P/T Lecturers in UK Fight for Their Rights

FURIOUS PART-TIME LECTURERS at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England, have forced their union to rethink a pay settlement they believe has sold them out. They are now engaged in an acrimonious dispute to oust their union’s officers.

The 7,700 associate lecturers are the OU’s public face throughout the United Kingdom, tutoring students and giving them phone and e-mail support. They are typically paid £3,200 ($5,676) to teach a nine-month course and many have other jobs in universities or colleges.

A pay modernization agreement negotiated with the OU by local officials of the Association of University Teachers was welcomed by full-time staff and featured in a full-page advertisement placed by the union in the Times Higher Education Supplement. It described the OU as “top of the class (commended).”

But representatives of the associate lecturers complained the deal left them well behind the rates for the university’s 1,100 full-time academic staff.
Nevertheless, union officers pressed ahead with a ballot of part-time members. The ballot secured a majority in favor of the deal, but this has not been officially recognized because of a dispute over whether the vote was valid.

The dispute developed with associate lecturers calling an emergency general meeting (EGM) of the local, which called for the ballot to be scrapped. When this was rejected, associate lecturers petitioned to oust the local president, Brenda Jarvis, and fellow officers.
An associate lecturers’ representative, who did not wish to be named, said: “It seems that they are so closely aligned that union and management negotiators have done a deal to deliver associate lecturers on a completely unfair and exploitative offer. We really don’t feel our interests have been represented.”

In July, AUT’s general secretary Sally Hunt called in Ms. Jarvis and her fellow officials for a meeting in an effort to calm the situation.

Following the meeting, a statement from the OU AUT local officers said that after discussion about the validity of the ballot, they agreed with Ms. Hunt that there was a “clear need” to consult further with associate lecturer members:

We have agreed to the general secretary’s request that all associate lecturer members are written to by the general secretary herself explaining the current situation and asking what they want the union to do.
As officers of OU AUT, we are united in our determination to work together in the future for the benefit of all members including associate lecturers.
But dissident associate lecturers were not mollified and issued their own statement welcoming the intervention of the national leadership, but saying their fundamental complaints remained.

“Our position remains that we have petitioned for an EGM to remove all officers and executive committee members who do not comply with the resolutions passed at the EGM in July. More than 60 petitions have been received by the local association, and that total continues to increase.”

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