fixed term staff next year, you have already publicly discussed the need to cancel research leave. It is perfectly obvious that fixed term staff underpin an exploitative system which enables you to achieve ‘research metrics’ whilst we are stuck with enormous workloads which prevent us from publishing at great personal cost. For as you well know, without publications, we are condemned to further casualised contracts. Any lie that Essex has escaped this system and enacted a ‘systematic decasualisation of our workforce’ has been entirely exposed by the sheer number of staff the University is now throwing to the wolves.

Or maybe you need a lesson on what the failure to renew our contracts now will mean for us? In your lecture on the nature of the ‘fixed term’ contract, there is a total absence of any guilt, humility or – frankly – humanity that job losses now will mean long term unemployment and great hardship because there will be no other jobs to apply for. There is certainly no recognition that, by having directly benefited from our precarious labour, you may now have moral obligations to us. On the contrary, you exclude us from possible future work at Essex by limiting opportunities only to internal candidates. I have served this University well and did not deserve this treatment.

The final insult is seeing what emergency measures you are now willing to consider which were not discussed when only our precarious jobs were under threat. I want to see everyone paid what they are owed: but in dire financial circumstances, I am insulted that delaying increments on grades 7-11 was not even considered as a possible measure to protect my job. Apparently I was not even worth the sale of the seemingly unused Salary Brook Farm. And despite earnest assurances, I remain deeply sceptical that cuts to high earners could not yield more. After all, is a 20% cut to your own salary really all you could sacrifice? It seems to me that by keeping only 20% of your salary, you would be left with a much higher income than most colleagues. By keeping only 2%, you would be left with more than those of us you condemn to universal credit.

I demand that you publicly acknowledge and address fixed term staff at Essex. I demand to get a full and honest reason for why you are planning mass job losses. And I demand you reverse the decisions you have already made and do absolutely everything possible to protect our jobs.

Yours,

A fixed-term member of staff at Essex