University fails to furlough all casual workers
Student-workers have spoken out after the University failed to furlough much of its casual staff.
Sunday Blake, VP Postgraduate, tweeted on 3 June: “We’ve worked closely with @UniofExeter during the covid-19 [sic]. However, I am disgusted to find out today that they furloughed none of their casual staff under the job retention scheme. @ExeterGuild managed to secure all our casual staff furlough income to survive these hard times.”
Exeposé spoke to casually employed students about the struggles of not being furloughed. One employee, Chris Nasrawi, told us: “I felt let down to be honest. I’ve been employed at the Marketplace for almost two years now and have been a hardworking and loyal employee throughout that time.
“To be told that we are not going to be compensated during a pandemic – and only after sending countless back-and-forth emails over a period of about a month – makes me feel like they don’t care about us. Why did we have to work so hard to get this information, and even harder for an explanation? Why are our jobs seemingly of so little value to the university?”
He also agreed that this reflects flaws in the University’s casualised employment system: “Information feels scarce, communication feels lacking, and the whole system seems quite impersonal. I barely knew who my line manager was to chase this thing up, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know me, so it seems wrong that he would be providing the information that would determine whether I’m compensated or not. I feel like the decision also shows a disorganisation and uncertainty that really undermines my confidence in the employment system.
“It really seems ironic – even a little insulting – that these decisions were made on our behalf, that our work is so impersonal, and yet that we keep getting emails from the university emphasising their concern for student and staff wellbeing.”
The University deprived me of essential income for three months without a thought of how I would get by.PhD student
Another worker expressed their disappointment: “I work so hard during term time using the job to finance my studies, and it felt like the Uni had cast us all aside, as if we weren’t worthy of the financial support because we work on casual contracts.
“Financially it’s been a lot of stress. I still have to pay rent and bills on a house I’m no longer living in and with my loan not covering everything sufficiently I am having to find money from my savings and borrow from relatives. I wasn’t at all prepared for this as I expected we’d be furloughed like anybody else.
“The casual staff setup as it is is already flawed and difficult to navigate and get shifts on as the Uni won’t contract us. The Guild manages to work fairly and efficiently with casual rotas done far in advance but the Uni seems unwilling to do the same for us. The Uni’s vision seems to be that temporary casual staff cannot be deemed as worthy as contracted staff.
“It’s disheartening for those of us who have been employed by the Uni for a long time to be cast aside and ignored in such a critical time. We are not a burden on the uni or it’s resources – We are their employees and should be treated as such. They ignore their duty of care towards us.”
A PhD student who was not furloughed told us “this ordeal has been hell” as they are dependent on the income to pay their rent: “the University deprived me of essential income for three months without a thought of how I would get by.”
They explained that “the sad and frustrating thing is that my manager and supervisors at The Shop know my financial situation, so I find it weird when the university said they decided not to put us on the furlough scheme due to the advice of managers.”
They also described the financial implications: “I’ve depleted my life savings, and I will have to borrow money going forward to get by” and pressure on their PhD has been difficult as a result. They described the university’s solution to offer casual jobs after this as “an afterthought” and “medicine after death”, suggesting that “they only took this action because of pressure from Chris Nasrawi and the Student Guild (Sunday Blake to be precise).”
The University claimed that they would not be eligible for the furlough scheme given the closure of the campus, although staff employed by the Guild at locations like the RAM have been furloughed.
One student explained their experience with the Guild, noting that “bearing in mind the University closed on 16 March, it took over a month from the Guild to contact us to confirm the furlough.”
When asked how they felt about this delay, and whether this reflected wider issues regarding the casualised employment system, they said: “I do feel like because we’re students they do not treat us with the respect employees really deserve. In no other workplace would it have taken so long to find out about being placed on furlough.”
While they hope to return next year, they continued “But then again who knows? If the campus is partially closed will the Diner/Ram/Italiano/Comida also be closed? That’s another thing that the Guild hasn’t addressed for us.”
When the position on campus facilities re-opening becomes clear we will review our future resource requirements and the opportunities for students in retail outlets.University of Exeter spokesperson
A University spokesperson said in response: “It is not correct that the University has not furloughed any casual workers. The University has furloughed 156 casual workers to date and continues to review the situation with managers each month, in line with external and internal legal advice.
“We understand the impact and difficulties that face both students and other casual workers. The University is working with managers and casual workers on alternative employment opportunities during the Covid-19 crisis.
“We value students as part of our staff in retail and other areas of the University. When the position on campus facilities re-opening becomes clear we will review our future resource requirements and the opportunities for students in retail outlets.”
In reply to this article, Sunday explained: “We, as the Students’ Guild, took advice following the lockdown and furlough announcement to ensure that we could get as many students furloughed as possible for as long as possible, as we understood the financial pressures many students would be put under throughout the coronavirus pandemic. However, this isn’t a quick process for a small organisation with limited resources, but we worked as quickly as we could on this.
“We are also awaiting guidance and information from the University and Government about what a return to campus could look like for the Guild which includes our outlets. As soon as we have concrete updates, we will be communicating them to our student community.”
Amendments to the article:
7/7: Added Guild response to the time taken to furlough students. We would like to make it clear that they only declined to comment on the University’s decision, and apologise for any misrepresentation on this matter.
The Guild would also like to clarify that they were never closed, and have just moved to digital working with the campus closed.