The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) has faced criticism for its advertising of zero-hours contracts, with nationwide campaign group Betterthanzero suggesting that this is inconsistent with the School’s “progressive” reputation. The group drew attention to this alleged inconsistency in a post on their Facebook page dated 20 September, in which they shared a vacancy posted by the GSA.
The vacancy advertises for a guide to lead “Mackintosh at the GSA” tours, and to play “a supporting role for [their] Walking Tours and general visitor centre operation”. Payment is £8.45 per hour, and the position is advertised as “Permanent”, with a regular minimum-hour contract in place during the busy summer season. However, it is also stated that successful applicants must be willing to continue on a zero-hours basis, during their quiet season of October onwards.
Betterthanzero posted a screenshot of the vacancy, captioning it: “The Glasgow School of Art pride themselves on being a progressive employer but here they are advertising for Tour Guides who are ‘happy to continue on a zero-hour contract’…”.
The post received a mixed response from commenters, with many joining Betterthanzero in condemning GSA and zero-hours contracts more generally while others stated that they could not see the problem as the nature of the contract was explicitly advertised, and that this was “entirely suitable for [the School of Art’s] off-season”.
One commenter recounted their own experiences with the GSA, recalling how they had been offered a role as a library assistant which would have been “ideal” had it not been on a zero-hours contract (a fact they asserted was not disclosed in the job advertisement). They described the system as “designed to exploit workers”, calling for “a total reform on workers [sic] pay and conditions”.
GSA was one of a number of Scottish universities to be implicated in a report by Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Select Committee in 2014, following an investigation finding that thousands of employees in Scottish universities were experiencing “abuse and exploitation” on zero-hours contracts. The report prompted the Universities and College Union to issue a public call for the universities involved to abolish the practice, to which Universities Scotland (a membership organisation representing Scotland’s higher education institutions) responded by promising to do so.
A spokesperson for the GSA told The Glasgow Guardian: “These contracts relate to work with GSA Enterprises during term time and are specifically designed to fit with the requirements of GSA students for maximum flexibility to fit their work as tour guides round their academic studies and studio time, and to allow them to take up opportunities for exhibitions, travel and exchange. Minimum hours contracts are offered over the summer when the student guides have fewer academic commitments.
“GSA Enterprises is a living wage employer and all staff receive holiday pay, sick pay, pension contributions and other benefits alongside a range of training opportunities to complement their studies at the GSA, regardless of the number of hours they perform.”