Supplementary memorandum submitted by
Professor Colin Bryson, Department of Human Resource Management,
Nottingham Trent University
The version of the new model statute that I
have seen (June 2001 version) appears to offer staff on fixed-
term contracts much less protection from dismissal than staff
on open-ended contracts in that the procedures are much less onerous.
In short, the employer can avoid any obligation to renew or convert
the contract, or to seriously address redeployment or mitigation
of loss of employment issues by invoking a wide range of justifications
which arguably could be used on almost every occasion. I also
have some concerns on the coverage of the statute as research
staff and some teaching staff might be excluded from being defined
as being academic staff at all.
My own research evidence is that the non-renewal
of fixed-term contracts in HE is most frequently either:
a redundancybecause the need
for that work has ceased,
or more often an "unfair"
dismissalbecause due to poor management systems or even
misguided thinking, the individual is dismissed and replaced by
another new recruit undertaking a similar role either immediately
or after a very short time period.
Therefore I do not think it is appropriate to
have a different category of dismissal only by reason of the employee
being on a fixed-term contract. I am aware that the employers
have argued that revisions to the existing statute are required
because it is too difficult to dismiss staff on open- ended contracts
or to make redundancies. Indeed this is the very reason that they
advance for such wide scale use of fixed-term and other forms
of temporary contracts in higher education. Scholarly research
on management systems shows that there would appear to be alternative
explanations for the spread of this type of employment such as:
the nature of management systems in HE that lead to very localised
and short-term HR thinking and policies; the culture of most academic
departments; and lack of integrated management of funding flows
in HE, particularly research funding.
I note that the national document takes the
form of an agreement on "guidance" rather than a national
agreement. Some HE institutions already have policies in place
which offer stronger provisions on the reduction of the use of
temporary contracts such as Robert Gordons University and Nottingham
The document begins with rather stronger sentiments
than any previous agreement on the regulation of employment in
universities. I note that the document correctly acknowledges
that employment legislation in relation to redundancy should apply
on termination of a fixed-term contract, in contradiction of the
new model statute. Most of the rhetoric and policy guidance in
the document is well founded, sensible and appropriate to the
context of HE. In particular the point that the reason for the
initial use of a fixed-term contract should be examined with care.
I am concerned about the breadth of the objective
justifications in section 9. That is too liberal an interpretation.
The problem of allowing such scope is that given the current poor
quality of management systems and the resilience of cultures inimical
to good employment practices, widespread use of fixed term contracts
and serial abuse is likely to continue.
It is pity that the guidance could not have
gone further in the recommendation of improved management systems
(such as those practised in the great majority of private and
public sector organisations) which lessen the need for temporary
contracts in the first place. The danger with these guidelines
although they are a great improvement on previous attempts in
HE to improve employment and HR practices in HE, is that in institutions
that already have reasonable systems they will not make a great
deal of difference and in those with the worst practices (sadly
the majority) they are quite likely to be ignored.
I would argue that institutions need further
incentives involving both carrots and sticks to put their houses
in order. This is a matter of some concern because I believe the
present system is wasteful in terms of enhancing productivity
and fostering talent.
4 October 2002