Goldsmiths lecturers win worker rights battle

Lecturers at Goldsmiths University in London have won a battle to claim ‘worker status’, rather than be treated as independent contractors.

The short-course university lecturers will now be entitled to a range of employment rights, includes being paid at least the national minimum wage, according to their legal team at employment law firm Leigh Day.

Other rights they are now eligible to receive are the right to union representation, protection against unlawful deductions from wages, paid holiday and protection against unlawful discrimination.

The lecturers filed a claim at an employment tribunal in June, using the example of Uber drivers who earlier this year won a similar battle to be classed as workers in the Supreme Court.

As ‘independent contractors’, the lecturers were paid £55 per hour to teach short courses. They were only paid for teaching hours and not for hours spent in course preparation or student support. They did not receive holiday pay, pay for absence and more than two-week absences would lead to the termination of the employment contract.

The lecturers argued they were entitled to worker status as employees because of the way they were required to work and because they worked personally for Goldsmiths.

After the claim was issued at the tribunal, the university backtracked on the original decision and agreed to grant the lecturers worker status.

Leigh Day solicitor Ryan Bradshaw said: “We welcome the decision of the university to give their workers the contracts they deserve. It is concerning that it has taken us issuing claims in the employment tribunal to concentrate minds. No employer should try to evade their responsibilities to their staff.”

Roberto Mozzachiodi of the UCU union added: “This is a massive step in the struggle against gig economy practices and their normalisation within HE [higher education].”

One of the lecturers, Neda Genova, who has taught a short course in cultural studies at Goldsmiths since 2016, said she hopes their success will eoncourage other academics working under exploitative conditions to challenge the legality of their contracts.

She added: “We have a very clear tendency for an ‘uberification’ of universities, which needs to be challenged collectively.”

A Goldsmiths University spokesperson said: “We have agreed to settle claims with three short-course tutors giving them ‘worker’ status. They join all other short-course tutors at Goldsmiths who received new contracts in September 2021 that formally recognise them as ‘workers’ and see them earn more than £56 an hour, which includes preparation time and holiday earnings. This compares favourably with other providers of non-accredited courses such as these.”