Editor’s Letter

Eileen Clark, Clarks Clerks:

Welcome to this first-ever special issue of Nexus, devoted to one of the most significant issues affecting universities and TASA members today. The exponential growth in short-term, part-time and casualised forms of employment has been a feature of neoliberal, post-industrial economies. Otherwise known as contingent or precarious labour, this form of work is now standard in Australian universities, where its effects on staff, would-be staff and students is profound. In 2016, TASA set up a working party to examine contingent labour and ways to improve the working conditions of contingent staff. Its report, TASA Working Document: Responses to Contingent Labour in Academia, was released at the 2016 Conference. In this issue of Nexus, four members with personal and academic involvement in contingent labour outline the issues.

Kristen Natalier points out that those (permanently) employed as sociologists can work for change at an advocacy level while also implementing practices that can improve the day-to-day working lives of contingent staff. Christian Mauri describes the soul-destroying efforts needed to find work every semester, showing how the regular preparation of numerous job applications is itself a form of unpaid labour, one made harder by the failure of potential employing academics to respond to enquiries. Tom Barnes reminds us that contingent employment has always been a feature of work for research-only academics, leading to the situation where people have been employed for many years on 12-month contracts. He points out that some universities now have clauses in their Enterprise Awards allowing the transfer of such staff to permanent employment. Finally, Lara McKenzie examines the profound personal effects of precarious employment, leading to lives that are unsettled both financially and emotionally. She notes the intricate relationship between personal lives and precarious work and highlights its gendered nature.

I urge you to read the Working Document and to consider the experiences of the writers in this issue of Nexus. Please use the ‘Comments’ box at the end of each article to let us know what you think. You need to provide a name and email address for verification, but please indicate if you do not want your name published. The first regular issue of Nexus for 2017 should be out in early April.

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One thought on “Editor’s Letter

  • Judy Rose

    on

    This is an important issue, and I am glad Nexus has run a series of articles on this. I have been a contingent academic through my PhD and into my fourth year following completion. As a woman who completed my PhD in my 40s – issues of institutional sexism and ageism create intersectional complexities. Since 2008 I have spent untold hours applying for jobs including the lengthy selection criteria required for each, and for funding including a fellowship and a post-doc – getting into the top 10, but with only 8 given out. There are a few major flaws I have encountered:
    1. Too few opportunities, too little mentoring, too much exploitation (being lambasted for not teaching every topic on schedule, for sickness, for marking too high or too low, for demanding a space to work out of
    2. It is difficult/impossible for casuals to apply for ARC funding (e.g. DECRA)- so it is a dead end road
    3. Being treated as a secondary underclass despite kind gestures by some permanents – that do not address the underlying inequality which persists.
    4. The union is a toothless tiger – I am a member who has raised issues related to contingency – but my case was refused – apparently 10 years of contingent work and you might get some support by the union…I’m getting closer – next year I make the grade.

    My suggestion, and one I raised at TASA last year is that we need to get more radical on this issue. I posed the question of what would happen if all contingent staff went on strike. Who would teach the classes – do the RA work that keeps research projects going? Well I am pretty sure having survived the drought of work between Nov and March most casuals would not be able financially to go on strike. But could the permanents make that stand for us? It really might have to come down to this, if we really expect change within universities.

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