Local ‘Four Fights’ Update: Avoiding redundancies and PGTA employment

25 September 2020

As part of ongoing negotiations with UCL, we have some good news to report and some advice to give.

With regard to redundancies, we have negotiated, for now:

  • 2 months' access to UCL jobs through redeployment following the end of their contract
  • the right of staff to opt to retain continuous service rights to bridge this 2 month period
  • the right to return to a salary point in the future

All PGTAs will:

  • be offered employment contracts
  • be paid at grade 6 (rather than grade 5)

For PGTAs and other part-time staff there is important information about the calculation of FTE and annual leave in the Appendix at the end of this email. 

PGTAs may also wish to join the UCU PGTA network by emailing uclpgta@gmail.com.


One of our ‘Four Fights’ demands in the industrial dispute concerned the disproportionate use of so-called ‘casual’ contracts: insecure employment arrangements where staff may be unsure as to whether or not they have a job in a month, three months or a year’s time. Academia may be a vocation, but for too many in our community, life is permanently insecure. Tackling structural insecurity is a long-term goal, brought to the forefront by the pandemic.

We have some good news to report and some advice to give. 

At UCL we have negotiated additional measures to safeguard jobs in the short term. UCL is also about to implement a policy of employment contracts for Teaching Assistants on Grade 6 (originally negotiated last year). 

In addition, following the completion of consultation with Academic Board members, we are told the Teaching Fellow Concordat should be implemented this autumn. More news will follow as we have it.

Avoiding redundancies

As previously notified to members, we negotiated extensions to research contracts using the Government furlough scheme where possible, leading to contracts due to end in May or June extended until the end of June, and contracts due to end in July or August extended until 31 August. We also negotiated for Teaching Fellows’ contracts to be extended until the end of September. 

But what happens next? Unless new posts are available to be taken up as these contracts end, staff could lose their jobs and leave, even if new jobs were advertised shortly after. 

Numbers of new job opportunities now exist. With a large increase in student numbers in many departments, the recruitment freeze has ended and a large number of new administrative posts began to be advertised in September. Wednesday’s UCL Coronavirus Update message announced that 143 posts were now being advertised externally. 

We expect further Teaching Fellow opportunities to be advertised, but colleagues without confirmed teaching should contact their departments about plans in this regard.

The following arrangements have been negotiated for the remainder of 2020 (to be reviewed in December):

  • A ‘grace period’ of 2 months after an employee is made redundant during which they can apply for another UCL post as a redeployee ahead of external applicants. Note: They would have a lower priority than internal redeployees for legal reasons. They should state that they are applying as a redeployee on their application.
  • The right for staff to opt to retain their continuous service if they start work no later than 2 months after their previous end date (normally the maximum break is 2 weeks). They will have the option of either
    • taking redundancy pay, but forfeiting continuous service and restarting probation, and building up their rights (potentially, appointed at the bottom of the scale although that can be negotiated); or

    • returning any redundancy pay but continuing in service and having a trial period as a redeployee. 

UCU members would be advised to contact the union to discuss the impact of these options before making a final decision.

  • The right to return to a salary point. Staff who leave a higher-paid role will have a right to return to that salary point should they apply for another similarly graded UCL post.  
    • For example, a Grade 7 Research Fellow/Associate appointed to a G5 admin role might then apply for G7 research posts as they are advertised. If successful, they would be re-appointed on their previous salary point, not at the bottom of Grade 7. This means that staff don’t suffer a ‘career reset’ simply because they accepted a temporary role to avoid redundancy.

The policy above applies to all UCL staff. It is obviously relevant to research staff whose contracts ended at the end of August. The two month limit means they have until the end of October to make use of the ‘grace period’ option. But it is also negotiated with the position of Teaching Fellows in mind, as student numbers may be uncertain and late appointments may be made after the end of this month, when many contracts are set to end.

Postgraduate Teaching Assistant (PGTA) employment 

We can confirm that UCL is moving ahead to implement two specific measures in the UCL PGTA Code of Practice that were agreed with ourselves, UCL and the Student Union last year. These are 

  • To offer contracts of employment to all PGTAs except in cases of genuine intermittent short-term working.
  • To pay all PGTAs on Grade 6 rather than Grade 5.

Offering contracts of employment is the right thing to do. It regularises TAs’ conditions of employment, and means that UCL policies apply to them as to other colleagues. It confers specific benefits to TAs they have been long denied, including the right to paid time off if they are sick, maternity rights, etc. At the end of the year, although these contracts will be fixed term, PGTAs should still be consulted properly before decisions are made not to renew them. 

At present, administrators in departments and faculties are attempting to convert ‘as and when’ contracts based on hours of work to ‘full time equivalents’ (FTEs) to put them on payroll. This is taking some time, and unfortunately current advice from HR is incomplete. 

The biggest problem appears to be a confusion about adding the extra hours of annual leave earned by the employee for performing those hours of work in making the translation to FTE. (For hourly-paid staff who are not employees, annual leave must be added in as a separate payment so that it appears separately in payslips.) 

The HR calculator does not specify whether it should be added, but our analysis shows that unless one does add pro-rata leave to that calculation, the resulting FTE will be some 20% below the correct result! This is because their conversion to FTE employs the baseline of 1903 hours, i.e. hours of work + annual leave for a full time employee. The result would be a failure to pay for holidays at all, which is unlawful! 

In the interests of transparency, in the Appendix below we set out a more straightforward method for the calculation to be performed. We would advise admin colleagues to use this simple calculation, as it is transparent and legally sound, and it works for all staff on a standard UCL contract irrespective of grade or post. 

If you are a PGTA, please join the UCU PGTA network! Email uclpgta@gmail.com to be added to the network. Our PGTA Reps Catherine and Saffron will do their best with concerns and queries you might have.

UCL UCU Executive Committee

APPENDIX: Calculating FTE from hours (for 2020-21 academic year)


The following simple calculation applies to all staff appointed to UCL standard contracts for the next session, irrespective of grade or role.

In the 2020-21 year (September-August) there are 365 days. On UCL standard employment contracts, staff have 27 days annual leave and 14 closures or bank holidays. For 2020-21, UCL has also agreed 3 additional closure days at Christmas. This means that there are approximately 217 working days expected of a full time employee, each with 7.3 hours a day (36.5 hours per week), i.e. h(1) = 1,582 hours of work. 

To calculate the annual FTE of any part time worker one can convert the total number of working hours required without holidays, h, by simply dividing it by the working hours of full time employees without holidays, h(1) = 1,582. This is a direct proportion, or ‘pro-rata’ calculation. 

Annual FTE = h / h(1) = h / 1582.

Under Regulation 5 of the Part Time Workers Regulations 2000, part time workers must be paid no less than the resulting figure (they can lawfully be paid more). 

To calculate a concentrated FTE spread over a limited number of months, simply multiply the annual FTE figure by 12/m, where m is the number of months in which payments will be made.


Other methods involving attempting to first work out closure days are prone to error and could lead to a pro-rata figure that is less defensible, for example because staff may end up doing work tasks (like marking or meetings) after the official end date of contracts. 

Although the instructions are currently unclear, the spreadsheet calculator provided by HR requires you to add holidays and closure days, but it would be easy to miss the three additional days, resulting in a lower payment below pro-rata.

Our advice to administrators is use the simple method above, and our advice to PGTAs is to check their figures!