The University of Sheffield Chemistry department could make up to eight technical support staff involuntarily redundant after a departmental review of support employees.
The eight staff, who have a combined service of over 200 years with the University – an average of 25 years each – are due to be made redundant in 2020, after a consultation period has taken place.
While technical support staff were informed that there was a review of their positions taking place, there was no consultation with students or postdoctoral staff, while academics in the department were “poorly consulted”.
The University is expected to advertise for replacements for all the staff that will leave, however, these will likely be downgraded roles and it is thought that the new support staff will have fewer technical skills and receive a lower pay grade.
According to a source in the Chemistry Department: “[The University] are expecting remaining members of staff to take on the work of those being made redundant, and train new staff. But the staff left behind are not experts in the areas they don’t work in, and would be just as inexperienced as the new staff.”
Included in the potential redundancies are analytical services technicians, workshop staff, a glass blower and two safety officers, sparking concerns about the future safety of students when dealing with chemicals.
Employees who are due to be made redundant have spoken exclusively to Forge Press, concerned that their redundancy package will be reduced further should they speak out about their situation.
One said: “My main concern is for the future of the department regardless of the outcome of the restructuring. The downgrading of the role of safety officer should be a primary concern but also the clear removal of any kind of promotional prospects for lower grade staff means retention of staff will be an issue.
“It seems ironic that we are called support staff but when times are hard the management feel no need to reciprocate by offering us their support. It has been incredibly heartening to see the support we have received from across the department.”
According to the member of staff, there has been an “incredible lack of sensitivity in the communications from HR, all of which make a point of stating that the University is in The Sunday Times 100 best not for profit organisations to work for.
“If this is how one of the 100 best behave towards their loyal staff I would hate to think how the ones that didn’t make it onto the list behave.”
Another staff member told Forge Press: “Over the course of my years at the Sheffield University I always hoped that I was making a difference, enriching both the department and the university as a whole. I thought that if I go above and beyond, devoting time and energy to further my skills, my work would be recognised and valued.
“To see what has happened to my colleagues and I is nothing short of astounding. The damage it will do to the department that we have devoted many years to will be considerable.
“It is claimed that the review will “boost morale”, as it stands the department could lose over 200 years of experience, I don’t see how this could be good for staff moral or the department.”
A petition has been set up by a student in the Department which at the time of writing has over 750 signatures. The petition says “[Technical support] staff are vital to the functioning of the Chemistry Department. The 3rd year Skills for Success Programme could not operate without them, nor could the analytical training workshop.
“They make our labs safe, and have student welfare at the forefront of their minds.”
Many current and former students have left comments on the petition outlining just how vital the staff are to the department, as well as this a Google Form has been set up for those who want to leave testimonials about the employees.
Hannah Dexter, a former PhD student at the Department said: “Without all of these staff and their hard work, I would not have been able to complete my PhD and I know that that is true for numbers of students. It’s unfathomable to think the department could be run without the expert help of these people. Short-sighted and perplexing.”
While Andrew Crawford said: “Reduction in technical staff numbers will impact considerably on course delivery, student experience and Health & Safety. Reduction in glassblowing and workshop services will damage the ability to deliver innovative solutions to research problems and damage income generation potential. A bad move all round.”
A University of Sheffield spokesperson said: “We have carried out a review to ensure that our Department of Chemistry has the best structure to fully support our students and staff.
“The new structure will mean we can offer a better and more effective support system for teaching. We are consulting with administrative and technical staff whose roles may be affected by these changes.”
You can sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/students-and-staff-save-our-support-staff