A number of casual staff members at Sheffield Students’ Union have expressed concern about a statement from the organisation’s Chief Executive, announcing furloughed staff will be reduced to 80 per cent pay, and that voluntary redundancies could come within the next year.

Their concerns have been shared by the local Unite the Union branch, who have represented casual staff at the SU in a number of key battles recently, including fighting for full pay for those staff furloughed throughout April.

In the statement, sent to all staff on Thursday afternoon (23 April), Booth also announced:

  • All furloughed staff are to receive 80 per cent rather than 100 per cent of pay, via the Government’s Job Retention Scheme.
  • Working staff, such as the Student Advice Centre, will continue to receive full pay. 
  • Low-paid core staff’s furlough packets will be topped up so they receive at least the Foundation Living Wage of £9.30 per hour, though no such commitment has been made for casual staff.
  • A Staff Financial Support Scheme will be launched “ahead of the first lower pay packets” open to “all employees of the SU,” though no further details have been released to all staff. Forge Press understands that some information has been given verbally, and that more details are expected early next week.
  • Trustees have asked for reserves, currently at £430,000, to be kept above £100,000, and dedicated £200,000 “to cover any redundancy costs.” 
  • The Students’ Union intends to “move to a smaller organisation” as they are “unlikely to emerge from this as the same organisation as before.”
  • Booth and the three Directors have elected to “give back a proportion of our salary”, though it is not clear how much or where this money would be redistributed to

By continuing to pay staff 100 per cent of their wages, Booth says: “redundancies will come more quickly and fewer of them will be voluntary.” It is unclear which staff are likely to be asked to take redundancy.

A number of casual staff at the SU anonymously expressed concern to Forge Press about the latest announcement.

“My main concern is that I rely entirely on the pay from this job to fund my Master’s course and live on a week-to-week basis from my wages for basic amenities,” said one student worker, who wished to remain anonymous.

“This time is already very stressful for many reasons and I was hoping that the SU would be able to support me fully to take away the financial burden of getting through the next few months. Instead I have been left feeling worried, disappointed and sadly undervalued despite working consistent hours at the SU this year alongside my Master’s course.”

Read more: Sheffield University donate 160,000 items of PPE to fight coronavirus pandemic

Another added: “The announcement from the SU that casual staff will receive a pay cut to 80 per cent of our average wage came as a shock and disappointment. For a Union which prides itself for being student run and in turn holding the core value of student welfare in high esteem this decision feels like a betrayal.”

One staff member, who is an undergraduate student and works in the Venues, told us the announcement had left her feeling “undervalued” and worried that her overdraft wouldn’t sustain her over the coming months.

“I find it outrageous that the SU has decided not to top up casual staff pay,” she said.

“Firstly, it makes me feel undervalued as a worker (and undervalued compared to core staff who are lucky enough to receive the top up). But secondly, and more importantly, as someone who relies on that income to pay my bills and living costs, I fear that my overdraft will not support me in the coming months.

“It has been difficult enough to keep up with my undergraduate studies at this unprecedented time, but adding financial concerns has made it evermore distressing.”

Read more: University of Sheffield implement ‘safety net’ for students following coronavirus pandemic

The majority of casual staff at the Students’ Union are also students, and make up the workforce in outlets such as Bar One, Our Shop, Foundry and more. However, a significant proportion aren’t students, and for them their work in the SU is their primary source of income.

The Unite representatives at the SU have been active in recent weeks on behalf of casual staff, claiming a ‘victory for workers’ after Sheffield SU agreed to pay them full wages for a number of weeks following the coronavirus shutdown, as well as calling for improvements to their terms and conditions before the University of Sheffield shut down in March.

They released their own statement, in light of the one from the SU, expressing “extreme disappointment” that SU Trustees had decided they were unable to keep paying furloughed staff in full, but did welcome the decision to top up the pay of ‘core’ staff, to ensure they didn’t fall below the living wage, as well as the affirmation that staff still working won’t have their pay cut.

However, they did say they were concerned that the same commitment hadn’t been made to top up casual staff pay, saying that it would “mean hundreds of staff will effectively be paid less than the national minimum wage.”

“It shows yet again that casual staff are treated as second-best in the Students’ Union.”

The statement continued: “We are also concerned by the possibility of redundancies, and will do everything we can to protect our members’ job security as well as their immediate income during this crisis. We are meeting with [the Senior Leadership Team] every week, and we would expect to be consulted in any redundancy situation.”

Read more: All face-to-face University of Sheffield teaching suspended due to coronavirus pandemic

The statement from Sheffield SU said that they were launching a ‘Staff Financial Support Scheme’, open to all employees, in the case that they are facing financial hardship because of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Unite statement, more details on this will be released early next week.

However, casual staff told Forge Press they still felt uncertain about a number of issues, including how likely redundancies are, and when they could be expected, as well as what proportion of wages the Senior Leadership Team (the SU Directors) would be donating back to the SU.

Harry Carling, Students’ Union Development Officer and Chair of Trading and Finance, said: “The outbreak of Covid-19 has put serious financial pressure on a huge number of charities across the country, Sheffield Students’ Union included. Having to close our doors in March meant trading stopped overnight, resulting in a dramatic drop in income. 

“The wellbeing of our staff continues to be a priority, and being able to pay all staff 100 per cent for the month of April alleviated any immediate pressure on staff finances in the early stages of the outbreak, an achievement many organisations weren’t able to manage. 

“The difficult decision to move staff on furlough leave to 80 per cent of pay has been made to help protect jobs in the organisation, whilst our doors remain closed and we cannot generate any income from trading. 

“We’re working closely with Unite the Union on this, and are communicating regularly with those affected. The Students’ Union is launching a Financial Support Scheme for any staff member to receive additional funds if they’re facing financial hardship because of Covid-19. 

“The Students’ Union’s senior staff leadership team will make the first donations to a new crisis fundraising campaign in the next few weeks.”

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