One hundred and thirty people attended the launch meeting of the Fractionals for Fair Play Campaign (FFFP) last Thursday 6 March. Fractional and permanent teaching staff, students and cleaners packed out the Senior Common Room at SOAS to hear about the results of a survey of fractionals’ working conditions and their campaign for better pay and conditions by working to contract. Bill, from SOAS, reports on what took place.
“Fractional” teaching staff are employed on fixed term contracts working a fraction of a full time equivalent. They do the bulk of the day to day teaching and marking in many departments at SOAS. The findings of a survey of 94 contracts presented at the meeting revealed a picture of shocking exploitation by SOAS, which markets itself as a liberal institution concerned with the critical study of the conditions of precarious labour in the developing world. Over 50 percent of the hours actually worked were unpaid because the time allowed to perform the duties specified in fractional contracts bears no relation to the time required to do them. Half of all fractional teaching staff earned an actual hourly pay rate below the London Living Wage of £8.80. The survey also revealed systematic abuses such as the failure to issue written contracts and late payment of wages, sometimes months in arrears.
Many SOAS fractionals have joined UCU in recent months to participate in industrial action over pay and have been a visible presence on picket lines. Speaking at the meeting, the SOAS UCU branch secretary pledged UCU’s support for FFFP and praised the campaign as a model for the rest of the branch of how to work to contract. There were also speeches in solidarity from SOAS Students Union and UNISON. A worker from Justice 4 Cleaners, who had been on strike the previous day, saluted the solidarity of fractionals on the cleaners’ picket lines and noted how cleaners and fractionals together were making visible the casualised labour conditions without which SOAS couldn’t function.
An FFFP spokesperson concluded the meeting:
“SOAS is at a precipice. The numbers of people in this room are indicative of that. It is undergoing three major labour disputes at the same time. We know the situation of lecturers nationally and of Justice 4 Cleaners at SOAS. Everyone now knows about the situation of Fractionals for Fair Play. We have already prepared negotiations with HR on Monday. We look forward to those negotiations swiftly amending the situation we face here as fractionals. We are at the same time organising ourselves and are prepared to escalate should we be put in a position where our rights and needs are not taken into account. So if there’s anyone from HR here, I ask you to take those words very seriously.
Before, we were alone. Now, we are not alone. We have broken our isolation, we have found a commonality in our condition. We have PhDs to write. Students, you have exams to do. We have essays to mark and exams to finish. And we have the reputation of the School to build here. We are serious about that on all fronts. But if we want to do it, it has to be done on thebasis of dignity and fairness, for faculty members, for cleaners and for fractionals.”