University fails to furlough casual workers again
The University will not furlough casual staff employed at Marketplace, as the retail chain reduces its opening hours for the foreseeable future of the lockdown.
An email from Human Resources, originally sent on 13 January to Marketplace management but received by student workers on 21 January, confirmed the University’s stance on furlough:
“The position with regards to casual staff is that furlough arrangements will only apply where work had previously been assigned or was due to be assigned to workers, and where workers meet other government eligibility criteria.
“Therefore, unless you have previously been advised of times/dates/hours/shifts, no commitment to any work has been confirmed and furlough would therefore not apply.”
Exeposé spoke to student workers who typically staff Marketplace’s accommodation shops about the decision not to furlough workers.
“Of course, we have no committed shifts because our manager sorts them out a day before the week starts,” one employee pointed out. “But surely work was due to be assigned as a rota comes out every week.”
The email from management revealed that there were only two available shifts for the next week offered to the 19 student workers on a “first come first served basis”.
A student worker described how “I said I can make one of the shifts in five minutes after the email was sent and I didn’t even get the shift. We have to be scavengers for one shift.”
We have to be scavengers for one shift.Student worker
Exeposé asked student workers how they had been directly affected not only by the reduced hours but by the decision not to furlough staff.
“It’s extremely stressful,” one student expressed.
“I came back to Exeter before the lockdown as I needed to work. Without any access to work I’m now stuck in the city with no income and unable to return home.
“I’m reliant on my job to cover my bills and expenses and now have no way of doing so where I’m not going to be paid and have no financial or contractual protection from the University.”
Another student also confirmed that the part-time work was “a big factor” in their decision to return to Exeter for the term during lockdown.
A registrar email sent on 5 January revealed that “in-person teaching will be delayed until at least mid-February for all students” except for a select few students studying for “future critical worker” courses.
The student continued: “I’ve been dependent on the money from the part time work at the University since the start of the last academic year. To be told there won’t be any shifts, with hardly any notice, has been detrimental.”
“The least they could do is put some type of furlough and protection in place for their employees.”
Marketplace employees are in a casual agreement with the University.
Exeposé asked student workers whether or not they had contracts which might show their entitlement to furlough.
“I never signed a contract”, one student confirmed.
Instead, Exeposé found that to work for Marketplace, students have to fill in a document called the ‘Casual Employment Questionnaire’.
The questionnaire aims to “assess your suitability for employment” by asking prospective workers questions such as “state 5 personality traits you think are essential for delivering customers a great service” and when they might possibly be available to work as “shifts can vary between weeks.”
Student workers also described an online induction that covered “fire safety, diversity, extremism etc.” and “a separate new one for COVID regulations”.
One student worker commented on the casual nature of the agreement with the University.
“It’s had its benefits in terms of being flexible, and it obviously means there’s no minimum hours you have to complete… But now the situation is pretty terrible.”
The University has a duty of care to its staff and those it employs. To be abandoned at the worst part of the pandemic yet shows how little the University cares for its student staff.Student worker
A University of Exeter spokesperson said:
“There are a number of issues which the University has had to take into consideration about which employees and workers may be eligible for furlough under the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Each employer has to consider how the Government’s regulations and associated sector guidance that has been issued affects them, alongside the operational and financial impact of the pandemic. The University is only utilising the scheme where planned or assigned work which had been budgeted for is disrupted by the pandemic, unless the government has advised of restrictions which do not allow the scheme to be used due to the way in which services can be associated with public funding.
“Additional temporary work arising from the pandemic is creating some alternative employment opportunities across the University for casual staff and those that we have not been able to furlough are being offered alternative work wherever possible.
“We know that many students are struggling financially through the pandemic and we have put in place a number of support measures including a doubling of the support available through the hardship fund, in partnership with the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union.”
One student worker criticised the University’s offer of the hardship fund, noting:
“While I appreciate the University setting aside funds for students, it isn’t enough to cover monthly consistent wages. The terms and conditions of the fund also don’t quite fit our situation as it is at present.
“However it’s more a matter of principle – the University has a duty of care to its staff and those it employs. To be abandoned at the worst part of the pandemic yet shows how little the University cares for its student staff.”
This is not the first time student workers have spoken out against the University for not furloughing their casual staff.
In July 2020 the University came under fire for failing to furlough casual student workers during the first lockdown. At the time, the Student Guild had furloughed their casual student workers.