Edinburgh University Students Union slammed over 'exploitative' zero hours contract job adverts

A STUDENT union has been slammed for a number of job adverts attempting to recruit new staff on zero hours terms - despite previously criticising employers for "misusing" the controversial contracts.

Monday, 19th August 2019, 6:17 pm
The Edinburgh University Students Union (EUSA) operate a number of venues including Teviot Row House, pictured

The University of Edinburgh banned the use of unfixed working hours in 2013, a decision praised by members of the Edinburgh University Students Union (EUSA).

However, the organisation has now been accused of a double standard by campaigners after adverts to recruit several positions under ‘zero hours’ conditions during term time was posted on an online job forum.

Fair work activists Better Than Zero branded the adverts, which include those for ticket sellers, DJs, photographers and a ‘digital content assistant’ “exploitative and demeaning to workers”.

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But EUSA say the hours were agreed as part of a consultation with students, adding any policy previously implemented on the contracts “lapsed” in 2017, with nothing brought to the student council in its place.

One of the adverts, for a ticket office manager, calls for a “enthusiastic, confident and competent team leader with demonstrable experience of working in a sales environment with excellent levels of customer services and experience of using ticketing systems”.

However the position requires flexibility for up to 48 hours per week during the Freshers’ period from September 9-15, with no fixed hours after that.

A spokesperson for Better Than Zero told the Evening News: “It’s extremely disappointing that EUSA is advertising a number of vacancies for jobs on zero hours contracts.”

“Zero hours contracts are exploitative and demeaning for workers. The contracts are not about flexibility, they are about employers having control over the working and personal lives of their workers. Zero hours contracts increase precarity and put workers at the mercy of their bosses.

“The use of zero-hours contracts has become a national disgrace, and Edinburgh University Students’ Association should be working to actively combat poor work conditions, not contributing to it.”

The University of Edinburgh agreed to end the use of zero hours contracts in September 2013 after the UCU revealed the institution was the largest higher education user of the terms.

Under the contentious deals, employees can often be called on to work at short notice and are paid only for the hours they work.

Staff at the University were moved to guaranteed hours contracts or pro-rata terms following the decision.

In a policy document released by EUSA two months later, the organisation stated: “While ‘zero-hours’ contracts can work for some employees in certain sectors, they have been misused by many employers who use the practise to pass risk on to employees.”

“The decision to ban “zero hours” contracts is a welcome and will give greater security to those who rely on work from the university to get by.”

In January, figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found the number of Scottish workers on zero hours contracts had fallen to 63,000 - making up just over two per cent of the national workforce.

Students’ Association President Andrew Wilson said the organisation had been "proactive" in ensuring the contracts provided "good working conditions" for students, but argued the uptake on fixed hour terms had been low when offered to students.

He said: “The Students’ Association is committed to ensuring flexibility for all our student employees and providing employment opportunities which fit around their studies alongside other commitments. We give our zero hours staff full employment rights and have been proactive to ensure that these exceed the statutory requirements for the provision of holiday and sick pay."

"We sought the views of our students staff regarding zero hours contracts a few years ago when the University took the move to ban zero hour contracts and they indicated to us that they highly value the flexibility.

"In addition to our zero hours contacts, we do also offer fixed hour contracts to those students who would prefer them, however take up on these has been low, highlighting to the organisation that our employees do still continue to prefer the flexibility of a zero hours contract. We will continue to monitor this and amend the number of fixed hour contracts we offer should we need to."

He added: "I recognise that zero hours contracts can be open to abuse, and while we do everything in our power to ensure that our contracts are fair for our employees, not all employers operate to the same standards we set ourselves.”