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I got a job at a university in the UK. When I got the offer, the working hours were 38h per week. When they sent the contract to sign, it says, minimum of 38h and the university will from time to time ask to work extra hours without further remuneration. Is this normal in the UK? Should I discuss this with my supervisor to remove this clause?

In the salary it said 36000/ year prorata; what is prorata? As I understand it is based on hours, so should the salary increase if I worked extra hours? Is this correct?

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  • Imho there are two sources of pressure about working hours as a postdoc; (1) one depends on the PI for future recommendations, so depending on the relationship with them it can be risky career-wise to refuse to work extra hours. (2) in my experience the strongest pressure doesn't come from the PI but from oneself: it's hard not to work too much when the potential future job depends on the outcome of the current job. So at the end of the day the contract is not very relevant.
    – Erwan
    Dec 6 '21 at 18:05
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I guess it's hard to answer this without seeing the detail of the contract. However, in general I think this is fairly normal language in contracts for jobs that pay a salary rather than an hourly wage. Basically the idea is that you are paid to complete assigned duties, and you are expected to manage your time accordingly. If you end up having to work late one night to finish preparing your lecture for the next day, you can't ask to be paid overtime.

Generally in UK academia nobody will track your working hours.

The phrase 'pro rata' generally implies that a job can be taken part-time. If you agree that you will only ever work 3 days a week, you would be paid 3/5 x £36000 = £21600. Unfortunately it does not imply you can work more than 100% and get more money.

By all means ask your supervisor to clarify what that part of the contract means. You could also ask if they will change it, but I suspect they will be unwilling to do so.

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    'this is fairly normal language' I've seen "the typical working week will be 38 hours" more often than "the minimum working week will be 38 hours". Dec 5 '21 at 15:59
  • 'Generally in UK academia nobody will track your working hours.' They might if you're partly funded by a Horizon 2020 grant. Note that, if anyone measures any part of your working hours, then all of your working hours become subject to the Working Time Regulations. Dec 5 '21 at 16:01
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    @DanielHatton Surely all postdocs are subject to the Working Time Regulations, whether or not anyone else tracks the hours. But as universities very rarely track working times centrally, this means that junior staff who are being exploited will have to raise a complaint themselves against their own supervisor, thus risking their recommendation letters and thus their own future career. See What researchers think about the culture they work in - but that's a different (and depressing issue).
    – Lou Knee
    Dec 5 '21 at 16:46
  • I'm thinking of regulation 20: Regulations 4(1) and (2), 6(1), (2) and (7), 10(1), 11(1) and (2) and 12(1) do not apply in relation to a worker where, on account of the specific characteristics of the activity in which he is engaged, the duration of his working time is not measured or predetermined or can be determined by the worker himself, as may be the case for— (a)managing executives or other persons with autonomous decision-taking powers; (b)family workers; or (c)workers officiating at religious ceremonies in churches and religious communities. Dec 5 '21 at 16:59
  • IANAL - I've only ever looked at human readable versions such as those from ACAS - but I'm struggling to believe those exceptions would apply in this context, e.g. "duration of his working time is not measured ... or can be determined..." It's not in principle hard for postdocs to keep timesheets if they want to. Not doing so in practice shouldn't change their employment rights. (This is getting off-topic; I'm sure UCU or Prospect will have guidance available.)
    – Lou Knee
    Dec 5 '21 at 17:38
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This is absolutely standard language, not just in UK academia, but most salaried jobs in the UK. Your chances of having this removed are next to zero.

The biggest decider for how much and when you work will be your supervisor, rather than any contractual terms, so it is important to glean what the working culture is from others that work with the same supervisor.

Uk academics are just starting a period of work to rule, and this stuff makes it very difficult. Another term you will probably see is when your duties are listed, it will end with "and any other reasonable request".

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    Note though that - as far as I know - there is still a legal upper limit of 48 hours a week in place in the UK (I've never seen/heard of the required opt-out being requested from a postdoc; though of course I've heard of supervisors pushing their staff to violate it... :( ).
    – Lou Knee
    Dec 5 '21 at 15:44
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    Actually, ive never heard of the opt out NOT being requested, although its generally buried in the small print of the small print. I was always told "if you don't opt out we'll make you keep a very detailed time sheet, including every lunch, coffee and toilet break you take. But, you know, your choice" Dec 5 '21 at 19:40
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    Well, that demonstrates how different things can be, even within academia in the same country... My last lot never even provided me with a time-sheet facility, though they were specifically supposed to!
    – Lou Knee
    Dec 5 '21 at 23:54
  • I think the assumption is no one goes for the timesheet option. Im not sure anyone would know how to organise a timesheet if you went that way. Dec 8 '21 at 0:16
  • > I'm not sure anyone would know how to organise a timesheet... - well, it was their requirement I keep a timesheet for that role! [Oh, and if you don't opt out and are thus available fewer hours than they want, why specifically target you with extra bureaucracy? I call that out as bullying/victimisation, par for the course in the sector :( ]
    – Lou Knee
    Dec 15 '21 at 15:42

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