Reporter 420, 11 May 1998

Lecturers vote on contracts dispute

Members of the Association of University Teachers (AUT) at the University are currently voting on whether they are willing to take industrial action over the non-renewal of two lecturers’ fixed-term contracts.

The dispute follows a decision in February not to renew three staff contracts when they expire at the end of July. One of the three lecturers concerned has since been offered a further fixed-term contract in a related area of work, part-funded by contract-income.

The University’s view is that it was made clear from the start that the contracts were not permanent and might not be renewed. Teaching currently undertaken by the lecturers in question will be covered by two permanent research fellows who are taking up teaching duties, by three members of staff who are returning from research leave, and by another lecturer who has returned from a secondment.

In a letter to academic and related staff, Professor Joyce Hill, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Staff, said: “The University is determined to develop the best employment practices in relation to fixed-term contract staff and to keep the numbers of fixed-term contract staff to a minimum. Leeds was one of the first universities in the country to abolish waivers in contracts and a major review is now under way with the aim of converting fixed-term posts into permanent ones wherever possible.”

In the meantime, Professor Hill said it would be “unfair and iniquitous” to treat Philosophy staff differently from fixed-term contract staff in other parts of the University.

However, the AUT is treating the issue as one of redundancy, and a sign of ‘creeping casualisation’. David Salinger, Vice-President of Leeds AUT, said: “Fixed-term staff feel vulnerable, indeed are vulnerable, and cannot work as effectively as if their jobs were not under threat, or with the same academic freedom as permanent staff.”

AUT members are voting on whether they support a one-day strike and action short of a strike, such as a ‘work to rule’. The ballot closes on May 20.

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