The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL): Zero-Hours Contracts a 100% Betrayal

By Legal Eagle – article published July 18 2012 

Image © toryjk

If you’re currently seeking work at the moment you may have encountered `zero-hour contracts`,  accepting such a post means you will be employed on an hourly rate, your working hours set by your employer while remaining vague, intermittent and unspecified to the employee. Such contracts are a form of casual labour, no contract of employment usually exists, if you work under such an arrangement it is devoid of either implied or expressly stated terms. As the CAB points out, such contracts are common for shop workers but it should be added that they are increasingly prevalent as employers take advantage of the economic downturn recruiting desperate job seekers on reduced terms and conditions.

The TUC is rightly concerned about `zero-hour contracts` considering people employed this way to be `vulnerable workers`, as operating without a contract de facto makes an employee susceptible to exploitation.

 Such concerns are eloquently outlined in a TUC publication (highlighting the increase of zero contracts in the teaching profession), `Enforcing Minimum Workplace Rights`:

 …many workers are now vulnerable through their contractual status. Significant changes have occurred in education – short term and zero hour contracts, teaching agencies and unqualified teacher cover. It’s a minefield! If you look at education union websites you will see that there are many ongoing campaigns to try and resolve some of these issues.

Anyone who has worked in education will be familiar with casual employment, especially in Further Education (FE) due to changes in the sector from the mid 1990s onwards. During this time responsibility for FE provision was taken out of Local Education Authority control and FE became privatised and pseudo market conditions introduced. Lecturers previously engaged under excellent terms were replaced by staff employed often on `zero-hours contracts`.

As the Citizens Advice Bureau point out, “some employers call their workers casual workers in order to avoid having to give them what they are entitled to under employment law.” And it is self evidently the case that a contract of employment offers legal protection it is also a basic human right. To be employed on a casual basis without a contract means that the worker has no protection from unfair dismissal (participating in industrial action is denied) indeed they can and are dismissed at any time, other issues such as an entitlement to a paid lunch break are ignored as is remunerated sick leave which is also denied.

Thankfully, in the UK we have many TUC affiliated trade unions which endeavour to stand up for the rights of workers, including of course newly qualified teachers. This is especially important given the current economic climate in the UK and we should remember that workers rights were valiantly established through many years of struggle. They should not be discarded easily.

For example in the area of education there are some very powerful trade unions; the NUT, the NASWT, the NAHT and the ASCL. The UCU alone represents 300,000 members, drawn from Further Education and University institutions.  However, it is the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) a union representing 32,000 members whose General Secretary is Dr Mary Bousted that I would like to concentrate on. Sadly, it seems trade unions in the UK have not only failed to halt the implementation of `zero-hours contracts` for newly qualified teachers but instead appear to be employing the practice of `zero-hours contracts` in their own recruitment process.

 The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is currently (July 2012) searching for `Recruitment Assistants` the posts available to view at the TUC vacancies site, and outlined the role as, “working alongside our professional organising team to promote the benefits of belonging to ATL, the Education Union and make a persuasive case for joining our growing membership.”

 The successful applicant will be involved in the recruitment of newly qualified teachers but those successful in applying for the posts are informed that they “will be engaged on a zero-hours contract engaged as a casual worker”. In case there is any ambiguity regarding these posts ATL point out:  “It is therefore not an employment contract and will not confer any employment rights on you (other than those to which workers are entitled).” This reduces the status of the ATL recruitment team to that of the most lowly treated agency worker currently employed in the UK.

 The successful applicant is further informed that they will be entitled to, “an unpaid lunch break of one hour where your assignment requires you to work more than six hours in any one day.” The ATL also recognise that you may get sick while working for them pointing out, “you will not be entitled to receive any pay in respect of any period of sickness or injury during an assignment”. One wonders if the ATL endorses such an approach to the welfare of its members while employed in the education system.

Lest we forget this is a job with a trade union and one that is affiliated to the TUC and the role advertised will encompass advocating for the rights of others in the work place, rights ironically denied to the advocate. It should of course be pointed out that the ATL supports, “flexible working, pursues an equal opportunities policy and encourages a diverse workforce.”

According to the TUC the right to equal treatment  should be available to a “part-time worker you have the right not to be treated less favourably than your full-time colleagues on all terms and conditions of employment”. Such an extension of rights argues the TUC should extend to sick leave. Perhaps the General Secretary of ATL should take a look at this TUC document and equate it with the currently advertised posts.

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