Dr Leon Salter, TEU member and tutor in both theSchool of English and Media Studies and School of Communication, Journalism andMarketing at Massey University discusses the impact of insecure work on personaland family life and the isolating effects of insecurity.
I currently work across two schools at my university. I’ve had to pick up a second contract because otherwise I would only be working around 0.4 FTEs, which is nowhere near enough to live on.
I had been tutoring when I was still studying toward my PhD, so there has not been a clear break between my studies and my working career. I’ve simply carried on under the same fixed-term agreements that seemed to work well for me while I was studying. I guess when you’re studying you don’t think about it so much because it’s not full-time, but as I start my career I increasingly worry about the future.
I am married with three children and my wife would also like to fulfil her dream of completing her PhD, as I have, but the uncertainty around my own future has meant she has had to put her dream on hold.
I do a lot of late nights. I live in Upper Hutt and work in Wellington, so I’m often home quite late. On the weekends I’m often exhausted. I spend Sundays preparing lectures and feel guilty I’m not spending this time with my family.
I think if I’m still doing this in in two or three years’ time, it might become quite unmanageable. There are some people that I work with that have been doing it for much longer, but we all face the same issues of insecurity.
I know people who have given up on buying a house for the meantime due to the insecure nature of their work. They see no point when they don’t feel they’ll be sticking around long enough, or when they don’t know where their next pay will be coming from in a week, a month or a year’s time. There’s no point buying a new car, or new furniture when you feel a move is likely just around the corner. There’s no point in a one-year contract, or a two-year contract, so you just put things off.
I’ve worked with a number of people who have had to leave the sector because they couldn’t sustain what was required of them for the hope of getting a permanent job. I know people who aren’t in Kiwi Saver because it was introduced at a time when they couldn’t afford it, because they were on very insecure pay as a tutor.
Saving for retirement seems like a luxury. Instead we save for unemployment, or perhaps taking our skills and knowledge and moving abroad.
It’s hard to see a way forward with my career when I’m on a fixed-term agreement. Working over two schools this early in my career, just to get by, I’m not accountable to any one person in particular. It would be nice to actually have a sit down with someone and have them suggest what kind of training I need to go forward, or to have a progress plan, or something like that. I never seem to get any feedback on whether I’m doing well, apart from the student surveys and I can’t help but feel as though these opportunities would be more forthcoming if I was a permanent employee.
Insecure work can be very isolating. It can feel very much like you are on your own. You spend much of your time worried and stressed. It can often feel like you are by yourself up against the university, fighting for every little inch and trying to stay above water.
It’s important that our institutions are aware of the problems we face as working people with insecure appointments and the impact insecurity has on our lives and that of our families. It’s also important as workers that we know that we are not alone, that we talk to one another and know that we deserve better. Everyone wins when working people feel secure.