Setting limits for casual academic work

I am sharing a post recently published over at Actual Casuals. I am glad to say that, while not perfect, my own Department has generally supported my actions on each of these five points when I was employed as a casual. And, in turn, I’ve tried to encourage these when I’ve been involved in hiring casuals.


First published at:

Re: Setting limits to exploitation and the plight of casual academics in Australia

Casualisation is one of the most acute problems in Australian tertiary education. As conditions for casual staff continue to deteriorate, it is important for casuals to work collectively to protect their rights. Management, staff and students need to understand what casualisation involves, as we are currently teaching the majority of classes in Australian universities, and as such, our working conditions are a matter of national significance. Working conditions for casual academics in Australian universities can be improved, and change can start with casuals themselves and their everyday work.

We are casual academics, like you, and we are asking you to consider, adhere to, or implement the following five points of action. We are writing these points based on our experiences teaching in the humanities at an Australian university. We invite casual academic staff from other disciplines and institutions to give their input in the comments on other concrete ways in which we can change current conditions and create a better environment for our working, teaching and research.

  1. Do not do extra work, unless it is clearly paid: e.g. do not give unpaid guest lectures; do not offer student consultation times, including answering emails, unless consultation times are paid separately; request lesson plans from course convenors, given the very limited paid time for lesson-prep.
  2. Ask to be included in course design and on administrative matters: You are entitled to have input on teaching and administrative matters that affect your work (negotiate marking deadlines; ask for one mandatory reading per week, no more).
  3. Ask for transparency and consistency in hiring and contract renewals: Don’t be afraid of asking how the tutorials are allocated amongst staff. If conflicting or limited tutorial times are offered, talk to fellow casual staff and collectively negotiate for a more equitable distribution of workloads.
  4. Use your academic freedom: Not only you are entitled to set your own agenda for class discussion, you are entitled to address the deteriorating conditions within Australian universities and the impact casualisation is having on teaching and learning (e.g., ‘soft-marking’, student consultations, marking deadlines, etc.).
  5. Meet with your fellow casual academics and/or unionise: Break the isolation, stress, neglect and disempowerment of our work. Casuals are being encouraged to compete with each other for scarce hours of work. This can only lead to a further deterioration of working conditions.

We are suggesting these five points as a foundation for casuals to assert their dignity and rights. We know casuals’ working conditions vary widely and that there may be many more issues worthy of inclusion. The main point is that we have to begin with ourselves if things are to improve. Allowing ourselves to be exploited (or staying silent) sets a bad precedent for all casuals and perpetuates this critical situation. If you would like to add to these points or expand on them, please include them in the discussion below, so that we can continue to build further networks of solidarity and support.

PL & J (casual academics since 2009)


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