Sunday, June 05, 2022

Pittance pay in the heart of Cambridge

by Carole Barclay

Daniel Zeichner, the local Labour MP, joined Cambridge students and supervisors demanding “fair pay”, a contract and paid training for supervisors at a rally in the heart of the university city last week. These were the people who were the “backbone of Cambridge’s education system” a student speaker said, but the way they are treated is “cruel, exploitative and unsustainable”.
    The protest by the Justice4CollegeSupervisors campaign called for an end to the “gig economy” working conditions of the undergraduate supervisors who deliver the University of Cambridge’s tutorials on pittance pay.
    The University & College Union (UCU) says around half of undergraduate supervisions are delivered by staff forced into self-employed status or zero-hours contracts. Around four in 10 do not earn a living wage.
    Zeichner told the crowd: “I’m here to show my support for your cause. It's 2022. This university, these colleges, have a lot to be proud of. Why have we still got the systems from centuries ago?
    “I’ll say to people in the university: institutions survive when they change with the times. If they don’t change, change happens anyway, happens when people apply pressure. Thank you for what you’re doing.”
    Campaigning can bring change Zeichner said, pointing to the Johnson government’s recent U-turn on a windfall tax on oil and gas companies that was first proposed by the Labour Party.
    Although the University of Cambridge has finally agreed to draft guidance asking departments and faculties to pay for all mandatory training that they require supervisors to undertake, the university's own colleges have so far refused to follow suit.
    UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'It is a scandal that workers who deliver the University of Cambridge's famed small-group supervisions are often on poverty pay without any job security – conditions akin to the gig economy.
    “After years of campaigning, the university has made a first step towards paid training. Its colleges now need to do so and meet our demands to pay supervisors for the full amount of time they spend preparing for classes and provide them with secure contracts.”

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