Image credit: Cameron Samuel Keys

Oxford academics win employment tribunal against University

Two Oxford academics have won their claim for employee status following an employment tribunal held in January at Reading Tribunal Hearing Centre. Rebecca Abrams and Alice Jolly, both award-winning novelists, had taught for 15 years on Oxford’s MSt Creative Writing course, a coveted program which attracts an average of 345 applicants annually.

According to Leigh Day, the legal firm representing Jolly and Abrams, the two had been employed on “fixed-term personal services contracts” with the University of Oxford. The two academics contested the fairness of these contracts, with Leigh Day stating that “Alice and Rebecca argued their case is about the employment status of lecturers who have been hired on personal service contracts. They maintained that their status at the University of Oxford was clearly that of employees and not as personal service providers or workers.”

Leigh Day explained that despite Oxford writing a letter to the Society of Authors (SoA) in 2022 stating they would offer “more appropriate” contracts to staff, neither Jolly nor Abraham’s contracts were renewed for the following year.

Jolly, author of Dead Babies and Seaside Towns and Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile said on X that she was “overjoyed” with the ruling and called it an “important win” for higher education. Jolly thanked Oxford UCU (University College Union) and Oxford UCU Anti-casualisation Network for their “tireless work” supporting her. Jolly expressed in an earlier statement that “with nearly 70% of its teaching staff on precarious contracts, Oxford is one of the worst offenders, but this is an issue that extends across UK higher education. Casualisation is a race to the bottom – bad for teachers, bad for students, and bad for universities.”

Abrams, author of Touching Distance, Pied Piper of Covid, and The Jewish Journey: 4000 Years in 22 Objects, expressed similar sentiment via X, thanking the Oxford branch of UCU for their support.

The University College Union, which represents over 120,000 staff across the UK working in Higher Education, has campaigned continuously in recent years against what it calls a “casualisation” of staff contracts. In a 2023 ‘emergency report’ Oxford UCU reported that “hundreds of Universities and College staff members are effectively locked into a cycle of short- or very short-term contracts, sometimes lasting decades”. The Oxford UCU Anti-casualisation Network, a group organized by Oxford UCU members, claims that 77.2% of university staff are on what they consider “casualised and precarious” contracts. 

Reacting to the ruling, Oxford UCU stated via X that “the gig economy has no place in higher education”. The Anti-casualisation Network continued by addressing the university directly, saying “@oxforduni, we’re watching: these practices won’t go ignored”.

A spokesperson for the University said: “We have been notified of the tribunal’s ruling on this preliminary hearing and are currently reviewing it.”