NCG tackles casual staff contracts

The nation’s largest college group has been praised for tackling “insecure” staff contracts, after it unveiled plans to move workers on zero-hours style contracts to permanent ones within two years.

NCG is said to have “set a benchmark” to colleges across the country by adding security to “vulnerable” staff on casual contracts.

Under the new plans, casual contracts will be restricted to eight weeks and after two years staff will be given a permanent contract. NCG has six colleges across England and will roll out the plan initially at its two Newcastle sites. 

The group has a total of 442 staff on casual contracts, out of a 2,985 workforce (15 per cent), who this move will help.

It follows a call from the University and Colleges Union in 2016 to make casual staff permanent if they’ve been working at an FE provider for at least two years.

A union spokesperson told FE Week it has had commitments in this area from other colleges since the call was made, but “we haven’t had anything on the scale of what should happen at NCG”.

UCU believes the move could “transform people’s lives”, after research from 2015 found that staff on casual contracts have struggled make ends meet. 

Over half of 540 survey respondents working in FE said that they had struggled to pay household bills. Around two-fifths had had problems keeping up with mortgage or rent commitments and three in 10 said they had had difficulties putting food on the table.

The union says staff without permanent contracts are unable to plan their lives as they don’t know how many hours they will work or what they may earn on a monthly basis.

“We are delighted with this new approach from NCG,” said UCU general secretary Sally Hunt.

“This added level of security can be life changing for staff. Some of the most vulnerable staff will go from not knowing what they might be earning each month to being able to better plan their life.”

She added: “This move from NCG sets a benchmark for good practice and it is up to other colleges and universities to follow suit.

“We are keen to work with any institution that wants to eradicate the scourge of insecurity for its staff.”

Joe Docherty, chief executive of NCG, said: “Working constructively with our trade union partners is really important to us and I’m delighted that we have worked closely with the unions to provide a framework which improves the job security of colleagues, and still allows those who wish to work flexibility to do so.

“It’s an important development which I am pleased to support.”