New Contracts for University Lecturers and Practising Staff
Between September 2010 and March 2012, Burnetts’ employment team advised a University client in relation to preparing new contracts of employment for lecturers at its new Schools for practising staff for a new business to assist post graduates with work placements.
Burnetts’ team was led by Partner Kuba Strycharczyk and Solicitor Paul Clark. The team included one of the Pro Vice-Chancellors, the Head of the School, a Project Manager and various members of the HR Management Team.
In March 2010 the client entered into a consortium agreement to provide a specific type of undergraduate education to students. Burnetts’ commercial team advised on this agreement. This led to the need for new terms & conditions of employment for new and existing workers of the client to provide this education on initially an ad hoc basis dependant on student numbers.
Subsequently in May 2011 the University developed its own new vehicle for Post Graduate study and negotiated an amendment to and early exit from the consortium agreement to allow this to be developed and offered to students. Again Burnetts’ commercial team advised on the amendments and risks of early exit. This led to the opening of a new business in March 2012 and the need to draft new terms & conditions of employment for practising staff and also an increased need for lecturing staff to provide the additional support to post graduates which required changes to the ad hoc contract relationship.
This new programme of courses involved the need for the University to be registered under a particular piece of legislation which involved the requirement for Privy Council consent to such a programme. Burnetts provided advice and assistance on the requirements of the legislation and the progress of some proposed amendments to the Act through Parliament to enable the University to seek such consent direct thereby saving costs.
Risks for the University
The key risks to the University were:
- employment tribunal claims from existing workers on unilateral changes to existing verbal terms & conditions;
- failure to agree the new terms with workers who had been employed to do this work without a written contract and no acknowledged employment relationship and any union involvement in that consultation;
- negative publicity arising from any possible strike action by staff and unions; and
- the possibility of claims for part time workers discrimination and fixed term workers discrimination due to the difference in terms between the ad hoc, zero hours lecturing contract and the standard academic contract terms for the University.
Burnetts’ employment advice
The first issue upon which Burnetts’ employment team was instructed in 2010 was to draft new terms & conditions of employment for ad hoc, as required lecturers to be given to senior/principal lecturer grade staff to provide the education for the undergraduates as per the consortium agreement.
The difficulty was that there were already a number of people working in this capacity in the area who were not classed by the University as employees and so did not have any employment contracts or other paperwork governing their relationship with the University. These workers had been employed without reference for advice to Burnetts. The new contract needed to address that anomaly and regulate the relationship for this existing group of workers and was also to be given to new casual ad hoc lecturers. It was essential that the contract was not classed as an “umbrella contract” covering all the individual assignments and inadvertently creating longer continuity of employment where such was not to exist.
It was also essential that Burnetts advised on what was happening in practice with the existing workers to ensure less likelihood of dispute on the proposed contract terms but also less chance of challenge by the Unions and the employees in any employment tribunal claims involving questions as to their employment status. Burnetts advised on the dangers and risks of such employment relationships especially if a pattern of regularly offering work became established. The team advised on a robust system of monitoring the use of such contracts and the assignments being offered to ensure that a different employment relationship did not inadvertently develop with the ad hoc lecturers from what was envisaged. The team advised on the need for what was being said verbally to this group of lecturers at the beginning and end of each period of employment to be consistent with the terms of the contract being offered and that no guarantees of future work were being made to them verbally or otherwise.
Our advice required close examination of the University’s current academic terms & conditions to see to what extent they were suitable for appointments of this type, as well as consideration of the extent to which the Part time Workers Regulations and the Fixed Term Workers Regulations might potentially apply to any different terms offered. The resultant new contract comprised different terms & conditions to the standard academic terms & conditions where these were justified but incorporated elements from the standard academic terms & conditions in order to ensure, as far as was possible, that these part time fixed term workers would have equal rights where appropriate.
Fortunately for the University, the existing workers in question agreed the proposed contract terms and there was no protracted union consultation or threats of claims for unilaterally changing existing verbal terms or discrimination.
The second part of the advice in 2012 was to provide totally new contracts of employment for practising staff for a new related business that was being run by a limited company owned by the University. These contracts were for new employees so negotiating terms & conditions were not regulated by union agreements or any pre-existing relationship between the workers and the University. This allowed much more freedom to make the contracts commercially based rather than based on academic terms & conditions. A review and updating of the ad hoc contract for lecturing staff was required to see if it was still appropriate or whether some of the staff should be moved onto standard academic terms. The issues regarding selection of staff to be put onto new more permanent terms were considered.
Value for Money
The University’s bill was reduced significantly because the employment team provides a discount on hourly rates to the education sector; they had paid Burnetts a retainer which covered an agreed amount of costs of any matter. The University did not have to pay any additional sums on either occasion for the employment advice other than its standard retainer fee as on both occasions the cost of the advice was well under the limit per matter. The same employment team advising in both 2010 and 2012 helped keep costs low for the client as the background to the matter was already known by the advisers.