USSU President Laura Tazzioli speaks out in support of Associate Tutors (Photo: Paul Cecil)

USSU President Laura Tazzioli speaks out in support of Associate Tutors - photo: Paul Cecil

Around 300 people attended a rally in support of Associate Tutors in Library Square last Wednesday.
The rally, which was organised as part of the University and College Union’s (UCU) ‘Stamp out Casualisation’ campaign, attracted a mix of staff, students and union members.

Speakers included Sasha Callaghan the National President of the UCU, the largest Union for academic staff working in higher education in the UK and Laura Tazzioli, USSU President. A UCU press release stated that the rally was “intended both as a celebration of [the associate tutors’] fantastic work, and a timely reminder to the University that colleagues will not put up with discriminatory and unfair treatment any longer.”

The main purpose of the rally was to outline the points of the manifesto for fair pay and equal treatment of ATs and to encourage solidarity between students and staff members.

One issue arising from the manifesto was “equal pay for work of equal value within schools and across the University.”

“If a student comes into my seminar and doesn’t know the difference between me and a Tutor then why should my pay packets be so different?” asked one AT speaker. The University has been using “localized employment practices” to pay tutors different salaries depending on which department they work in, or even within the same schools, despite the similarities in job description.

Another important issue raised was that “All direct teaching should be at a minimum of Grade 6” – the minimum structure and outline for teaching. The University of Sussex however has created a Grade 5, which is a ‘pre-teaching’ level stipulating far less responsibility for ATs and allowing the University more control over their salaries. One AT told The Badger that ATs generally go far beyond what grade 5 requires of them because they do not want to jeopardise the level of teaching.

Under the role description for grade 5 level, staff are not supposed to update or alter course content. This poses obvious problems in subjects such as International Relations and Law where things are constantly changing, yet the ATs are not allowed to update content accordingly. Dr. Hazel Cox the Senior Lecturer/Admissions Tutor in the Department of Chemistry and Sussex UCU Vice-President said how she would “really like management to pay ATs for all the work they actually do (including marking, tutorial reports, electronic feedback, etc.) and to acknowledge the fact that it is impossible to give a seminar at grade 5!” As further insult to injury it was confirmed that Associate Tutors at the University of Brighton start at a grade 7 status.

Another AT called for “No zero hour contracts.” Such contracts do not guarantee an AT employment or salary for any significant period of time. The AT’s need for experience thus gives the university a ‘monopoly’ over AT contracts. One member of staff has been working at Sussex for 15 years and has not even been given a “permanent contract.” On the University of Sussex website it is stated that ATs “serve a vital function in enabling departments to accommodate unpredictable and often short-term demands for teaching support.” This seems to be the justification for such contracts.

The website also outlines how “the University is committed to constantly reviewing and improving the working conditions of its Associate Tutors…[and ensuring that ATs] are well supported, treated fairly and with respect.” When the University implemented these ‘reviews’ on ATs’ working conditions last year, they had to remove the word ‘agreed’ from their launch presentation as the UCU were not in anyway consulted.

The Badger was informed that it is not true that ATs agreed to such measures. The University has continually ignored a “group that are vulnerable” and are “refusing to talk to them.” Perhaps more than anything it is just this respect that many ATs want. I was told that the rally today was to “make students aware” that they may not realise that they are being taught by Associate Tutors, and that the effects of unfair treatment for ATs could trickle down to education of students. “Good people have left [the University]” because of this and if no meaningful dialogue or progress is made between the UCU representing ATs and the University then the next step for ATs could be industrial action. However this would be reluctant as ATs do not want to harm their students’ education. Rather ironically, the type of industrial action taken would most likely be ‘working to grade,’ which would mean ATs threatening to work within the framework of grade 5 set out by the University, such is the conviction ATs have of this action seriously affecting the running of the University.
Dr. Hazel Cox thanks all supporters for braving the cold to attend and praised the “fantastic” speakers.

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