Petition: Six demands for fair teaching conditions at Warwick

Sign our petition here

Six demands for fair teaching conditions at Warwick

Hourly-paid teachers play a crucial role at the University of Warwick. They teach seminars, tutorials and labs; mark essays, tests and exams; give advice and feedback; and perform a whole host of administrative tasks. As the University increasingly promotes the high quality of its teaching and the high level of student satisfaction, hourly-paid teachers are becoming more and more central to its business model. Yet, despite carrying out the same duties as salaried members of staff, they remain in a much more precarious position.

A Guardian investigation reported that 68.1% of academics at Warwick work on precarious contracts. A survey of hourly-paid teachers carried out in March 2016 suggested that 24% of hourly-paid teachers at Warwick effectively earn less than the Government’s National Living Wage (£7.20 per hour). The University has set up a pilot scheme to reassess the terms and conditions of sessional teaching, the Sessional Teaching Payroll (STP), but this solution remains deeply unsatisfactory. The STP is a top-down and non-transparent process, in which hourly-paid teachers have little input and which continues to greatly underestimate the time requirements for teaching-related tasks.

In contrast, we are circulating this petition in an effort to achieve truly fair conditions for teachers at Warwick. The recent gains won by hourly-paid teachers at the University of Essex show that another model for teaching is possible. Teachers at Warwick deserve pay and contracts that properly reflect their work, their skills and their overall importance for the functioning of the University. This would not only improve the working conditions of teachers, but also the learning conditions of students.

We the undersigned demand that:

1) Hourly-paid teachers must be made employees of the University. Currently, hourly-paid teachers hold the inferior legal status of ‘workers’ but not of ‘employees’. This deprives them, unjustifiably, of the standard employment rights enjoyed by salaried members of staff.

2) Hourly-paid teachers must be paid for every hour worked. Assigned time allowances do not reflect the reality of teaching. As a result, teachers have to  work many unpaid hours.

3) Hourly-paid teachers must be paid at consistent and fair rates. Some departments pay different rates for different tasks within the same job, despite them being interconnected and requiring the same skill level. To recognise the level of skill involved in the teaching delivered, we demand a pay rate of at least FA5 for all tasks.

4) There must be pay harmony across departments. At the moment pay rates vary across departments; we demand equal pay for equal work across departments.

5) Compulsory teaching as a condition for scholarships must be abolished. Teaching bursaries are exploitative because they basically require PhD students to work for free. Not only do these arrangements make it hard for postgraduate researchers to meet their actual living costs, but they are also not conducive to the long-term quality of teaching.

6) Hourly-paid teachers should be paid for the hours they spend undertaking teaching-related training. This should include all hours needed to achieve affiliate Higher Education Academy (HEA) status.

About our demands

1. We demand employee status for hourly-paid teachers equal to that of salaried members of staff on the same grade.        

The current contractual status of hourly-paid teachers is vague at best. The results of the teaching diaries survey showed that 24% of respondents did not even have a written contract outlining the most basic terms and conditions of their job. Moreover, those who do have contracts are ambiguously classified as ‘workers’ by the university, but not ‘employees’. This technical distinction is no small detail; it entails the deprivation of a number of legal rights that come attached to employment status.

At the moment, ‘workers’ do not have employment security and protection against unfair dismissal. They are also not entitled to the same social security rights as employees, such as enhanced sick pay, more annual leave, and incremental progression. It is unclear whether the trade union for academic staff, the UCU, is entitled to negotiate on the behalf of hourly-paid teachers or not, and whether hourly-paid teachers can join industrial action on the same terms as other staff. Moreover, the teachers’ conditions are at the discretion of the University, rather than in line with those set in national collective bargaining agreements.

Therefore, we demand that hourly-paid teachers be given contracts that grant them employment status. Given the centrality of their work to the functioning of the university, there is no good reason why teachers should not be legally acknowledged as employees. In the University of Essex Graduate Teaching Assistants are considered employees and full members of staff. Yet, it appears as if the University of Warwick would rather go to great administrative lengths than to award a similar status to its teachers. The result is the STP, a highly inefficient and unworkable bureaucracy of hourly-pay claims that could be simply avoided by granting teachers employee status.

