The Glasgow University Students' Representative Council (GUSRC) has been accused of arrogance and hypocrisy for its use of a contractor's agreement that is akin to an atypical zero-hours contract for its minibus drivers.
The GUSRC's minibus drivers transport students between their halls of residence and campus, with shifts lasting from three to six hours, running until 11pm. The drivers are expected to sign a contractor's agreement, which means that they are considered to be self-employed 'contractors' rather than employees of the GUSRC.
As independent contractors, they have none of the rights or protections as employees, despite having many obligations which are similar to those of an employee.
In the contractor’s agreement, it states that the “GUSRC is not obliged to offer any set minimum work to the contractor and the contractor is not obliged to accept any work offered”. It also states, however, that while “nothing in [the] agreement causes the contractor to be an employee of GUSRC, [minibus drivers] should always identify themselves as part of the GUSRC’s team”.
Although there is a legal distinction between an employment contract and a contractor's agreement, minibus drivers are nevertheless considered to be part of the workforce by the GUSRC. Despite this, the agreement makes it clear that there is no guarantee of regular work for minibus drivers, similar to zero-hours employment contracts.
In 2014, the GUSRC campaigned for the replacement of zero-hours contracts across the University, saying that it would “campaign for the replacement, as soon as practically possible, of zero-hours and atypical contracts for staff, [to] offer greater stability and financial security, unless staff choose to remain on zero-hours or atypical contracts”.
The Glasgow Guardian understands that the contractor's agreement is the only option available to GUSRC minibus drivers, who have to agree to being independent, self-employed contractors and not employees if they want to secure work with the organisation. No alternative contract or agreement is currently available for the minibus drivers, despite the GUSRC's previous commitment to campaign for the availability of employment contracts which offer "greater stability and financial security".
A former minibus driver, whose contract was terminated after she clashed with GUSRC managers over the rota system used by the organisation to schedule minibus provision, told The Glasgow Guardian: "In reality this is a zero-hours contract with even fewer of the rights that normal zero-hours contract workers have. It’s a mighty double standard from the SRC, the very body that has campaigned against these contracts. If this got to an employment tribunal, things could get very interesting. They want to insist that we're self-employed."
She added: “We’re just disposable to them. Their arrogance is outstanding."
After asking the rota to be changed, and requesting a different minibus, she was told that the rota system was "not up for debate". Her contract was terminated on the basis that she was “vexatious” and “interfering in the rota system”. The decision was taken with immediate effect "at the discretion of the Permanent Secretary", rather than the standard procedure of one week's notice.
Another former minibus driver told The Glasgow Guardian that he left the job because "couldn't take it anymore". He said: "It was impacting on my physical and mental wellbeing. [...] I was being given shifts on the morning after I’d done a night shift, which is quite frankly dangerous. You’re not getting to sleep until about 1am, then you're up at six to start your 7am shift.
“It’s bogus self-employment. You're an employee in every conceivable sense of the word but you don't get sick pay, you don't get maternity pay, you don't get a pension plan. It’s about them trying to wriggle out of any traditional responsibilities they should have towards employees".
He added: “It’s staggering hypocrisy. This job has always been atypical, arm’s-length, bogus self-employment. [The minibus drivers] work very long hours, they work very hard to look after students and they should be treated a lot better".
BetterThanZero, a campaigning group started by Scotland's Trade Union Centre to fight against unfair contracts, also expressed its concerns. A spokesperson told The Glasgow Guardian: "The betterthanzero campaign was started to fight back against the zero culture in our workplaces, the culture that offers precarious work with few rights and even less respect. We just don't buy the line that workers enjoy the flexibility of zero-hour and low-hour contracts - in reality, the majority of workers need to know how many hours they are due to work, and most importantly, how much they are going to be paid.
"The SRC previously agreed with us - they campaigned against the use of zero hour contracts by the University of Glasgow as recently as 2014 - so we are baffled as to why they are using them within their own organisation. We know that the zero hour contracts did not suit the staff employed by SRC and, worryingly, we have been informed that some workers have been dismissed after raising concerns.
"We urge SRC to stand by their own position and immediately stop the use of zero hours contracts. We also suggest that they encourage their staff to join a trade union and work with them to ensure they are offering decent, well paid jobs with good terms and conditions. An organisation like the SRC should be a beacon of excellent employment practices, not the subject of an investigation like this."
Liam King, GUSRC President, told The Glasgow Guardian: "The minibus drivers for the SRC are self-employed contractors and are not employees of the organisation. This is an arrangement for which we have legal advice and so at the moment we believe we are operating fully within the law."
The issue of the contractor's agreement will be discussed at an SRC Council meeting on Thursday 29 October 2015.