Contract Research Staff

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:59 pm on 22nd November 2001.

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Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour 12:59 pm, 22nd November 2001

I will not repeat much of what has been said. I welcome the motion, for which members have shown broad approval and I welcome Richard Simpson's motion, which is closely allied to it.

Some of the statistics that Alex Neil mentioned should be highlighted. I was struck particularly by the fact that many research staff spend a long time on fixed-term contracts. Some people have spent 20 years on a succession of fixed-term contracts. That cannot do anything for job security. It seems that universities have slipped into a fixed-term mentality. Other members have argued, and I agree with them, that there is no need for universities to have done so—certainly not to that extent.

In a redundancy situation, fixed-term contract staff are always the first to go. When they try to buy homes or get loans, they are always penalised by banks and other lenders, simply because they cannot give the long-term guarantees on income stream that are required by many lenders. That is extremely unfortunate. We have to recognise the role of research staff and value it more highly.

I am very taken with some of the information that has been provided for the debate by the AUT. The AUT proposal contains, among many suggestions, three models for debate. I will not go into them in detail, but will mention the flexibility model in which, from day one, career planning and staff development are geared to allowing individuals to develop their medium to long-term career employability.

The AUT also proposes a collaboration model in which partnerships could be formed between universities such as the universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde and the universities of Dundee and St Andrews. That model would allow staff to be fully utilised in a flexible way between the universities. It would also give staff greater long-term stability. It is clear that there is no shortage of suggested ways of improving the situation. We need to find a way of doing that.

I urge the ministers to move quickly to facilitate discussions on the matter involving SHEFC, the universities and the unions that represent staff. That would enable an even greater contribution to be made to the development of Scotland's economy.