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UK: Victory for hourly paid lecturer

A settlement in an employment tribunal case may have implications for the pay and conditions of millions of part-time workers in education in the UK.

University lecturer Susan Birch - who was employed on a part-time basis but taught more hours than her full-time colleagues for less pay - has been awarded a record £25,000 compensation and is being transferred to a full-time permanent contract. The settlement is a breakthrough in efforts to win fair treatment for the 30,000 hourly paid lecturers in new universities - and successfully concludes a three year case by EI affiliate NATFHE. An earlier judgment on the legal principles of the case clearly set out the need to change the structure of the employment relationships between universities and hourly paid lecturers. Ms Birch has worked as a lecturer in the teaching of English as a foreign language and as a teacher trainer. For several years she taught more hours than colleagues who were employed on full-time contracts doing broadly similar work, yet earned as much as £10,000 a year less. She was denied career development opportunities and had to work excessively long hours to earn sufficient income. Susan Birch said that her employers and colleagues were sympathetic to her plight but that the university simply could not afford fractional contracts. ‘I simply could not accept such a patently unfair situation. Litigation is not for the faint-hearted or those acting alone, but I had the support of my union NATFHE, for which I am immensely grateful. I hope this result will help the thousands of part-time staff in education who suffer similar discrimination. Now I just want to get on with my life and my career.’ Ms Birch is the first hourly paid UK teaching professional to successfully use the Part Time Workers (Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 to challenge an employer on the difference in treatment between part-time hourly paid and full time staff. NATFHE general secretary Paul Mackney said: ‘The case establishes that part-time lecturers are entitled to equal, pro-rata pay rates to full-time colleagues. This will bring confidence and hope to thousands of badly paid lecturers in further and higher education. Over 40% of university teaching staff are on hourly-paid contracts. Many experience poverty pay, job insecurity, and poor working conditions – often not even having a desk. The FE sector also depends heavily on a vast army of hourly-paid, part-time staff, many on exploitative contracts. ‘We want to see part-time staff employed on fractional contracts with equivalent rates of pay and conditions to full-time colleagues. This victory is one more step towards achieving that.’