Staff work 2 days overtime every week, UCU claims

The University and College Union says its survey of members demonstrates that universities are responsible for “grotesque levels of exploitation”

The University and College Union claims that staff in the UK higher education sector are working the equivalent of two days of unpaid work every week.

Based on the responses of 7,774 staff, ranging from professors to research assistants, the union says the results imply staff in universities are working on average 50.4 hours per week. These figures – the union argues – show no improvement since 2016, the last time UCU compiled the statistics.

Those employees at the lowest grades and salaries reported working the most overtime, equivalent to four days a week. Graduate teaching assistants say they work the equivalent of a 62.8-hour week – rising to 66.8 hours for those on term-time-only contracts.

The working time regulations stipulate a maximum 48-hour working week, meaning this overtime would exceed the limits of the Health and Safety Executive rules.

Nearly nine in 10 respondents said their workload has increased in the past three years. According to the UCU survey, “general and departmental administrative work” has increased the most, nearly doubling in three years. The move to hybrid working has also created “much” more work, the union contests. Increasing student numbers and new and additional duties were also among the most frequently cited reasons for growing workloads.

UCU surveyed its members in November and December 2021. The answers to the number of extra hours staff work per week are based on a standard contractual 35-hour working week.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Employers are knowingly dining off the goodwill and dedication of staff and breaching vital safeguards, which if not addressed could result in investigations from the health and safety executive.

“To treat staff in this way, all whilst holding down pay and attacking terms and conditions show the extent to which grotesque levels of exploitation have become commonplace in education.”

The union estimates that 50,000 of its members in UK universities have joined some of the 13 days of strike action this year partly over working conditions. The dispute is “still live” the union maintains, with a marking boycott underway at 20 universities. Despite these assertions, the union’s latest disaggregated ballot of members proved less successful than the one that preceded, with fewer branches legally able to take action.

“If this workload crisis is not addressed with urgency, all education leaders and ministers will have done to set the sector up to fail,” said Grady. The priority should be, she added, cutting “the burdensome box-ticking exercises”.


Read more: Most university staff considering quitting in next five years – UCU

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