Why NUS Conference 2019 must fight to end precarious work!March 26, 2019
Precarious work is a great danger to both students and workers alike. For students, extortionate rent, expensive university textbooks, and funds for necessities such as food and household essentials are becoming more expensive year on year.
These conditions are forcing more and more students to pick up part time, precarious employment just to make ends meet. A study in 2015 found that 77% of students worked part time to cover the costs of living at university, a figure that has no doubt risen in the last 4 years.
University is a stressful time for many students. Numerous deadlines alongside a toxic culture that promotes the idea of constant studying (which isn’t real work anyway, is it?) leaves them under non-stop pressure. On top this, you need volunteering, or internships (unpaid, of course) to boost your CV. Between classes, studying and extra-curricular activity students have no time to look after themselves, let alone work a part time job on top!
Having to work just to continue studying at university can also have a huge toll on students’ degree classifications too. Many students have had to sacrifice revision time to take up shifts on zero-hour contract jobs, meaning they are less prepared for the exams they need to take to even complete their degree!
What’s more, companies that employ workers on zero-hours contracts prey on students specifically as bosses know that they are less likely to know their employee rights – less than 8% of 16-24 year olds are members of a trade union.
‘Gig economy’ jobs such as food delivery and online tutoring divides student workers by making sure they never interact with each other: you can’t organise in your workplace if you never meet your co-workers! This is by deliberate design of the bosses. However, despite their efforts they cannot divide the working class forever.
Unions such as the IWGB are proving that it is possible to organise those in precarious work, and fight for demands. The success of the IWGB in organising these workers was summed up in one of the slogans on a recent demonstration: “They say hopeless, we say lies! Precarious workers: organise!”
It’s not just students that suffer from precarious work; a lot of university staff are deliberately given 3-month, 6-month, or 9-month contracts, so management avoid paying their workers over holidays such as summer or Christmas.
This also absolves them of sick pay, maternity pay etc.
As Marx says in the Communist Manifesto: ‘All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned’: Jobs that were once highly esteemed have now become precarious, unpredictable, and degenerated by the constant crises of capitalism.
Lecturers, once considered the bastion of the establishment with secure and highly paid jobs, now face uncertainty over their employment status for next semester. Meanwhile, Vice Chancellors are paid hundreds of thousands of pounds without a single penny going towards teaching provisions. Cleaning staff are forced to sign unpredictable zero hour contracts, while the VCs take expensive business flights that are paid for with the university’s credit card.
The Marxist Student Federation is taking a stand against this exploitative work. We have linked up with many campaigns throughout universities, supporting the lecturers in their 2018 UCU strikes, as well as supporting the campaigns of cleaners to be employed in-house, such as the UoL Justice for Cleaners campaign.
MSF comrades have submitted a motion to the NUS 2019 conference agenda, calling student unions to fight against precarious employment both on and off campus. We cannot fight against these exploitative bosses on our own – it is vital that we, as students, link our struggles and our campaigns with the wider working class movement.
Cooperation and solidarity with Trade Unions is essential to our struggle. The NUS should be a militant fighting force that protects the rights of its student members against these exploitative jobs and their predatory bosses. There will be no change in our system without students and workers coming together in solidarity. Unite to end precarious work!
Lilly Cockwill, NUS Delegate (Sheffield)
315: Students’ Rights in the Workplace, End Precarious Work, Precarious Workers on Campus
Submitted by: Keele University Students’ Union; King’s College London Students’ Union; Swansea University Students’ Union
- In order to deal with rising living costs students are increasingly working alongside their studies.
- In 2015 around 77% of students were in paid employment alongside their degrees.(https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-33843987)
- As of 2017 less than 8% of working 16-24 year old’s were members of a trade union.(https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/trade-union-statistics-2017)
- Students can find themselves subject to undesirable, or sometimes unlawful, employment conditions.
- Students on tier 4 visas have limits on the amount of work they are allowed to do.
- A significant number of students as part of their course are required to take unpaid work.
- Precarious employment has become a typical feature of our lives under capitalism.
- An upsurge in precarious work is a natural product of capitalist crisis.
- Over 10 million people in Britain are currently considered to be in precarious employment. (1)
- Low pay, poor working conditions, zero-hour contracts and minimal rights have become standard.
- Many workers on campus, from cleaning staff to lecturers, are employed on precarious contracts, often on zero hours.
- Many students are themselves engaged in precarious work in order to pay their way through university or college.
- There has been a rise in the number of academic staff employed on precarious contracts at universities, with some institutions employing 70% of their teaching staff on insecure contracts.
- Postgraduate students are often employed on highly insecure contracts, expected to work for low pay and inconsistent hours.
- This leads people to be barely able to live off their wages and are living in a desperate social and financial situation.
- At Universities, the result of this has been recent campaigns to bring cleaners and other staff in-house.
- The Conservative government has been promoting and encouraging precarious employment.
Conference Further Believes
- Many of the most precarious and acutely exploited workers on campus are migrant women. This means our approach to improving the conditions of these workers is bound up with the tasks of women’s liberation and the fight for migrant rights: extending free movement of peoples and working towards a more equal society in which the expectations of reproductive labour do not fall disproportionately on women.
- It is the task of students and workers alike to organise against this move towards job insecurity as both groups stand to lose from the current state of affairs. The working conditions of campus workers deteriorating invariably means the deterioration of students’ learning conditions.
- We have the technology, resources, and ability to plan the economy so that no-one has to work in precarious employment.
- All workers should get a real living wage, fixed-term contracts, and full workers’ rights.
- Student workers can face specific difficulties in managing academics and working. (‘I could have got a better degree’ https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/aug/07/grades-experience-yourstories-working-studyinguniversity)
- Student workers can feel excluded from student life as short notice events are difficult to attend, especially students with varying working schedules. This can lead to some student workers feeling excluded from wider student life.
- Trade Unions are key organisations in providing protection and resources for those who are employed.
- Students Unions and Trade Unions share the values of collectivism and democracy and should work together to achieve their shared goals.
- To provide a best practice guide for student unions and student groups inclusion of student workers.
- To work with the TUC and other relevant organisations to provide resources and information surrounding student workers’ rights.
- To create a toolkit to encourage students to join the relevant trade union and provide resources to this effect.
- How students on tier 4 visas ensure they are working their legal allowance should be included in the toolkit.
- To provide guidelines to universities regarding how best to support student workers and their academic studies.
- The NUS should campaign for all unpaid work within courses to be paid.
- Oppose all restrictions on migration, with the understanding that border controls are in opposition to the interests of the working class.
- Support existing campaigns such as UoL Justice for Cleaners and any trade union action to that end.
- To support, with financial help and active participation, the struggles of precarious workers.
- To help organise a joint committee of union representatives of all precarious workers at universities, colleges, and schools.
- To make the case for and participate in joint union action, on a national scale, in defence of the rights of precarious workers.