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Oxford University tutors secure employee status

Oxford University tutors secure employee status


Oxford University tutors, Rebecca Abrams and Alice Jolly, win their claim for employee status in an Employment Tribunal, exposing alleged misuse of personal service contracts

The ruling highlights the power imbalance between precarious tutors and the prestigious institution, prompting calls for a re-evaluation of employment practices in higher education.

In a significant legal victory, Oxford University tutors, Rebecca Abrams and Alice Jolly, have emerged triumphant in their pursuit of employee status at the Employment Tribunal. The judgment, delivered in the week commencing February 12, sheds light on the alleged misuse of personal service contracts and underscores the power imbalances within academia.

Rebecca and Alice, each with over 15 years of teaching experience in the Masters in Creative Writing program at the University of Oxford, had consistently been employed on personal service contracts. However, they contended that the terms of their contracts warranted recognition as employees, arguing that the current arrangement denied them crucial workplace rights.

The judgment, handed down after a tribunal hearing in January 2024, acknowledged the dedication of Rebecca and Alice to their students, emphasising their role as full members of staff rather than mere guest lecturers. It noted a power imbalance between the tutors and the University of Oxford, highlighting the tutors' essential contributions.

The ruling classifies Rebecca and Alice as engaged in fixed-term contracts of employment, affirming their employee status. This outcome prompts a future hearing to assess the implications of the decision, potentially setting a precedent for the treatment of academic staff.

The tutors, represented by Leigh Day employment solicitor Ryan Bradshaw and instructed by Richard O’Keefe from Old Square Chambers, received support from Law for Change. The case addresses broader concerns about the erosion of employment rights for university lecturers and challenges the prevalence of precarious contracts in higher education.

Rebecca Abrams expressed the ruling as a vindication of their fight against being employed on what they deemed "sham contracts." She emphasised the urgent need for a reconsideration of how universities treat their teaching staff, citing the detrimental impact of casualisation on both educators and students.

Alice Jolly echoed these sentiments, emphasising the broader implications for the future of higher education and the status of writers teaching in universities. She questioned the university's four-year effort to silence them when the alleged contract misuse was known.

David Graham, co-founder of Law for Change, highlighted the social benefit of the legal action, addressing the continuous erosion of lecturers' employment rights in higher education. The positive outcome is seen as a catalyst for better contract rights for lecturers, not only at Oxford University but across the academic community.

Ryan Bradshaw stressed the importance of the case, calling for a review of how higher education institutions treat precariously employed staff. He stated that it is unacceptable for these institutions to sidestep their legal obligations, emphasising that the gig economy has no place in universities. The ruling stands as a compelling call for a re-evaluation of employment practices in the academic sector.

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