I was on three different casual contracts with the same university. Two of the contracts were research assistant roles and the other was four hours a week of teaching. I arrived on campus one morning at 8.45 and went to grab some teaching materials out of my office to take to my 9am tutorial. I swiped my pass to enter the building, but the door wouldn’t open. The pass reader said ‘invalid’. I tried a few times, but no luck. I started to panic a bit – 9am was getting closer. Then I remembered – one of my research contracts had expired the previous day. In the system, my building access must have been linked to that contract. I’d been working at the university for nearly three years, I was two weeks into the semester-long course I was teaching, plus I had another research contract for the next six months, but the system had decided I don’t work there anymore because another contract had expired at midnight the night before. I raced across campus to the security office and told a security guard that my pass wouldn’t work. He said, “Did one of your contracts expire?” Apparently, it happened often. I got to my class ten minutes late, covered in sweat, and tried to pull myself together long enough to run a good two-hour tutorial. Fortunately, the students in that class were great. They were engaged and fun to work with. But the whole time, I was feeling like a cog in a system that had no interest in me. Far from a valued member of staff, I was barely a person. All I was to the university was a collection of hours on a spreadsheet. The hours on a contract were all used up and so I was now invalid. That same semester, I taught another class on a different campus. My commute to get that campus was two hours and there was no other work I could do there. So it was a four hour round commute for two hours of paid work, once a week for a whole semester. I could have said no to taking that class. I could have survived without that two hours pay. But what if I said no and then the person coordinating the class didn’t offer me any work the next semester? The solution to all of this is easy. If you need people to teach classes and do research, then offer them on-going jobs. But we’re not people. We’re just collections of hours on a spreadsheet somewhere.
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