Precarious Labour

In academic staff unions around the world, precarious labour is becoming a growing concern. Precarious work, or non-standard work, is poorly remunerated, insecure, unprotected and typically insufficient to support a household. It is an increasing feature of globalization as well as “privatised” and “marketised” universities.

ASAWU has become increasingly concerned about the ongoing use of contract labour within the academic employment sector at Wits. As such, we undertook exploratory research in order to understand the extent to which precarious labour may be prevalent in the Wits employment context and how temporary contracts affect academic staff.

Key findings include:

  • Many contract staff have their contracts renewed multiple times, rather than get offered permanent positions
  • A significant number of contract jobs rely on external research funding, which can be unreliable and unpredictable.
  • The duration of temporary employment contracts is also variable.
  • Contract staff are poorly remunerated, with wide discrepancies in salaries evident.
  • Contract staff are typically excluded from annual increases, which means that they effectively take payment cuts every year.
  • Non-permanent employment is gendered, with women potentially facing greater exposure to precarious labour.
  • Temporary status has a severe impact on morale and working relationships with other staff
  • Post-doctoral fellows in particular feel under-valued. See more about post-docs here
  • Contract staff are often asked to perform duties that are not in the ambit of their work specifications.

You can download the full report here.