University lecturers bring claim for worker status against Goldsmiths University of London
University lecturers who claim they are being denied their employment rights are bringing a claim against Goldsmiths University of London.
Posted on 07 June 2021
Employment lawyers say the contracts under which the lecturers are employed are “a sham” and say their claim is comparable to that of Uber drivers who the Supreme Court recently confirmed should have worker status.
The claim for worker status is against Goldsmiths, but the lecturers involved say they are aware of thousands of other academics working under similar “sham” contracts at universities across the UK.
They say their case is one of the worst examples against a backdrop of the continuing erosion of lecturers’ employment rights at other higher education institutions, where roles that had previously offered good quality secure employment have now become increasingly precarious.
The university lecturers bringing the claim are paid £55 per hour to teach short courses at Goldsmiths. They are only paid for teaching hours and not for hours spent in course preparation or student support.
Their ‘independent contractor’ employment status means the lecturers don’t receive holiday pay. Any absences are unpaid. More than two-week absences lead to termination of the employment contract.
In contrast, other staff who deliver courses at Goldsmiths’ academic departments are treated as ‘employed’ under a contract which provides various employment benefits and extra pay for preparation work and student support.
Leigh Day solicitors, who represent the lecturers, say the claimants are entitled to worker status as employees because of the way they are required to work and because they work personally for Goldsmiths.
‘Workers’ are entitled to certain employment rights, including being paid at least the National Minimum Wage, protection against unlawful deductions from wages, paid holiday and protection against unlawful discrimination.
The lecturers’ claim has been filed to be heard by the Employment Tribunal.
One of the claimants, Diane Messias, is an associate lecturer in the Theatre and Performance Department, where she teaches Comedy and Satire to undergraduates.
Diane, aged 65, has been working in the creative industries for 37 years, including five at the BBC and has been teaching for the past 10 years.
On short courses at Goldsmiths, where she has worked since 2018, Diane teaches Introduction to Screenwriting, Comedy Writing for Stage and Screen and How to Write a Sitcom.
“I'm taking action because the way in which Short Courses is behaving towards its lecturers - who bring in hundreds of thousands of pounds for the College - is especially despicable in the 21st Century; they have engaged in what can only be described as bullying, made thinly-veiled threats not to pay me for work I was already doing, and cancelled an already-sold-out course I was scheduled to teach this Summer Term - without telling me they'd cancelled it - even though they're aware this is how Short Course tutors make a living, particularly in this time of pandemic. They admitted in writing that the cancellation of my course was in retaliation for me not signing the 'agreement', which contains nothing with which I can agree.”
Neda Genova, aged 31, teaches short courses in cultural studies at Goldsmiths, where she has worked since 2016.
“We have to challenge the ‘uberification’ of universities. As an early career academic, I just can’t accept this extremely precarious future neither for myself, nor for the students I work with.
“I love teaching this course titled ‘ethics for changing worlds’. But there is a glaring discrepancy between my course’s concerns and the working conditions offered to me by the university.
“My course can be cancelled at any moment and I am usually only told if it is going to run the day before it is scheduled to begin. I am paid an hourly rate which might at first appear to be generous, but if I were to calculate the amount of time that goes into preparing teaching and administrative duties, it would turn out that I am earning not even half of what colleagues who are employed by the university do.
“Goldsmiths markets itself to the world as a radical and critical space, yet the university is managed with complete disregard for the working and learning conditions of students, academic and non-academic staff.”
Leigh Day solicitor Ryan Bradshaw said:
“Our clients have been fighting to have their employment status recognised but Goldsmiths have ignored them.
“They are employed under what Goldsmiths label as a contract for services but the written terms do not reflect that – hence it is a “sham” contract and they have a valid claim to be recognised as workers.
“As Lord Leggatt explained in the Uber judgment ‘the purpose of employment legislation is to protect workers from unfair treatment’ and these short course lecturers deserve the full protection of the law.”
The lecturers are now crowd funding for their case through GoFundMe