Moreover, during the transition period in which the legal status of hourly-paid teachers is transformed into that of employees, we demand more transparency and disclosure about the current numbers of hourly-paid teachers; their duties; pay rates; and contractual status across departments. This will allow us to better assess the current state of affairs and to inform all affected teachers of their situation.

2. We want hourly-paid teachers to be paid for every hour worked.

Existing frameworks of remuneration, both the old VAM payroll model and the new STP system, only cover a part of the duties required of hourly-paid teachers. Even though STP was supposed to address this issue, its current frameworks assign unrealistic working hours that do not reflect the actual time teachers require to deliver appropriate and quality support to their students. The hours allocated to administrative tasks (marking attendance, replying to emails, administrative meetings) and preparation (which sometimes include attending lectures) are vaguely stipulated in STP contracts. In practice, this means that teachers are forced to decide whether to work unpaid overtime hours, or to sacrifice time that they would otherwise assign to preparation and feedback tasks. Our teaching diaries survey showed that respondents from STP departments spend an average of 1.5 unpaid hours every week emailing students and performing administrative tasks. The STP framework is also deficient in rewarding marking tasks: currently designated hours do not allow for thorough, appropriate and meaningful feedback.

For these reasons, we demand a framework of remuneration that specifies and incorporates all the duties and tasks required in teaching at Warwick, including: contact time, preparation, marking, replying to emails, advice & feedback hours, attending lectures, revision classes, and attending meetings. Noting the results of the teaching diaries survey, we also demand that such framework be based on a realistic estimate of the hours required to perform these duties, so that teachers are not forced to work for free to deliver high quality teaching.

 3. We want hourly-paid teachers to be paid at consistent and fair rates.

Under the current framework, different tasks within the same job can be paid at different rates. For example, in the Faculty of Science a teacher can be paid at FA5 rates for contact hours and FA4 for preparation and marking in the same module.  This implies that these tasks are somehow unrelated or that they require skills of different importance. Although sometimes different in nature, we believe that all the skills involved in teaching are commensurate and reflective  of the academic level of the teacher involved.

Hence, we demand a framework that harmonizes pay rates across different tasks and that ensures such rates not to be lower than the top spinal points of FA5 (which is still below the median wage of a UK higher education graduate).

4. We want pay harmony across departments.

Teaching tasks are also paid unevenly across departments. In this scheme, pay rates of hourly-paid teachers rely on intra-departmental decisions rather than university-wide frameworks. This results in wide discrepancies in pay across the university, as well as unjust reductions in compensation (e.g. teachers in the social sciences have suffered an arbitrary decrease of 6% in pay from last year). Discrepancies are most visible when contrasting the Social Science and Arts faculties with the Science faculty. Teachers in Science departments receive up to 26% less pay per task than their counterparts in Social Science. In addition to this, a deep discrepancy in pay rates exists between the Science departments themselves. This state of affairs is only possible because each department is allowed to arbitrarily reduce their internal pay rates. Not only is this deeply unfair for teachers, but also deeply dishonest to students, to whom quality education is owed. We demand university-wide pay harmony — equal pay for equal work across departments.

5. We demand an end to compulsory teaching as a condition for scholarships.

A number of departments currently employ seminar tutors on teaching bursaries. This means that, as a condition of their scholarship agreement, departments require PhD students to teach or to perform other academic duties without getting paid. This often results in as much as 110 hours of unpaid work. Teachers in these extremely exploitative circumstances find it hard to meet their living costs and accomplish their doctorate studies without inflicting a great toll on their work or well-being. Scholarships should support living costs during a study period, not bind graduate students to vast amounts of unpaid work.

More broadly, the use of teaching bursaries creates two tiers of teachers within a department. It leads to the preferential selection of students with teaching bursaries over those without as they are considered free labour. This occurs even when it is not in the interests of the students being taught nor those teaching. Conversely, those without the bursaries have their opportunities to teach artificially limited. This is not conducive to sustainable and high quality teaching and does not contribute to a healthy teaching and learning environment.

6. We demand that the training and support required to achieve Higher Education Academy certificates should be paid.

At present, hourly-paid teachers are expected to perform the great majority of their training hours for free. All training necessary to perform teaching in higher education should be paid in recognition of its necessary contribution to the job. This should include payment for all hours needed to achieve Affiliate Higher Education Academy (HEA) status, and then continued professional development beyond. The benefits of a proper commitment to training will be felt by the teachers, students and the institution.