Sheffield Students’ Union is “exploiting” and ignoring the welfare of its lowest paid staff, it has been claimed as Forge Press can reveal that a standoff has emerged between top Union figures and those pulling the pints.
Bosses at Britain’s top SU have prompted widespread backlash over their plans to change the pay of several hundred employees from a long-established weekly basis to a monthly rate.
The measures, due to be imposed at the start of April if passed, will affect the Union’s ‘casual’ workforce which are mostly students, all subjected to zero-hours contracts, and commonly seen at popular SU outlets including Bar One, Coffee Revolution and Foundry.
Seven casual staff members have expressed their frustration to Forge Press, with many questioning whether Sheffield SU deserves the title of the nation’s best when the new pay scheme will, they say, cause unnecessary stress at a time when mental health is at the top of the agenda for universities nationwide.
However, other disenchanted SU staff say the pay dispute is not an isolated concern but rather the culmination of a wider feeling of anger that has built up among the casual workforce.
Senior managers at Sheffield SU, which is formally independent from the University of Sheffield, say the changes will allow less “time-consuming” administration and free staff from paying National Insurance and pension pot contributions.
Treating employees with ‘disdain’
One student casual worker at Sheffield SU, who asked to remain anonymous, told Forge Press that the case shows that the pride the Union stressed it holds in listening to its workforce when employing them was mere “lip service”.
“Despite what they say, the Students’ Union always puts their profits ahead of our welfare, and to continue to push through with this change, which will save them so little, yet will affect us so detrimentally, is the antithesis of this,” the employee said.
‘If the best SU in the country can’t respond to THIS appropriately then I don’t think it deserves that title’
“This proposal is totally unnecessary and it angers me that the UK’s number one Students’ Union could treat its workers with such disdain.”
Another casual staff member added: “The Union brands itself on being a supportive employer for students, yet it is treating its staff exploitatively and ignoring their wellbeing and the concerns they have voiced on the issue”.
The SU says most companies and payment cycles operate on a monthly basis, claim they have given plenty of notice of the changes and have offered a ‘pay advance’ scheme to help upset students navigate the transition more smoothly.
But casual workers explained to Forge Press that the closure of SU outlets during the upcoming Easter holidays will mean no pay for an entire month, creating added anxiety over bills and budgeting, and expressed worry of a scramble for shifts near the pay deadline.
“Jumping immediately from weekly to monthly without even having fortnightly pay in between I also find quite rude and inconsiderate to the staff at the SU as it would require a massive lifestyle change,”’ one employee told Forge Press.
“And if the best SU in the country can’t respond to that appropriately then I don’t think it deserves that title.”
Workers rallying against their seniors
Initially beginning with discussions on Facebook group chats, around 80 casual SU workers have now joined together to stand up against the Union, who are trying to impose the new scheme, and met last Thursday to form their collective arguments to present to SU managers.
It comes as SU bosses have agreed to meet with the disgruntled staff this week for two consultation sessions to discuss their concerns, but those affected are calling for the two week period between the consultations and the last weekly pay day of April 5 to be extended.
A telling 93 per cent came out against monthly pay in a survey launched by one of the opposing casual staff members, with seven of the 107 workers who responded from Bar One, Coffee Revolution, Interval, New Leaf, Our Shop and Venues abstaining.
Another casual staff member, who also wished to remain anonymous said they felt “let down” and will now view the SU differently.
“I felt let down on the statements that were assured to me when I first joined being, ‘This is your SU’ and ‘This SU is run by the students for the students’,” he told Forge Press.
“These statements are unequivocally incorrect and now shows how ignorant I was to believe them.”
Breaking point for workers’ deeper feeling of anger
But others claim the anger over the measures, rather than an isolated issue, reflects the breaking point of a wider culture of resentment among casual staff who are unhappy at their poor working conditions at the SU, widely championed by the National Union of Students as an SU success story.
An anonymous source told Forge Press that many SU employees have raised uncertainty over insecurity of being on zero hours contracts, minimum wage, minimum sick pay and holiday allowance.
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They said that for many weekly pay was one of the ‘few perks’ left of the job and that it’s “almost not worth it anymore” if weekly pay is removed.
Another disaffected employee claimed the SU was being “narrow minded”, adding: “The weekly pay allows me to plan my finances for the next week and work accordingly, I work when I need the money so the weekly pay makes sense especially given that we are on zero hour contracts also.”
The source added that an array of deeper issues have surfaced through the ongoing pay dispute, and called for the SU to address these “whether they implement the monthly pay or not.”
Further talks on the horizon
Responding to Forge Press’ enquiries about the frustrated staff SU President Lilian Jones insisted that further consultations would take place before a decision was made.
She said: “Our team of casual employees are at the heart of the Students’ Union, and we do not seek to make changes to their pay arrangements without ensuring all 550 of them have a chance to comment first.
“The Senior Leadership Team, therefore, opened a consultation on moving all employees from weekly to monthly pay and communicated this to employees on 21 February.
“The consultation period is designed to ensure that employees are given ample time and opportunity to respond to the proposal. We have provided several opportunities for employees to give feedback including two feedback meetings open to casual employees during the week commencing 11 March. The SU Senior Leadership Team will consider responses to the consultation in making a final decision w/c 25 March.
“We are happy to continue this conversation and provide an update after the consultation period ends.”