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The final countdown: will #QMFurloughNow triumph?

In the latest chapter of the dispute between QMUL Principal Professor Colin Bailey and the Students’ Union, things are heating up as Bailey still declines to furlough student staff and time to access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) begins to run out.

 The QMSU led movement ‘QMUL: Furlough Our Student Staff Now’, now in its 18th day, has thus far managed to persist through the many attempts by Professor Colin Bailey to refute and undermine them. But with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announcing last month that 10th June will be the last date an employee can apply to furlough their staff, this has given the #QMFurloughNow campaign a renewed sense of urgency.

Despite its array of support from students, politicians and even Siobhán McSweeney (who plays Sister Michael in Derry Girls), as well as the Student Council voting unanimously to express no-confidence in Bailey, QMUL refuses to back down. This is certainly seen in Bailey’s latest email to students on 1st June, which saw a new means of once again trying to disprove the assertions of the SU. He begins by claiming that there had been a misuse of the CJRS formula, used to calculate the salary for workers on zero-hour contracts, as it fails to account for less shifts over the exam period.

He also quotes from guidance issued by the Department of Education, that “HE providers should not seek to furlough a higher proportion of their wage bill than could reasonably be considered to have been generated through commercial income”, but omitted the previous clause to this sentence, which changes the meaning of the quote QMUL relies on.

Joe Vinson, Commercial Services Officer, told The Print that: “I once again question why Queen Mary’s interpretation of the guidance is so vastly different to that of thousands of businesses who employ zero hours workers, including other universities and students’ unions across the country. Why any university would seek to minimise the financial support available to its own students is unfathomable.”

In order to substantiate his claims, Bailey’s email also states that the Principal had acquired “external legal advice on this matter”; a strategy which is at the heart of the newest part of the #QMFurloughNow campaign.

Yesterday, QMSU revealed in an updated statement that a part of said “legal advice” was provided to Megan Annetts (Acting QMSU President) by Bailey. Yet, this raised more issues, as revealed by Joe Vinson who told us that “QMUL seek to rely on half a sentence in the CJRS guidance, whilst omitting the rest of the sentence, and even the rest of the guidance itself. This is clearly a deliberate effort to spread misinformation and a wilful misinterpretation of the scheme’s rules. Any legal advice they have received, particularly regarding their justification in splitting clauses of the guidance in half, must published in full. A failure to do so is an insult to transparency, and results in the advice holding no water with students, our student staff or the public.”

As a result, QMSU are once again using the medium of email by creating a pre-made template ready to send to Professor Bailey, in an attempt to appeal for the release of any legal advice they’ve received. With less than a week remaining for Bailey to finally allow QMSU to access the CJRS and prevent the loss of what the SU states will be “tens of thousands of pounds” for student staff in wages, will this be the final round of altercation on the fate of student staff and their financial income?

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