Casual staff at Sheffield Students’ Union are calling on senior management to address its policy on sick pay, as well as the use of zero hours contracts.

Staff are being represented by Unite the Union in their demands to introduce sick pay for casual staff, pay workers the Living Wage of £9.30, and introduce the “right to a secure contract”.

There are currently 600 casual workers at the SU, working in bars, shops and beyond, many of whom earn below £118 a week which means they aren’t eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP). The trade union have reasserted their efforts following concerns over coronavirus (COVID-19), and the risks staff could face.

However, SU President Jake Verity said that the Students’ Union has been working closely with Unite to review the terms and conditions for casual staff, and that the SU is fully committed to paying the Living Wage to all staff.

Unite regional officer Harriet Eisner said: “Unite has repeatedly raised the issue of sick pay, low pay and zero hours with management. Talks on these issues have been constructive but the current policy so far remains unchanged and unfit for the current health crisis.”

“We hope management will introduce a good sick pay policy for hundreds of casual staff at Sheffield Students’ Union as a matter of urgency. All other staff are entitled to a good sick pay scheme, guaranteed hours and a real Living Wage.”

Casual staff at Sheffield SU serve over 29,000 students at the University of Sheffield, and Unite have raised concerns that due to the lack of sick pay for some casual staff, staff who are ill could come to work and put colleagues and customers at risk.

“We’ve spoken to numerous workers who’ve come into work sick because they can’t afford to miss out on a day’s pay,” said Josh Berlyne, a Unite representative at the SU.

“The combination of low pay, a student loan, and high rent forces casual staff into poor quality housing. Being close to maxing out your overdraft is, for many, normal.”

The debate around casual staff has been ongoing for some time, and plans last year would have seen payment change from weekly to monthly, plans which were heavily criticised by casual staff and Unite before eventually being dropped.

The SU say they are committed to working with the trade union in order to improve working conditions, and Jake Verity told Forge Press: “Sheffield SU has been working in a strong partnership with Unite the Union on a thorough review of our terms and conditions for our ‘casual’ staff, motivated by the SU wanting to improve terms for all, and especially our lowest paid employees.

“Since completing the discovery work to find out how our staff feel about their contracts, we have moved together to decide how we can improve those terms, particularly increasing pay rates and supporting staff who are absent due to ill health.

“Trustees have agreed that we should work towards becoming a Living Wage employer. At the moment we are looking for ways to fund the extra cost. The conversations have been very positive, and are ongoing.

“Like many organisations across the country we’re currently in the process of planning for all potential impacts of coronavirus. A key piece of work in this area is sick pay for staff. As it stands we’ll be handling any cases on an individual basis, whilst working specifically on how to mitigate any loss of earnings for those who do not qualify for SSP.

“I’m really pleased to say that since we made the commitment to pay the living wage, I spoke to Olivia Blake MP at Parliament this week about how we can work to make this happen as an organization and across the city.”

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