The Students’ Union has left some employees without guarantee of future pay, with at least one student left homeless, as it refrains from furloughing those on zero-hours contracts.
Despite the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) stating: “Any employer with a UK payroll and a UK bank account will be able to claim” from the scheme and that “You can be on any type of contract, including a zero-hour contract or a temporary contract”, the Students’ Union has so far refused to furlough all employees – leaving many without any guarantee of future pay, and at least one student without a home.
One affected student, who asked to remain anonymous, told HUB Magazine: “I’ve had to move out of student accommodation because I could no longer afford the rent without it being built up as debt to the university. At the moment, I’m having to sofa surf as I don’t have parents that I can go back home to.”
Despite applying for financial help, the student added that “they haven’t got back to me so I had no choice but to leave because of no confirmation of any financial help”. “I had that automatic email confirmation but apart from that nothing.”
It is understood that the Student Money Service is subject to some delays at the moment due, in part, to the high volume of applications.
Another student said they had been left feeling “high and dry”, in a TrUWE post that implores students to not “even consider working for the students union”.
James Arrowsmith, local councillor for Frenchay Campus’ area, Stoke Park and Cheswick, said: “I’m deeply concerned to hear about employees on zero-hour contracts not being furloughed. The Students’ Union has a duty of care towards its staff and should seek relief from the Government without delay.”
In an email sent to staff on March 19, The Students’ Union’s HR manager, Mark Walker, explains that they made the decision to “protect our organisation for the future benefit of our student community”, and encourages affected employees to regularly check for new opportunities on JobShop.
An email sent to staff on April 2 from the SU CEO Tim Benford said that the SU was “unable to commit to accessing the CJRS through furlough for our casual staff at this time”, stating “as the University receives public funding it believes it cannot apply for support under CJRS, we as The Students’ Union receive a significant portion of our income from our block grant (this is also public money) so we must initially ensure that we have mitigated all risks prior to making any claim.” The email goes on to say that “Very recently the National Union of Students (NUS) indicated strongly (while not yet confirming) that Students’ Unions will be eligible for the range of schemes the government has put out.”
However, government advice suggests that public bodies can furlough staff, stating:
“Where employers receive public funding for staff costs, and that funding is continuing, we expect employers to use that money to continue to pay staff in the usual fashion – and correspondingly not furlough them.”
“In a small number of cases, for example where organisations are not primarily funded by the government and whose staff cannot be redeployed to assist with the coronavirus response, the scheme may be appropriate for some staff.”
In a statement, the SU claims it will start furloughing some staff, but the SU remains vague on those who will be eligible for the scheme:
“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Students’ Union made the difficult decision to start the process of furloughing staff. Where possible we are working to access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) for as many of our staff as possible, including the student staff who we believe may be eligible. Staff that are eligible will be paid as usual at the end of April.
“As an organisation, we are doing all that we can to support our student staff at this difficult time and are working to keep individuals updated as we navigate this constantly evolving climate.
“Should students find themselves in need of financial hardship during this period, we would advise them to access the UWE Bristol Coronavirus Emergency Fund here”
Featured photo by Kane Smith