AN award-winning author and lecturer and her colleague are suing Oxford University over its policy of zero-hours contracts which they claim have seen them ousted from their teaching roles after almost 16 years.

Playwright Alice Jolly and fellow tutor at Oxford, Rebecca Abrams, were both lecturers on the university's creative writing course - which Harry Potter star Emma Watson has enrolled to study.

This week, the women took their claims to an employment tribunal, suing the Chancellors, Masters and Scholars of Oxford University for breach of contract and unfair dismissal.

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Ms Jolly has said previously they were suing the university over its zero-hours contracts ‘on behalf of the 77,000 other people tied into similar contracts’.

The academics are suing Oxford University over the ‘Uberisation’ of their teaching contracts after the pair were suddenly ousted from the course they had been teaching for 15 years on ‘insecure’ zero hours contracts.

Ms Jolly, 58, and Ms Abrams, 61, were employed on fixed-term ‘personal services’ contracts.

Both lecturers claim the university treated them as gig-economy workers, keeping them on insecure casual contracts that lasted for 15 years - until they were abruptly discontinued in August 2022 after the pair had made a formal complaint to the university.

The tutors also claim the university commonly uses casual zero-hours contracts as the standard workplace status for many of its lecturing staff.

They say this is paying them a poor hourly rate which does not factor in marking or course preparation, nor appropriately pay for holiday and guarantee future employment.

Ms Jolly said: "Our course is so high profile that Emma Watson attends and pays £20,000.

"I myself won a scholarship to Oxford University and I have won some of the top literary prizes in this country.

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"Yet I have worked for 16 years on a zero hours contract for teaching on this course and was dismissed when I complained. Where is the justice in that?"

Normally used for ‘on call’ work, casual contracts state the employer is under no obligation to give the employee any minimum working hours.

But Ms Jolly and Ms Abrams say the university let them think they could count on future employment by consistently renewing their contract for many years.

Oxford Mail: Emma Watson is on the course taught by Alice Jolly and fellow tutor at Oxford, Rebecca AbramsEmma Watson is on the course taught by Alice Jolly and fellow tutor at Oxford, Rebecca Abrams The two academics are still officially employed by the University of Oxford but they have not been assigned students since 2022 - which they claim amounts to a dismissal since student supervision made up the bulk of their work.

The first hearing in the court case brought by the two university lecturers against the prestigious university began on Monday (January 15) at the Reading Employment Tribunal Centre.

Ms Jolly, who was the first to give evidence, told the panel the casual contracts were often ‘obscure and arbitrary' in their assignments and offered ‘pay as little as £25 an hour’ for lectures.

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Anna Beale, a solicitor representing the university, told the claimant the zero-hours contracts had the advantage of granting the teaching staff more flexibility.

Ms Jolly, who is represented alongside Mrs Abrams by solicitor Richard O'Keeffe, replied: "I do not accept that flexibility claim - there is no real flexibility because there is a power imbalance here.

"Oxford University is one of the most powerful universities in the world and I'm a person on a zero hours contract.

"If I turn down work from them I have no power to get it back. I am powerless in this relationship."

Ms Abrams, an award-winning novelist and literary journalist as well as a radio producer for the BBC, told the tribunal on Tuesday (January 16) that refusing work offered by the university was often met with immediate backlash.

She said: "In general, we were under a lot of pressure to do what we were asked to do - there is a lot of pressure too so things that are presented as optional, really are not optional. Refusing work was certainly not without consequences."

Ms Abrams explained she had experienced this first hand when she once needed Ms Jolly to substitute for her on a seminar session she had been teaching consecutively and without disruption for three years from 2015 until 2018.

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Ms Abrams said: "My son was going away to Australia for a year and we had arranged a weekend away together.

"So I asked the university if I could possibly teach the Historical Research seminar on the Saturday instead of the Friday. They said no and they asked me to suggest a replacement.

"I arranged for Ms Jolly to substitute for me - but I was never asked back.

"I had taught this seminar for three years at that point and it was very successful, everybody came. But I never got it back after that, and the seminar was stopped."

The case continues.