Unions push for right to a job

THE Fixed-Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 may not be tripping off the lips of managers and lecturers. But these new EU rules, which come into force on October 1, are set to cause headaches in every college in the land.

The regulations affect all employers, but those with large armies of part-time staff on fixed contracts will have to reduce the numbers involved or dispense with them altogether. There will be a limit of four years on continuous use of such contracts without good reason.

This will affect colleges in particular where a recent workforce survey found an astonishing 50 per cent of lecturers were on temporary part-time contracts. No more than 13 per cent of non-teaching staff are on similar terms.

Now the main union, worried that individual colleges will simply pick staff off in the absence of national bargaining and offer permanent contracts only to some, is to press for the same deal the unions have recently agreed with higher education institutions.

Marian Healy, further and higher education officer of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said the union would be pressing employers to recommend the deal to individual colleges in a joint approach with the union. If not, the EIS will issue it to college branches.

The UK bargaining forum which exists for HE, the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff (JNCHES), has drawn up guidance to help HE institutions comply with the regulations and "reduce substantially the number of fixed-term contracts".

HE employers have agreed with the unions, on a UK basis, that institutions should limit their use of fixed-term and casual posts.

The agreement aims "to encourage HE institutions to employ staff on indefinite contracts as the normal form of employment and to use fixed-term and casual contracts only where there are transparent, necessary and objective reasons".

Exceptions could be where short-term expertise is required, to cover for absences, to provide a secondment, where student or business demand for a course is particularly uncertain or if temporary funding is not likely to be renewed.

Ms Healy called on colleges to take a similar approach. "Casualisation has not produced major savings for colleges. They still have to adhere to legislation on working time and so on. These new regulations from the EU represent a genuine piece of equal opportunities which colleges must implement. They have been avoiding their responsibilities towards equal opportunities for a number of years now."

The EIS has lost no time in underlining differences between the sectors. Ms Healy said: "This is a classic case which illustrates the real necessity of having some kind of national FE forum involving all the stakeholders that could look at the implications of legislation if nothing else. There are other examples such as legislation on race relations and disability which have huge implications for the colleges."

Tom Kelly of the Association of Scottish Colleges said he was happy to consider the EIS approach and the issue would be on the agenda for the association's next meeting with the STUC. The main concern in colleges, however, was job insecurity for everybody as funding and course demands change.

Colleges would always need specialist staff whose work would never amount to a full timetable, he said.

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