Open University delays introduction of new staff contract

UCU accuses the institution of breaking its promise to introduce new terms and conditions this October

The Open University has delayed by ten months the introduction of a new contract for its associate lecturers, drawing an angry response from the University and College Union (UCU).

The UCU has accused the Open University of betraying more than 4,000 staff by reneging on its agreement to implement a new contract which was meant to come into force in October 2021.

The Open University (OU) was due to bring in new terms and conditions for its 4,000 associate lecturers, who are currently on casualised contracts with little job security, the union said.

The OU said it still intended to transfer associate lecturers on to new contracts but had to “delay” its plans.

The new contracts had been agreed with UCU in 2018 following five years of negotiation, and is meant to provide job security by preventing staff from having to re-apply for new teaching contracts.

It also includes a pay rise which for most associate lecturers would be roughly 10%.

It would allow staff to demonstrate that they have a continuous source of income, which is important for securing a mortgage or when renting.

Under the current contract associate lecturers are at risk of losing their jobs if student numbers drop on their module

Under the current contract, associate lecturers are at risk of losing their jobs if student numbers drop on their module. By moving them to a secure contract, redundancy is a last resort rather than the first option.

According to the UCU, the university now claims – after agreeing to the new contract more than two years ago – that it does not have sufficient systems and capacity in place to implement the contract successfully.

The OU is currently delivering complex organisational changes and working through a number of consequences as result of the global pandemic
Dave Hall, Open University

Dave Hall, the OU university secretary, told University Business the institution “is committed to ending the casualisation of our Associate Lecturers to provide better job security and conditions”.

He said: “[Associate lecturers] are an integral and valued part of our OU staff community. The OU is currently delivering complex organisational changes and working through a number of consequences as result of the global pandemic. Therefore, after careful consideration, we have taken the difficult decision to delay the date we transfer our Associate Lecturers to their new terms and conditions. We now plan to do this by August next year.”

Mr Hall said the university had vowed to make “no redundancies in the 2021/22 academic year” and would set out “interim actions” until the new contracts are phased in. “Colleagues impacted by reduced workload during this period will be offered redeployment and contracts offered will be open-ended rather than fixed term,” he continued.

“There will be a payment for the interim period to recognise the financial uplift that colleagues were due to receive for their module teaching that will be similar to what would have been received under the new terms and conditions. We will also offer to rescind any resignations from teaching modules that have been tendered in anticipation of the new terms and conditions.”

UCU branch president Dr Caitlin Adams said: “Staff have taken life-changing financial decisions on the basis of promises the Open University made on job security and pay. Its decision to delay the contract was taken in the middle of a pandemic without any mitigation in place to offset the losses suffered by our members.

“It is completely unacceptable for the Open University to betray more than 4,000 of its staff by breaking promises that those staff have planned their lives around. The university is trying to make vulnerable staff pay for its mistakes. Unless staff are paid what they are owed and given job security, members are prepared to consider all possibilities including industrial action.’

Dr Adams also told University Business: “Associate lecturers at the Open University have been absolutely devastated by the news of a delay to the new contract they were promised over two years ago.

“The financial loss averages about 10% but we know of cases of associate lecturers who will be £15K-20K worse off next year if the university goes ahead with this decision.

“Some turned down other jobs because they expected to be made permanent. The Open University has betrayed their trust and must compensate the staff in full for this attack on job security and pay.”

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