Nobody knows how many uni staff are on zero-hours contracts

It’s the most baffling dilemma of our time

Frustrated stattos have admitted defeat after spending more than a year trying to work out how many university staff are on zero-hours contracts.

Universities and trade unions had joined forces to try and get an accurate figure on how many staff were employed on a casual or hourly paid basis.

However, their quest ultimately proved unsuccessful, a failure they blamed on a lack of consistency in how universities keep track of their staff numbers and types of employee.

Zero-hours contracts, which are typically given to lower-level employees such as cleaners and cooks, guarantee no minimum amount of work each week, but allow employers and employees to have a more flexible work schedule. They became a political football in the run-up to this year’s election when David Cameron was forced to admit to Jeremy Paxman he couldn’t live off one.

Unis typically employ cleaners and other non-academic staff on zero-hours contracts

Unis typically employ cleaners and other non-academic staff on zero-hours contracts

To make tracking these lower-paid, casual workers easier, the catchily-named New Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff have recommended universities implement a “more consistent and reliable recording and reporting framework so categories of staff could be established”.

Their report also suggested unis should “consider arrangements and safeguards they can put in place to reduce the degree of uncertainty that exists with such employment”.

Without any official statistics, the best idea anyone currently has of how many zero-hours workers are cleaning up after you and serving your food is 25,000, a number gained through a series of Freedom of Information requests made by trade unions in 2013.

However, many employers refuse to recognise this figure, as they feel it fails to capture the complexity of employment in higher education.

Until a clearer method for tracking zero-hours workers becomes available, unions and universities are likely to continue to disagree on the matter.