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Sally Hunt: Casualisation of contracts - an equality issue

Wednesday 30 July 2014

In our blog series on atypical contracts in the changing world of work, Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the University and College Union, talks about the casualisation of contracts.


Sally Hunt, General Secretary, University and College Union

Sally is the General Secretary of the University and College Union (UCU). Sally was elected as the first General Secretary of UCU in 2007, and is a member of the TUC general council.  

Sally Hunt

There are many types of casualised contracts, but what unites them all is the lack of security for the people working on them. This is an industrial issue and an equality issue which impacts upon the everyday lives and wellbeing of staff.

The key disadvantage is that individuals on zero-hours contracts are 'workers' not employees and so not covered by employment law relating to redundancy pay, minimum notice periods, unfair dismissal etc.

We must ask the question: can they carry out their jobs properly with no job security or ability to plan for the future?

To answer this, UCU undertook a survey of post-16 education looking at zero-hours and other casual contracts in further education (FE) and higher education (HE) in 2013. We sent FOI requests to 162 HE Institutes and 275 FE colleges across the UK.

Of the institutions that responded:

  • 61% of further education colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had teaching staff on zero hour contracts
  • 53% of UK universities had staff on zero hour contracts.

Amongst university researchers, two-thirds of staff were on temporary contracts. Despite the large number of colleges and universities using zero hour contracts, only a handful of institutions have formal policies about them.

Turning to the different sectors, we found that:

  • In HE zero hour contracts were far more prevalent for university staff involved in teaching than in research. Almost half of employers had more than 200 staff on zero hour contracts. Five institutions had more than 1,000 people on zero hour contracts, and just one in four said all their staff on zero hour contracts currently had work
  • In FE we found that 60.5% colleges said they do use zero hour contracts and just one in four said all their staff on zero hour contracts currently had work.

The experience of workers on zero hour contracts:

  • No guaranteed level of regular earnings
  • Regular patterns of work can be reduced to zero at a moment's notice, with no right to redeployment or redundancy pay
  • Less access to training, development and support.

The wider implications of this can involve irregular and erratic periods of work, which make it difficult to understand and to claim benefits and entitlements. In education, teaching staff know that they will be without income throughout the holiday periods, without knowing when or if they will be allocated work in the new academic year. Finally, casual contracts have shown themselves to be more open to abuse than regular permanent contracts.

There are also drawbacks for employers:

  • In education there is often no guaranteed staff for whole areas of the institution's service provision
  • The use of casual contracts will affect the employers ability to attract and retain high quality staff
  • Potential reduction in continuity and quality of services provided
  • The exclusion of such staff from robust recruitment / induction / training / CPD / appraisals has the potential to affect the quality of service provision.

It is difficult to avoid the view that casual and zero hours contracts are exploitative and the flexibility that employers often hide behind is a one way street. Zero hours contracts are not compatible with developing a professional workforce, which is able to deliver quality services.

We support more attention to the TUC's call for greater regulation of contracts, greater certainty on hours and a much shorter period before a more permanent contract is given. The time has come for workers to be fairly paid and properly treated and a move away from exploitative contracts would benefit both employers and workers.

Read more blogs from the zero hours contracts series

Gill Dix: Zero Hours Contracts - Acas hosts the debate

Ian Brinkley: Developing new policy toward future of zero hours contracts

Colin Angel: Use of zero hours contracts in the homecare sector


  • Posted by Miss W  |  6 March 2015, 5:56PM

    Thank you. Someone is listening. Direct payments is also another area that needs looking into. Its casual contracts and its not regulated. 

    Much appreciated DP worker

  • Posted by Mrs D  |  6 March 2015, 5:26PM

    Write to Acas, they will advise. Alternativey you need a union/rep to challenge this. Im on DP and my contract is casual but i get regular hours.  Surely they cant treat us like this! There are no services to support PA/S, the DP providers for eg support/payroll services will only support the employer! Yet when anything goes wrong its the employers(cared for person)  or relative that will be subject to any disputes. The employers (the people who sign the agreement to employ you are usually unaware how you feel. They are too innocent.  the  No one tells us anything about our rights or responsibilites. <span style="line-height:1.6em">I agree with H<span style="line-height:1.6em">idden misused workforce.

    <span style="line-height:1.6em">Any support would be appreciated.


  • Posted by Mr F  |  6 March 2015, 5:12PM

    Thank you for the important information. Direct Payments is another area that is being misused. Those of us on casual contracts have providers taking advantage of the employment law, or lack of. I was told half of my contract was contracted (a few hours a week) and few weeks a year casual as a respite worker! yet they made a mistake with my holidays (what little i had accured) and decided they were going to take them off me via my contracted hours! The employers who have no idea how the legislation works are the ones who will be taking to a tribunal. Thats if a casual worker can afford to do it!! The Hidden misused workforce.   


  • Posted by Jess Litten, Acas  |  30 July 2014, 5:01PM

    Thank you for submitting this interesting blog, Sally. It was great to hear you speak on this challenging topic on 22nd July. I am sure that readers will want to contribute to this discussion to continue the debate.

    Also to note, we have also published blogs by Gill Dix, Head of Strategy at Acas, Ian Brinkley, Chief Economist at the Work Foundation and Colin Angel, Policy Director at the UK Homecare Association. Also, Acas published initial research on evidence gathered about zero hours contracts on our discussion paper page in May.