Contract Research Staff

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 1:03 pm on 22nd November 2001.

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Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour 1:03 pm, 22nd November 2001

I have two declarations to make. First, I have a son who is a short-term contract researcher with a university. Secondly, I have an honorary chair at Stirling University, where I have a research unit that employs short-term contract staff. I thank members for the support that they have given to the motion I lodged that is similar to the one lodged by Alex Neil.

I will not repeat what everybody else has said. There is agreement that the situation is unsatisfactory. I will instead throw out one or two questions. Was research worse back in the 1960s and 1970s when there were only 6,000 short-term contract workers? Is it better now that there are 39,000 contract workers in the United Kingdom? Has the process of casualisation, which was part of a philosophy that ranged across all our services, been to the benefit of research in our institutions? The answer is no.

What was introduced as something that might be appropriate for someone at the beginning of their career, as a first contract, has become a way of life for far too many people. In at least one institution, 12 per cent of the contract staff, who represent a substantial proportion of the total staff of that institution, have contracts that have revolved over a period of 10 years. That cannot be good for the knowledge economy that we are trying to build.

What began as a concept that would increase flexibility has become a way of life for far too many institutions. We need to change that. The damage is evident and the waste is clear. We cannot afford to treat so many bright, young people as a casual underclass with inadequate terms and conditions. The sort of partnership arrangements that Stirling University in my constituency is introducing are important, but the talk that has gone on for some time with the SHEFC initiative has got to stop. It is time for action to manage this group of people effectively for the benefit of Scotland.