EIS Calls for the Abolition of Zero Hours Contracts in HE Sector

Created on: 04 Nov 2013 | Last modified: 21 Apr 2020

The EIS has identified a number of serious concerns regarding the widespread use of so-called ‘Zero-Hours’ contracts within the Higher Education Sector in Scotland. The EIS recently carried out what it believes to be the most detailed Freedom of Information (Scotland) request on zero hours contracts in the Scottish HE sector and has been shocked by its findings.  

The EIS findings illustrate the irregular and wide variation in the way that all Scottish Universities use ‘zero hours contracts.’ The survey highlights that all HE institutions in Scotland do use zero-hours contracts to a greater or lesser extent.  

The results of the EIS survey also identify the Universities that give zero hours contract holders as few employment rights as legally possible – and the Universities that give more employment rights.

In the worst examples, the EIS findings highlight a number of serious issues, including potential sex discrimination against women in the use of zero hours contracts (since the majority of zero hours contract holders are women), no occupational sick pay, no occupational maternity and paternity pay, limited pensions, and significantly less annual leave than permanent employees.

Furthermore every Scottish University gave payment in lieu of holidays (rolled up holiday pay) rather than paid time off, a practice that the EIS believes is unlawful since Employers should pay their employees at the time they take their leave.

Commenting on the survey findings, EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said, "The results of the EIS FOI reinforce our view that zero-hours contracts have no place in Scotland’s Higher Education Institutions. The EIS opposes the use of zero hours contracts as they create an unbalanced or one sided relationship between the organisation and the individual contract holder who may be exploited by the organisation. Zero hours contracts rob individuals of full and fair employment rights and prevent them from gaining employment stability or financial security.”

The EIS-ULA President Dr Nick McKerrell said "These findings illustrate the invidious nature of zero hours contracts and will make us redouble our efforts to eliminate them from the Scottish Higher Education sector. Zero hours contracts should be replaced by fractional open ended contracts and, in limited cases, by fixed term contracts for unexpected short term staffing requirements."

"There is no justification in having a two tier workforce in which a significant number of staff are denied stability, security and sick pay. This would create further division in an already embattled sector."

The EIS, together with the other HE trade unions included zero hours contracts as part of the 2013-14 Pay Claim. The UK University Employers Association (UCEA) has stated that zero hours contracts can only be looked if the trade unions accept a 1% pay offer. The UK University Employers Association has rejected a recent EIS request to look at zero hours contracts independently of the 1% pay offer.

The EIS will be raising zero hours contracts in Universities, as part of the 2013-14 Pay claim and under the heading of "Casualisation of the Workforce” at the University Sector Advisory Forum chaired by the Cabinet Secretary Michael Russell. The EIS will also continue to support individual members who find themselves subject to these invidious contracts.

The EIS submitted evidence on zero hours contracts to the Scottish Affairs Committee of the UK Parliament.

The key findings of the EIS survey include:

  • Women were statistically more likely to hold zero hours contracts than men, suggesting that the use of zero hours contracts is potentially discriminatory. Thirteen of the eighteen HEIs had more than 50% of zero contract holders recorded as female, and across the whole sector zero hours contract holders were 5% more likely to be female than male.
  • Most Universities had not (as of 01 August 2013) carried out Equality Impact Assessments into the use of zero hours contracts.
  • Every HEI in Scotland uses some form of zero hours contract – some HEI’s use thousands of zero hours contracts whilst a few make minimal use of zero hours contracts. (University of Edinburgh 3231 to Heriot Watt University 5).
  • Different Universities give different rights and benefits to zero hours staff resulting in a range of practices across Scotland. Some Universities define zero hours contract holders as "employees” and clearly seek to give zero hours contract holders the same rights as employees albeit without any security  of hours – which mitigates some of the inequities of zero hours contracts (eg. University of Edinburgh), by giving benefits include occupational sick pay, maternity pay, pension etc.
  • Other Universities give the minimal rights under law to their zero hours contract holders and define them as "workers”. These Universities do not pay occupational sick leave nor occupational paternity and maternity benefits. The EIS believes that these Universities are seeking to avoid their responsibilities as employers to these zero hours staff- many of whom may have worked for the University for years. (Examples: Universities of St Andrews, Strathclyde & Stirling).
  • All Universities stated that they give payment in lieu of holidays (i.e. rolled up holiday pay) – with a small number also offering paid leave as an option. The EIS believes that this practice is unlawful as it means that zero contract holders do not receive 28 days (pro rata) of paid time off and Employers should only pay staff in lieu of holidays upon termination of their contracts. The EIS also believes that Employers must pay their employees at the time they take their leave. (https://www.gov.uk/holiday-entitlement-rights/holiday-pay-the-basics)
  • Most Universities give zero hours contract staff the same holiday entitlement (albeit as payment in lieu) as permanent employees – the highest being 21.5%. Some Universities give zero hours contract holders the statutory minimum – 8.3% (i.e. the minimum stated by the Working Time Regulations). This means that some zero hours staff are receiving between 8.3% and 21.5% holiday pay – depending on which University they work at.
  • No University uses "exclusivity clauses” within their zero hours contracts – which is a nugget of good news from the EIS FoI request.
  • No University has a zero hours contract complaint/appeal process and all seem to rely on grievance procedures.
  • Most Universities apply their disciplinary policies to cover periods between work as well as during work. This could lead to a zero contract holder being disciplined in September for breaching a University policy despite not working since the preceding October.
  • It is not only the large Universities that use large numbers of zero hours contracts – proportionally speaking the University of Stirling had the highest proportion of zero hours contract staff – 75% followed by St Andrews University with 61%. (The University of St Andrews stated that "at least 95%” of their zero hours staff (according to the EIS definition) were students of the University).
  • There is no common definition of a zero hours contract within the Scottish HE sector, in fact some Universities seem to have very narrow definitions of zero hours staff. This prevents transparency and accountability – and had the EIS used the University of St Andrews’ definition of a zero hours contract then there would be no zero hours contract holders in the Scottish HE sector.

*Note, the EIS uses the term "University” to include all Higher Education Institutions – and the term therefore includes the Glasgow School of Art, Royal Scottish Conservatoire and SRUC were part of the FoI.


Further information: Brian Cooper, Head of Communications, 0131 225 6244 - bcooper@eis.org.uk