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Open University introduces permanent contracts for thousands of workers

Union hails ‘biggest decasualisation win in the history of Britain’s higher education sector’

by Our Industrial Reporter @TrinderMatt

EDUCATION unions hailed the “biggest decasualisation win in the history of Britain’s higher education sector” today after the Open University introduced permanent contracts for thousands of workers.

About 4,800 associate lecturers previously working on a casual basis — which meant lower wages and uncertainty — will now receive the same benefits as those enjoyed by their permanently employed colleagues, the University & College Union (UCU) said. 

These include enhanced job security, up to 15 per cent higher wages, extra annual leave and staff development allowances, the union said. 

The introduction of the new contracts, which began on Monday, followed extensive negotiations between the university and the UCU.

The union is now calling on other universities to follow suit and end the scourge of casualisation.

More than 70,000 staff in the sector are on fixed-term contracts, it warned.

General secretary Jo Grady said: “The new contract is life-changing for the associate lecturers, who have been moved onto secure contracts that mean they no longer have to constantly reapply for their jobs.

“UCU is immensely proud of reaching this agreement with the Open University after many years of hard work, and while we recognise there is still more to do, we are celebrating this huge step forward in ending casualisation.”

Ms Grady vowed to “continue working on behalf of our members in order to try and reach similar agreements with other universities.”

Professor Josie Fraser, deputy vice-chancellor at the Open University, said: “I began my career as an associate lecturer, so I know how hard our tutors work to provide an outstanding education for our students.

“We deeply value their contribution and the difference they make to people’s lives.

“Their new contracts demonstrate our commitment to providing them with the professional terms, conditions and working arrangements they deserve.”

The higher education sector has been hit by national strike action in recent months as lecturers and support staff have sought an end to insecure work, a decline in real-terms pay and cuts to pensions. 

A ballot for further strike action is to be held later this summer, the UCU confirmed last month, with up to 80,000 members at 149 universities potentially withdrawing their labour in November. 

More ballots could be held next spring, the union has warned. 

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