The importance of permanence.

TEU member Emily Brown, Lecturer at Universal College of Learning, shares with us her experience of insecure work and the importance of her recently securing a permanent agreement.

I choose to work part-time. I’ve chosen to have children, to volunteer as a surf lifeguard, to learn Te Reo Māori, and to offer my time as a volunteer swim coach for ten or more hours each week.

Despite having degrees in psychology and computer science, with an additional major in maths, 2019 is the first time I have held a permanent position since leaving the full-time workforce in 2005.

When I started casual work in 2010, in Christchurch, I enjoyed the flexibility. It was useful when I went into premature labour with one of our children that I didn’t actually “have” to do any more work. I took marking when I could and left it when I couldn’t. As time went on and marking became tutoring and course coordinating as well, I was relatively well looked after, but each new year was accompanied by a nervousness as to what work it would bring.

In 2013 we moved to Palmerston North and I began working on a casual basis for Massey University. I worked on a number of maths and engineering papers, and during term time I was often engaged for more than 20 hours a week. I worked at Massey until the end of 2018, on the same courses, and in my final year there I also had a fixed-term appointment across campus teaching communications.

During this time, I became well liked and respected by the students. They petitioned for more of my time, checked which tutorial they could come to in order to make sure that I’d be there, and recommended me to future students. In return, I taught to the best of my ability, advocated for students, looked after them when things went wrong, wrote references for them and set them up with work experience. Despite this, I was never consulted on any course decisions, I never had any assurance of ongoing work and never received anything more than a complimentary email to thank me for my efforts.

For me though, the real low point was reached when after four and a half years of work I finally called in sick. I’d taught my way through head colds, bronchitis and various forms of ill health. I’d even had laparoscopic surgery and turned up to work two days later.

But on this particular day in 2018 I was scared of vomiting on the students, so I called in sick. Later, someone I reported to told me I would still get paid, as long as I covered for a fellow casual workers class.

I was once told that casual work is a gift, that I was lucky to have it. I was always made to feel like I had to toe the line – or someone else would have my job. My pay was never amazing, and sometimes rates I was offered were only correct when holiday pay was included. My opinion never seemed to matter and was certainly never sought out. I was left wondering if perhaps we should rename the people who do casual work – ‘disposable workers’. After a while, being part of the ‘Disposable Workforce’ wasn’t good for my well being. It caused financial stress, left me feeling low, controlled, and somewhat unworthy.

This year, I’m employed on a permanent part-time basis by UCOL. As a part-time worker, I don’t always feel as much a part of things as I’d like to, but this summer, when I’m not teaching, I’ll be paid. If I’m sick, I’ll be paid. If I voice my views I won’t be “no longer required”. If I have something to offer it’s recognised and it’s a real relief to have left the ‘disposable workforce’.