Alarm bells ring for part-timer with a packed timetable

6th October 1995 at 01:00
Most teachers expect to return to work in September certain, at least, about the terms of their contract and knowing what their pay cheque will be at the end of the month. Knowledge of one's own pay and conditions must be fundamental to job security.

But for many part-timers in FE colleges this term, that basic security is being denied. Part-timers have been an essential component of FE colleges for as long as anyone can remember. Hourly-paid on term-time contracts, they have provided the flexibility needed by a sector with constantly-changing priorities.

All of this seemed set to change with management's realisation that, to conform to European Union regulations, part-time staff now had pension rights, redundancy rights and the rest.

Different colleges have responded to this in different ways. The last year has seen the setting up of an agency to avoid colleges having to take responsibility for their part-time staff. Other colleges, like my own, have opted to place their 'substantial' part-timers on new contracts which are a fraction of the full-time, leaving a much smaller number of hourly-paid lecturers for short courses and so on.

Sounds great? It certainly sounded great to me this time last year, when so-called fractional contracts first began to be talked about. I looked forward to the prospect of job security and recognition for the hours I, and all other part-timers, put in at meetings, in planning and all the other tasks for which full-timers were paid and recognised.

Alarm bells soon started to ring. How, for example, was it going to be possible to ensure that those on substantial fractional appointments (0.7 or 0.8) were not simply a cheap way of employing someone who was in reality full-time? How carefully would the hours worked be monitored, particularly since the fraction would be of hours taught over the course of the academic year and not of days or sessions in attendance?

The contact hours are of particular concern at a time when full-time contracts are under negotiation. Could it be that a 'part-timer' on a new fractional contract might be obliged to teach more hours than a full-timer? What the fractional part-timer gained in security could just as easily be counteracted by the loss of what was the hourly-paid part-timer's only true advantage the right to refuse work.

This can be crucial in a sector which has timetabled classes in the evenings, at weekends and in the holidays particularly for those part-timers who have other commitments, either work or domestic.

Over the long months that these negotiations have continued, we have all been assured by our unions and our management that the new fractional contracts will make the world of FE a better and more secure place for the part-timer.

In the end, it is the protraction and uncertainty that is most disturbing. Maybe all will be well, but how are we to know?

Until we do know, who can blame me for the suspicion that the delay is the result of management's attempt to turn the situation to their advantage by eroding part-timer's conditions still further.

I wonder if any professional can really be expected to return to work with no contract to tell them the size of their fraction, of how many hours or days they are expected to teach or of where on the pay scale they will be placed.

There are informal assurances, of course, but while many part-time lecturers are soon to be asked to apply for their own jobs, one wonders how much these assurances are worth.

My impression is that my experience is far from being unique and that many colleges are playing similar games with their staff.

Part-timers in FE have coped with insecurity for years, but at least the rules were understood by all.

It seems that management yet again hold all the aces it is high time they put their cards on the table.

This is a personal view from an FE lecturer who wishes to remain anonymous.

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