Student Staff yesterday came (virtually) face to face with QMUL Principal Professor Colin Bailey in a final attempt to get furloughed by the university.
As a result of the motions passed in the Emergency Student Council Meeting, held two weeks ago, student staff were able to confront Professor Colin Bailey in a Zoom Q&A about the fate of their wages. With the QMSU-led movement, #QMFurloughNow, now in its 8th week, it appears that the mounting support from politicians, unions and students was not enough to influence the Principal. But with one day remaining to apply for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), this meeting certainly represented a final try to persuade Bailey to reconsider.
Chaired by Acting QMSU President, Megan Annetts, Colin Bailey was joined by various members of the Senior Management team, on hand to explain the details. Given that this is the first-time throughout the campaign that student staff have been able to speak directly to the Principal, the Q&A session signified a chance to get answers for their treatment by the university thus far. And they certainly didn’t hold back.
However, much to their dismay, Bailey remained stagnant. By consistently maintaining that, from the furloughing scheme, “you cannot claim back more from the public purse than your actual wage bills” he cemented his position that allowing QMSU to apply for the CJRS would go against government guidelines. He also defended his decisions by stating that “I thought we’ve done the right thing. We made sure the wage bill is covered and paid as if those commercial units were open and Covid never happened”. The remainder of the session was spent deflecting any student suggestion that such a conclusion was the wrong one.
When asked about the MPs who have publicly announced that they have contacted Bailey to urge him to reconsider, he stated that once it was clarified that QMUL have covered the wage bill and that the SU’s request was outside government guidelines, “the MPs seemed to be happy”. However, later on this assertion was contested by Joe Vinson, Commercial Services Officer and leading figure behind #QMFurloughNow, who declared that the MPs he had spoken to were not as content with the Principal’s explanation had set out. This was not revisited in Bailey’s answer.
He was further questioned on why other Students’ Unions at other universities were able to access the CJRS but QMSU aren’t. He disclosed that he has been in touch with other universities and claims that any money those students will receive from the furlough scheme will be the same as their wage bill and not more. This was confirmed to be untrue by UEA SU just today in a letter to Colin Bailey – they have accessed the scheme using the exact formula set out in the CJRS.
Reputational damage that not furloughing student staff has caused the university was also a topic raised in the Q&A. To this, Bailey responded that it is significant, and he is in fact “between a rock and a hard place” as he needs to ensure that they are within the guidelines. But he also claims that reputational damage would be even greater had QMUL allowed QMSU to apply for the CJRS.
In relation to QMSU’s recent campaign within the #QMFurloughNow movement to appeal for the release of any legal advice the university have received, it was asked why Bailey is yet to respond to any emails sent concerning this. He answered by stating he had received more than 250 emails thanks to a template provided by QMSU; and despite this, claimed that once legal advice is published it is worthless and can no longer be relied on, so it will not be released for public viewing. However, the advice, he said, did reassure him that the scheme cannot be used to gain more money than one’s wage bill.
Towards the end of the session, questions were asked about the Principal’s personal wages in a bid to dispute his previous claims of QMSU’s request to access CJRS being “unethical”. It was asked why such a term was used given the disparity in pay between Bailey and student staff, given that for this particular example, he was earning 145 times more. To this, Colin Bailey answered that the use of “unethical” derived from the idea that student staff would be claiming more from the “public purse” than their wage bill.
As the meeting ended with queries surrounding the future of student staff, most of which work in hospitality, and how their pay will continue to differ under the global pandemic in the new academic year, it is clear that despite Bailey preventing access to the furlough scheme, QMSU’s concern surrounding wages will not stop until there is a sense of certainty. Thus far, the university have only offered to cover QMSU’s wage budget forecasts until July. As already declared by the Students’ Union, this is a far lower level of financial support offered by the CJRS – and one which ends three months earlier.