Our stories

Here are some of the stories submitted to us about working conditions of staff at UAL (Feb 2020):

I work as an HPL doing lectures across different courses, mostly at LCF. Put all together, during term time, I’m making barely enough to cover rent and bills. I often have to put days of work into the planning and admin for lectures where I’m paid for a total of 2 hours of work. I am trying to get a salaried position so that more of this time is covered but I worry I’ll still be expected to do planning and marking outside of paid work hours, as this has been the experience of my colleagues who are on salaries.

I have worked for more than two decades at UAL on AL contracts. Last year, for the first time, I received a commitment before the summer recess to the hours I was to be allocated in the coming academic year; however, the summer was still an extremely difficult time. The fact of not being paid throughout the year and not being given information about my role until September means I am not able to plan around my teaching. This uncertainty has an extremely damaging psychological impact. I am a senior member of staff who has contributed hugely to UAL. UAL’s policy not to give longstanding ALs like myself the opportunity to convert to fractional status is unnecessarily damaging and discriminatory.

As an AL, I don’t feel like my contracting is done very fairly. Often I am not given much notice about when teaching is taking place, so if I am unable to move around my schedule, the teaching will go to someone else. It’s unpleasant to feel in competition with other ALs for jobs as it feels like practices of favouritism are pervasive.

Recently I had to query and send back my contract twice: one time as the contract contained fewer hours than those agreed with the course leader; the second time as the work had been assigned as a “VP” rather than “AL” role. I don’t think the course leader meant to make either of these mistakes, but it is tiresome to always have to double-check and query contracts, especially as this can be every few months. The difference in this case for not noticing these mistakes would have been hundreds of pounds.

I have been teaching at UAL for three years on various contracts – temporary but salaried, AL and VP. I have had mixed experiences but at one point found that I and two others in my team (of approximately 10 HPLS) were being paid on VP contracts (equivalent to grade 4) while colleagues who had worked at the institution for longer were being paid as ALs (equivalent to grade 5). Ultimately, rather than upgrading our contracts to the AL rate, the whole team’s contracts were re-graded to VP, under pressure from the central management. This resulted in a year-long battle with support from our union but ultimately we lost. For some staff members who had over 100 hours a year, this amounted to a very large pay decrease. This led to well-respected colleagues leaving our team – after having worked for the university in some cases for over 10 years. It was a very upsetting experience, and completely changed how we as HPLs saw our relationship to the salaried staff in the department. As well as creating a feeling of not being respected for our work, it has also become untenable for many of us to take up work with the department. The VP rate does not sufficiently account for planning time, and taking on workshops, seminars and lectures while paid at that rate has meant many days of work that I have not been paid for.

I’ve worked for UAL for more than 20 years most of which have been on HPL contracts. Just one example of my experience is running a second year option / course unit. I taught the unit for two hours per week for 10 weeks, I set up the unit option on Moodle with all the resources, timetable and assessment briefs and carried out the assessment/ marking .. all for a total of 25 hours pay. I enjoyed the teaching and students achieved good marks. The following year this option was not offered again. I decided a while back not to do any work for UAL for too little pay ever again. Unfortunately this decision has meant not accepting work in that particular department.

I have been an AL for 4 years at UAL, across a few different courses and colleges. At first it was just for specific units, and then I was asked to do one “day” a week regularly through academic year. This actually means contracted 4hrs per day, from 10–3, with an unpaid lunch break. At the first meeting with line manager planning the schedule it turned out that another AL member of staff had moved course, so this was upped, pretty much on the spot, to two days per week – which according to their equation is 8 hours teaching, 10 hours prep time – I had to drop other self employed work to be able to do it. I mostly feel part of the team and a valued member of staff. However all regular ALs on my course are essentially treated the same as a permanent fractional member of staff – for example I have planned and delivered entire units as an AL – but with only line manager goodwill and assurances as job security. There is the idea that the pay is higher in relative terms for HPL workers to account for their insecurity, that you don’t have to take work home but you also don’t know if you’ll be asked back (not that this will ever be articulated, just stewing in your mind constantly). No one explains to you how the university works, how much you should be preparing, why you are at a certain spine point and when that might change, where your post might have been delivered, how to set up an email, who to speak to if you don’t get paid. ALL of it ends up being anecdotal, something you have to seek out and sort. One’s experience as an AL or VP may be totally different depending on how much time your line manager is willing to give to inducting you into these processes and answering your questions (if they even know themselves, as when they began it was assumed they automatically knew how to do their job). If you want space to develop your teaching practice, then you’ll be writing projects and planning workshops, inviting speakers. But should any of this be performed by an AL? No one knows where the line is. Course and year leaders are terminally overworked, as far as I understand, fractional contracts state that you should, if working as a 0.5, say do a ‘reasonable’ number of hours on those days, 7hrs a day is only a guideline. Obviously work needs to be delegated to ‘course teams’, but this system is so open to personal interpretation – there are lots of self-preservational ALs who have learned to leave on time, to not do to much, and others who can’t feel as comfortable, or feel more pressure to overperform and overdeliver, or else feel as though they are ‘shirking’ their ‘duties’, which obviously maps directly onto issues of priviledge, and the intersections of gender, race and class prejudices.

I have been working at LCC (UAL) for 6 years on zero hours contracts. Hours are arranged between 4 and 2 weeks before the start of the classes. Every summer I have received the letter of doom that tells me that I am no longer needed, which always brings me to the edge of sanity given that I am not sure if this is going to be 100% certain, if my hours will be reduced drastically or if they will call me three weeks before the course starts and ask me to do this or that and I have to arrange my life around that, whatever it is. I feel at complete mercy of the employer, this is my only source of employment and I have to shape my whole life around it in a very precarious way. Anecdotally, I had the experience of being locked out of my email during the summer, and funnily enough I was receiving emails from students because they expect me to be there for them. There is no reciprocity from the employer. These are not short-term contracts that allow for flexible working conditions. They are as noxious as cancer for workers and for education.

To leave your testimony as a precarious worker at UAL and/or join the mailing list please go here.

Please note the following acronyms: HPL = Hourly Paid Lecturer; AL = Associate Lecturer; VP = Visiting Practitioner.

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