Part-time work: know your rights. Features people holding signs with text

Part-time work: know your rights!

Kay Barbour, Link Careers Consultant for the School of Law and School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, and Laura Reid, Employer Engagement Coordinator, give some excellent advice on your rights at work so you can make informed choices as a part-time student worker.

Like many of us, you might have come back from the winter holiday with empty pockets, looking for an injection of cash…

If you have a part-time job already, maybe you will increase your hours? If you don’t have a job, you can start your search on MyCareerHub. Currently, we are advertising 130+ part-time jobs and the number will increase through the next few months as Edinburgh gears up to host its spring and summer visitors. As a festival and international city, Edinburgh has many employers looking for proactive, engaged workers like you! It makes sense to search on University platforms – we will only promote opportunities which meet the AGCAS Work Experience Standard. This means you can be sure that the vacancies meet minimum standards to be considered as fair and valuable opportunities for students and graduates.

As a full-time student, how many hours can you work?

  • If you’re a ‘home’ student (ie you don’t need a visa to study), from a legal point of view you can work as many hours as you like. However, the University recommends a threshold of no more than 15 hours part-time work per week during semester. It’s all about finding that sweet spot between work, studies and co/extra curriculars to ensure you get the best Edinburgh experience you can!
  • If you have a student visa and are studying an undergraduate course, officially you can work up to 20 hours a week during term time and full-time during vacations.
  • If you’re an international taught postgraduate student, you can work up to 20 hours a week in term time. You can also work full-time during the winter and spring vacations, but the summer break is considered part of your studies, so you can’t work full-time until your course has officially ended.
  • International postgraduate research students can work up to 20 hours a week. You won’t have vacations as undergraduates and taught postgraduates do, so, if you want to work more than 20 hours a week, you’ll need to agree your work arrangements with your supervisor. The University usually recommends you work 9 hours per week at most.

What are your rights as a part-time student worker?

In general, if you’re a student who works for an organisation (as opposed to being self-employed), your contract means you must be treated the same as comparable full-time workers; that is, workers on the same type of contract with the same employer. This means you’re entitled to the same rate of pay, benefits, holidays, union membership and promotion opportunities as your colleagues (although pay, benefits and similar can be pro rata, ie proportionate to the number of hours you work). You also have the right to protection against unlawful discrimination. You have these rights, right from day one of your employment.

You’re entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year pro rata – so 5.6 times your weekly working hours. For example, if you work 2 days a week, you’re entitled to 11.2 days’ paid holiday (2 x 5.6) a year.

If your role is performed on a self-employed or freelance basis, you will not be covered by employment legislation, including national minimum wage and statutory sick pay. You might also be responsible for your own national insurance and tax contributions.

On MyCareerHub, vacancies will state if they are self-employed/freelance and will also include links to support on what this means for you and where you can get more information.

If you are an international student, you cannot work on a self-employed basis. Always check your visa and read this information from the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) on what kind of work you can do.

The University’s Student Immigration Service can provide advice on UK student visas.

More information on employment rights can be found on the GOV.UK website.

Are you entitled to breaks at work?

If you work more than six hours a day, you’re entitled to one uninterrupted 20-minute rest break. Your employer can tell you when to take your break and it should be at some point during your working hours – not the start or end of the day. You’re entitled to spend your break away from your workspace (eg your desk). However, your break doesn’t have to be paid: this depends on what your contract says.

Regardless of how many hours you work, you’re entitled to 11 hours rest between working days. For example, if you finish work at 8pm, you shouldn’t start work again until 7am the next day. You’re also entitled to either an uninterrupted 24 hours without work each week or 48 hours per fortnight.

What’s the national minimum wage for students?

If you’re an employee (ie not self-employed), the minimum you can be paid (national minimum wage) is the same for students as for everyone else. It also often applies if you’re doing a work placement or internship: find out more about the law on unpaid internships.

These rates are for the National Living Wage (for those aged 23 and over) and the National Minimum Wage (for those of at least school leaving age). The rates change on 1 April every year.

Current rates

23 and  over           21 to 22     18 to 20       Under 18        Apprentice
April 2023 (current rate)             £10.42 £10.18 £7.49 £5.28 £5.28

(Source: GOV.UK – National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage rates)

From 1 April 2024, workers aged 21 and over will be entitled to the National Living Wage.

21 and over 18 to 20    Under 18      Apprentice
April 2024                  £11.44 £8.60 £6.40      £6.40

(Source: GOV.UK – National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage rates)

All roles on MyCareerHub will meet at least National Minimum Wage, Some opportunities explicitly state ‘Meets National Minimum Wage’ and others have the exact rate of pay; this difference is usually just employers’ own preference on whether or not they disclose their pay rate.

We encourage all employers to follow the AGCAS Work Experience Standard which details that renumeration should be clearly stated and any additional fees are detailed.

If you are hired directly with the University, you will be paid the National Living Wage.

What should you look out for?

Unfortunately, not all employers are genuine. If you feel a job opportunity looks too good to be true, trust your instincts. Be wary of employers who ask you:

  • For bank details when you apply
  • To pay for training or stock before you work
  • To invest or send them money

You can read more on our website about staying safe and spotting scams.

All employers and opportunities on MyCareerHub have been checked and vetted to ensure they are in line with the AGCAS Work Experience Standard and our Terms and Conditions.

What can you do if you have been treated unfairly at work?

We are sorry if you have had a negative experience with an employer. Whether or not you found the employer through MyCareerHub, please contact and talk to us about your experience. We might be able to advocate on your behalf – and telling us about your experiences can help other students and determine how, or if the University works with that employer in the future.

We might refer you to The Advice Place, based at the Students’ Association. The Advice Place can provide legal and non-legal advice for students who have been treated unfairly at work. Some examples might include discrimination at work or not getting paid.

Where can you get more information?

Working hours and your rights at work

Thanks Kay and Laura for such great advice.


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