Welsh universities survive on zero hours and agency staff

UNISON today publishes a report which reveals the extent to which Welsh universities use zero hours contracts and are reliant on temporary agency workers.

The report lays bare the shocking truth about how these public institutions, which help drive the Welsh economy, treat their own workforce. The union has recently drawn attention to the super-rich lifestyles of vice chancellors and the universities are accused of pursuing double standards on terms of employment by rewarding only the highest earners. Just last week, it was revealed there are 210 executives at Welsh universities earning more than £100,000.

Aberystwyth University has more than 660 members of staff on zero hours contracts, which deprive workers of basic employment protections, regular guaranteed earnings and trap people in poverty. Glyndwr University has over 360 people on zero hours contracts and Swansea over 300.

Cardiff University spent an enormous £1.8m using agency staff in the last year and University of South Wales, £854,000. At the latter, agency spending increased by 263 per cent in twelve months. Agency spending at Swansea University increased by 133 per cent and at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David by over 1000 per cent. UNISON says the impression left is spending on agency staff is completely out of control.

The excessive remuneration of Welsh vice chancellors is in stark contrast to the squeezed wages of the lowest paid employees. As well as benefitting from salaries comfortably above £220,000, the pension contributions paid to vice chancellors in 2014-15, dwarf the earnings of university administrators, security and other support staff. At the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, the vice chancellor received a pension contribution of £36,000 in a single year. At Cardiff University, the vice chancellor’s pension rose by a staggering £39,000 in 2014-15. It would take a university cleaner at the same university, two and a half years to earn an equivalent amount.

University support staff have been offered a pay increase of 1.1 per cent this year after seven years of below inflation pay rises. Since 2009, UNISON estimates below inflation rises have cost HE members at least £1,600. Many more have lost thousands of pounds in real terms. With members loudly complaining that they have been left feeling like second class employees, the union is currently balloting for industrial action. It has urged universities to return to negotiations to agree a fair pay increase for all university staff.

Simon Dunn, UNISON Cymru/Wales lead organiser for Higher Education said,

“Our report illustrates the gulf in how different employees at Welsh universities are treated. The lifestyles of vice chancellors are unimaginably luxurious for the people who keep the universities running, supporting the lecturers, maintaining the buildings and looking after the students. Thousands of people in this crucial workforce suffer low wages and precarious employment. Many would love to earn the sums that top up the pension pots of the vice chancellors but the harsh reality is that it would take some of them years to do so. How dare universities behave in this way. This isn’t a sensible employment plan, it is exploitation. We are asking for fair pay for all university staff and for universities to return to the negotiating table.”