St Andrews among universities criticised for “exploitative” use of zero hour contracts


St Andrews is one of the universities across the UK that has been criticised for their use of controversial zero hour contracts.

Those who are employed on zero hour contracts have no guarantee of when and for how long they will work. Although this creates a level of flexibility for employers, it also causes a lot of uncertainty and instability for workers.

The practice made headlines across the UK after it emerged that around 250,000 people are employed under zero hour contracts, according to the Office of National Statistics.

St Andrews is one of the 53% of universities in the United Kingdom that use zero hour contracts. However, a University spokesperson confirmed that it has one of the lowest instances of the use of zero hour contracts of all Scottish universities.

The University of Edinburgh has been heavily criticised in recent weeks because of the large number of people that it has employed under these terms. The University and College Union (UCU) found that Edinburgh had the worst record for the use of zero hour contracts.

The UCU released this report after submitting a nationwide Freedom of Information request to all higher education institutions. Edinburgh was found to have 2,712 people on zero hours contracts, of whom 2,382 were in teaching and research posts. The Royal Conservatoire was also criticised for employing 635 members of staff without guarantee of work. The University of Glasgow employed 477 people using these contracts. St Andrews, by comparison, employed only 51 people on zero hours contracts in the past academic year.

Although the University said that these employees have exactly the same rights as all other staff of the University of St Andrews, they are not given set working hours.

UCU president Simon Renton said: “Our findings shine a light on the murky world of casualisation in further and higher education. Their widespread use is the unacceptable underbelly of our colleges and universities.

“Employers cannot hide behind the excuse of flexibility. This flexibility is not a two-way street and, for far too many people, it is simply a case of exploitation. We are encouraged that both the government and the opposition have said they will be looking at zero hour contracts, but neither side has yet said anything that will give the thousands of people subjected to these conditions much hope.

“The extent of the use of zero hour contracts is difficult to pin down, as various groups have found, but their prevalence in our universities and colleges leads to all sorts of uncertainty for staff. Without a guaranteed income, workers on zero hour contracts are unable to make financial or employment plans on a year-to-year, or even month-to-month basis.

“We are encouraged that both the government and the opposition have said they will be looking at zero hour contracts, but neither side has yet said anything that will give the thousands of people subjected to these conditions much hope.”

Following pressure from union groups the University of Edinburgh decided to phase out the use of these contracts, but the University of St Andrews continues to employ a small number of people in this way.

The NUS has called for the end of their use at all universities across Scotland. NUS Scotland president Gordon Maloney welcomed the news from the University of Edinburgh and encouraged more universities to replicate the policy.

He said:“These arrangement are bad for staff and bad for students. Many casual employees at Scottish universities are postgraduate students who often have no way of knowing how many hours they will have from month to month, and therefore if they’ll be able to support their studies. Flexibility in the workplace is important, particularly for students, but there should never be a trade-off between flexibility and security or rights at work.

“Zero hour contracts affect undergraduate students as well, as staff with little job security could negatively affect teaching quality. If the quality at Scottish universities is to remain high, we need to see teaching remain valued, and staff on contracts that allow them to focus on students’ needs. We now need guarantees that no jobs will be lost through this transition and that teaching quality will be protected.

“We now need to see every other university follow Edinburgh’s lead and end the use of these contracts. By offering more secure contracts, universities can allow staff to not only gain job security but maintain high standards of quality.”


  1. Not all zero hour contracts are exploitative. Students who are on these contracts will include ambassadors, who only work as needed, and bar staff, who cannot be expected to work strings of late nights when they are supposed to be here for their studies. If someone needs full time work and is put on a zero hours contract, then fine let’s protest them. That’s shocking and offers no stability for the employee.

    However if someone needs the kind of flexibility only a zero hours contract can offer, such as a student wanting occasional work to fit around their studies, then they deserve that option as well.


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