Zero hours Edinburgh Napier University post criticised

A digital clock showing all zeroes The UCU has been campaigning against the use of zero-hour contracts in the sector and has raised the issue with Edinburgh Napier University

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An Edinburgh university risks "damaging the reputation of higher education" by advertising for a zero-hours contract lecturer, a union has claimed.

The University and College Union (UCU) has complained to Edinburgh Napier University about its post.

The role in child and public protection for the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Care is currently being advertised on the university's website.

It wants staff to have a "flexible, resourceful and innovative" approach.

The university also wants someone who has "excellent interpersonal skills" and the "ability to display sensitivity and to support students and colleagues in an area of study that can be emotionally demanding".

The UCU has been campaigning against the use of zero-hour contracts in the sector and has raised the issue with Edinburgh Napier University principal and vice-chancellor Professor Andrea Nolan.

'An embarrassment'

UCU Scotland official Mary Senior said recruiting lecturers on the controversial contracts was "an embarrassment".

"Employing lecturers on zero-hours contracts is not conducive to a professional, well-supported and valued workforce," she said.

"Students want staff who are not only on campus when the university can offer them some hourly work.

"The continued use and promotion of zero-hours jobs in the sector is an embarrassment and is damaging the reputation of higher education in Scotland."

The union has given evidence against the use of the contracts to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee at Westminster.

Zero-hours contracts are not defined in law but have come to refer to employment contracts that do not guarantee work.

While they can give flexibility to both parties, they can result in workers lacking guaranteed income and having reduced access to entitlements such as maternity, holiday and sick pay and redundancy rights, a report from the committee earlier this year found.

'Campaigning'

Ian Davidson MP, committee chairman, said at the time that the "overwhelming majority of zero-hours contracts are abusive and exploitative and should be abolished".

Ms Senior has written to the university principal stating that the "UCU has been campaigning for some time against the casualisation of the workforce across the university sector".

The union official said: "We do not believe that employing individuals on zero-hours contracts is conducive to a professional, well-supported and valued workforce, nor does it promote a positive student experience.

"UCU is pleased to be working with a number of employers in the sector in Scotland to move away from the use of zero-hours and hours to be notified contracts.

"I would urge Edinburgh Napier University to engage with its trade unions on this matter and to end the use and promotion of such contracts at the institution."

An Edinburgh Napier University spokesperson said: "Edinburgh Napier University uses zero-hours contracts on a limited basis for around 3.5% of the academic effort of the university.

"We do fully appreciate the limitations of these contracts and are currently seeking to reduce our usage of these type of contracts.

'Not exclusive'

"These staff are employed by the university to complete flexible and specialist short-term or unexpected academic requirements, when certain business needs arise.

"Our zero hour contracts are not exclusive and these staff often have similar arrangements with other organisations.

"Our zero hour staff are employed on the same terms and conditions as all other academic staff.

"The flexibility of the arrangement is therefore key to both the individual and the university."

The EIS union, which says it is the "sole recognised trade union for lecturers at Napier, noted that the university "is advertising these contracts in a transparent manner which is different to the secretive way in which some other universities operate".

"The EIS, as the sole recognised trade union for lecturers in Edinburgh Napier University, has already engaged the university on its use of zero hours contracts," it added.

"The EIS has previously expressed our strong concern to Edinburgh Napier University regarding using zero hours contract staff, and have clearly stated our view to the University that it should cease to use such contracts.

"The university and the EIS have agreed to work on this matter in future meetings."

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