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Queen Mary student staff not furloughed during pandemic

The measures taken by Queen Mary, University of London concerning student staff on campus have been revealed to The Print. In an email sent to students regarding the future of their wages, Student Union student staff have been blocked from accessing the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

In an FAQ blog post by the Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, it was specifically stated that “Students with a part time employment contract should speak to their employer about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has been set up to help pay staff wages and keep people in employment”. The CJRS ensures that 80% of furloughed staff’s usual monthly wage will continue to be paid to them, meaning that employees are put at ease when thinking about their income during this global pandemic.

However, this is not the case for students hired by QMSU to work on campus. An email sent to student staff by the SU stated that:

“We have previously told you that the university manages our payroll for us. For this reason, we require their consent to access the CJRS, and we have unfortunately at this time been unable to secure it. Please be aware that we are, and will continue, to try and understand their concerns and address them. We therefore still hope to access the CJRS in the future, and if we do, backdate this claim so that you will receive additional pay for the month of April, and pay for the months of May and June. This is however not a certainty – and it pains us both to say that you should prepare, as much as you can, for it not to happen. For pay in the month of April we have therefore had to rely on the money that we had already budgeted for each outlet and reduce this by 20%. From here, we have then taken the reduced total amount of each outlet’s budget and granted you a percentage of that budget, based on the percentage of available hours you have worked this academic year. This was the fairest way for us to allocate the budget for April, and for some of you this will mean you received significantly less than you would have under the CJRS scheme, and in some cases no pay at all.”

It must be noted that, as the email highlights, this choice was not made by the Student Union as they are directly dependent on decisions made by the university. This is emphasised in the rest of the email which asserted:

“We would personally like to say that this situation is a horrible one for us to administer, and we know that this will place some of you in severe financial difficulty. We will therefore establish a financial assistance fund for student staff who are in difficulty. You will receive details of this in the coming days, but we must be clear that there will be eligibility criteria attached, and that we simply do not have enough money in the bank to support everyone. We kindly ask that, if you do not feel that you need extra assistance, you do not apply. The money allocated to this fund is finite, and even if you meet the criteria, every application will reduce the funding available to others. It is therefore important that only those who are in need apply.

 A decision about May and June’s pay has yet to be reached, but we will update you as soon as we can.”

From this, it is clear that for unknown reasons, the university has not applied for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The result of this is immense pressure on the not-for-profit QMSU to try and pay for the wages of their staff, yet their solution is incomparable to the 80% that the CJRS would have ensured. Consequently, students working in various campus facilities including Ground, Learning and Shield Café, as well as Drapers kitchen and bar staff and those that work in the Gym, are now without stable incomes. This makes paying for rent, bills and various other basic needs extremely difficult.

QMUL Student Ambassadors hired by the university, through organisations including UK Student Recruitment (UKSR) have also become victims of this. With CJRS likewise guaranteeing wages for employees on flexible and zero-hour contracts, Student Ambassadors would too have been able to claim 80% of their wages. Although, it has been revealed that any emails sent to the university regarding this has not received any response.

As a result of this, it must be questioned why QMUL have not applied for the CJRS following the furloughing of their staff (especially as the scheme is a grant which does not need to be repaid) and whether this will change.

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