Durham academics rally against casual contracts

By Julia Atherley

A group called ‘Durham Casuals’ has been set up to raise awareness of unfair working conditions at Durham University.

The group aims to expose the issues surrounding hourly-paid tutors, nine-month contracts, and overburdening PhD students. 

Durham University prides itself on providing ‘research-led’ learning for undergraduates but the group claim that many casual staff are being forced to conduct research unpaid.

“We don’t think of our students as customers”

Palatinate spoke to a member of ‘Durham Casuals’ who has asked to remain anonymous. He is an hourly-paid tutor from the Arts and Humanities faculty who is eager to change the treatment of young academics in the university.

He told us the group was set up during the UCU strikes of last term as the collective action saw academics from across departments working together.

“The strikes were about much more than pensions,” he said. The group have stressed the importance of using the momentum of the strikes to provide real change for both staff and students.

The group has 95 members so far who are primarily from the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

They are looking to get in contact with more casual staff from across the University. A quarter of University staff are thought to be on casual contracts.

He told me that he and many of his colleagues struggle to provide high-level teaching alongside focusing on their research.

“We don’t think of our students as customers,” he said, and stressed the difficulty of wanting to provide the best teaching whilst also only being paid often £3-4 to mark a student’s essays.

Speaking to Palatinate, a member of staff from the Business school highlighted the lack of training given to casual staff and said, “They told us that the pro formas were more important since we didn’t have time to read the essays properly anyway.

“They essentially said that the grade didn’t really matter as long as the wording of the feedback matches the grade band.”

The group claim that many casual staff are being forced to conduct vital research underpaid

‘Durham Casuals’ aim is to work with the University to move towards better working conditions by talking honestly and openly about the experiences of staff.

Jon Bryan, Regional Support Official for the University and College Union (UCU), told Palatinate: “The uncertainty that comes with being ‘casual’ is often a great source of stress.

“We will be asking the University to tackle the issues being raised by the Durham Casuals. It cannot be right that 9-month contracts are being offered to staff when 12-month contracts would seem more appropriate and just.”

Photographs: ‘Durham Casuals’ Twitter and Damian Entwistle via Flickr

@julia_atherley

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