(MENAFN- The Conversation)
Twenty years' experience of casual conversion clauses in Australian universities' employment agreements shows these have not reduced the number of casual staff they employ. No one should be surprised at how few offers of conversion to permanent employment have been made following changes to the National Employment Standards (NES) in March this year. Universities have reportedly offered fewer than 1 in 100 casual staff permanent status since then.
NES provisions require offers of continuing employment to staff members who meet several conditions. They must:
- have been employed for the past 12 months
- have worked a regular pattern of hours for six months
- continue that pattern as a full-time or part-time employee. Grounds for non-conversion include the likelihood of a significant change to work requirements.
Academic conversion provisions include threshold and work pattern requirements similar to those in the NES. Some include other criteria such as:
- being selected through an open (international) merit-based recruitment process
- achieving specific performance standards
- demonstrating potential for an academic career.
In part, this reflects a desire to protect the academic tenure system and the status of academic titles. Recruitment for continuing (tenured) teaching and research staff is based on open, merit-based competition. These academic staff serve a probationary period of three to five years.
Casual conversion could open“backdoor” access to a continuing academic role.
Read more: The casual staff who do 80% of undergrad teaching need more support — here's a way unis can help
Why are conversion rates so low?
Some might see the low rates of casual conversion as reflecting a managerial desire to retain a lower-cost teaching workforce, underpinned by a drive to increase research output of continuing and fixed-term staff. However, it is likely few conversions occurred because:
- threshold requirements could not be met as casual engagement for teaching is trimester/semester-based (13 or 16 weeks)
- future teaching requirements are unpredictable, given recent decline in international students and changing student interests
- there are underlying concerns about the impacts on the quality and capacity of the teaching and research workforce.
A non-conversion decision could be challenged in the Fair Work Commission. A successful challenge would pose a problem if universities wish to maintain academic recruitment standards and provisions.
How many staff are we talking about?
At the time of writing, no Higher Education Statistics data for 2020 casual staff are available. The most recent are for pre-pandemic 2019. Furthermore, headcount data are not published.
Thus, a true understanding of the number of academic casuals depends on knowing the ratio of full-time equivalent (FTE) staff to actual headcounts.
We used a conservative ratio of 1:3 to calculate the headcounts in the chart below.
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