Staff on casual contracts in FE colleges must receive guarantees that they will not lose any money in the event of cancelled classes caused by the spread of coronavirus, the University and College Union (UCU) has said.
UCU research published in 2019 found that in 29 per cent of colleges, 50 per cent of teaching staff were on an insecure contract. The research also showed that 72 per cent of staff working on insecure contracts in further, adult and prison education said they struggled to subsist, and 56 per cent said they experienced problems paying bills.
Colleges are due to close their gates on Friday evening, and move all teaching online in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
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UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: "The health and wellbeing of staff and students must be the number one priority for all further education colleges. We are calling on colleges to close as many core functions as possible in the interests of staff and student safety, but we have also asked them for guarantees that staff – particularly those on insecure contracts – will not face any financial detriment due to cancellation of teaching activity linked to the coronavirus response."
Some colleges are already taking measures to ensure that their casual staff do not suffer financially as a result of the virus.
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Petroc College in Devon told Tes that it is paying casual staff for the hours they would have worked if the college was operating normally.
It is also paying them full sick pay if they are in self-isolation.
The college’s director of human resources and organisational development, Sheena Murphy-Collett, said: “At Petroc, we value all of our workforce and the contribution they make to the success of the college. We are supporting the workforce during this unprecedented situation we find ourselves in and our part-time hourly paid staff, often referred to as casual staff, are being treated fairly and appropriately. If they are in self-isolation, we are paying them sick pay. If they are fit for work, we are paying them for the hours they would have worked if the college was operating normally.
“We have extended the sick pay entitlement for colleagues who ordinarily would only receive SSP [Statutory Sick Pay] within their first six months of employment. We have also made provision for our staff who cannot work from home – for example our cleaning team – to undertake training, so they can work and receive their normal pay. We are keeping our staff team updated daily with this evolving situation and are supporting staff in every way we can.”
Unison’s head of education, Jon Richards, said: "Staff can't afford to go without pay and many were already struggling to make ends meet on insecure contracts.
"If they are unable to work, through no fault of their own, they have to be reassured they will be paid.
"Ministers must not only guarantee funding for colleges at this critical time; they need to reassure the staff who keep colleges running that they too will get financial support."