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Award-winning authors who sued Oxford University for employing them on prestigious creative writing course with ‘sham contracts’ win their tribunal claim


  • Alice Jolly and Rebecca Abrams say they were treated like ‘gig economy workers’

Two award-winning authors who sued Oxford University for employing them with ‘sham contracts’ on a prestigious creative writing course have won their tribunal claim for employee status.

Alice Jolly, 58, and Rebecca Abrams, 61, argued that the university treated them like ‘gig economy workers’, keeping them on ‘insecure’ contracts for more than 15 years.

The pair taught on the course being studied by Harry Potter star Emma Watson, and it was noted in the tribunal that they had demonstarted ‘a level of dedication and care for students that all educators should aspire to’.

But the respected academics were not classed as employees, and both argued that their ‘personal services’ contracts denied them important workplace rights. 

After an employment tribunal hearing last month, the judge found in their favour and ruled that they should both be classed as employees. The university says it is now reviewing the ruling.

Alice Jolly, 58, and Rebecca Abrams, 61, claimed the university treated them as 'gig-economy workers'

Alice Jolly, 58, and Rebecca Abrams, 61, claimed the university treated them as ‘gig-economy workers’

Ms Abrams said the tribunal ruling was a ‘vindication of everything we’ve been fighting for since 2018’.

She added: ‘Alice and I are skilled professionals teaching at one of the world’s top universities, yet we’ve been employed year after year on sham contracts that have denied us our employment rights and legal protections.’

According to their lawyers, Oxford had told the academics that they would be offered more appropriate contracts in April 2022. 

Two months later, their contracts were not renewed.

‘Both will seek a judgment that the failure to renew these contracts was an act of victimisation as result of their whistleblowing and trade union activity,’ said a statement from Leigh Day solicitors, who represented the pair. 

The landmark ruling could have wider implications for the higher education sector, with casual contracts widely used across UK universities.

Ms Abrams said ‘Oxford is one of the worst offenders, but this is an issue that extends across UK higher education. Casualisation is a race to the bottom – bad for teachers, bad for students, and bad for universities.’

Lawyers have said a hearing will be held to assess what the implications of the ruling might be, The Guardian reports.

Jo Grady, general secretary of The University and College Union (UCU), described it as a ‘huge win in the fight against gig economy working practices in higher education’.

‘This victory shows these contracts are often a sham and staff on them are entitled to the benefits of secure employment,’ she said.

Ms Abrams said 'Oxford is one of the worst offenders, but this is an issue that extends across UK higher education' (file image)

Ms Abrams said ‘Oxford is one of the worst offenders, but this is an issue that extends across UK higher education’ (file image)

‘Every employer in the sector now needs to pay attention to this ruling and begin working with UCU to move their employees on to secure contracts.’

A report released by the UCU last month found that around two in three research staff are employed on fixed term contracts, some of which are 

These included 88 per cent of research staff at Oxford, 96 per cent at King’s College London, 80 per cent at the University of Manchester and 96 per cent at London School of Economics, the report claims.

Ms Grady described the practice as ‘completely unacceptable’ and said that it ‘has to stop’.

A spokesman for Oxford University said: ‘We have been notified of the tribunal’s ruling on this preliminary hearing and are currently reviewing it.’



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