'Carefree' and 'misleading' approach to porter service

The University's approach to portering has been described by YUSU as cost-cutting and misleading

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The Students' Union have criticised the University for their "misleading" and "carefree" approach to portering.

Their concerns focus mainly on 'Lights On' Facilities Reception Assistants (FRAs), who perform a similar role to porters, and are on duty at many college receptions from the hours of 10pm to 6am. FRA's are not first-aid trained. This is a policy Kallum Taylor, YUSU President, has said is, "clearly done to cut costs which is fine up until the point where it goes beyond efficiencies."

The University introduced FRAs in October in response to higher income from fees. At the time YUSU warned services were already "over-stretched" and have continued to raise concerns over the last few months.

Joshua Lee, Alcuin Chair, told Nouse, "It's well known that Alcuin students generally pay more to live on campus than students in other colleges yet receive a poorer porters service. With a high international student population it is critical that Alcuin reception is staffed with porters 24hrs a day in both term and out of term time. The FRA idea is, on the face of it, a good idea but the staff are not trained to use the key card system, sign out post and aren't even first aid trained making their existence questionable as they can only pick up the phone and call for help, something a student can do with the red security phone."

Taylor added that as more students are becoming aware of the situation they are feeling a need for these staff to be First Aid trained:"Students want them to do the basic things which students are telling us they expect. We're not asking for room service or for college staff to put our members to bed at night; students want them first aid trained, able to let them deal with mail, able to distribute keys, all across 24 hours in all colleges."

Since FRAs are only employed on 30 week contracts they do not receive first aid training.

This has been criticised by YUSU who as well as accusing the University of cost-cutting, argue if there was a serious issue, these assistants may not be able to deal with it in time.

A University spokesperson defended the University's decision not to fully train FRAs, "The Facility Reception Assistants were introduced in October 2012 to provide a presence in those College receptions not covered by porters between the hours of 10pm and 6am.

"Their principal role has been to provide a point of contact in Colleges and to direct students to the range of University services that are available.

"FRAs are in contact with the College welfare teams, other porters lodges and University security staff to provide assistance as required. They have swift access to the full range of services, consequently the University has assessed that the role did not require FRAs to be trained in all capabilities. Our experience to date has shown that there has been no risk to the students as a result of this assessment."

The University has decided to retain the post of FRA in the same colleges for the academic year 2013/14.

A review is taking place with colleges to consider any modifications to the role that would improve the service.

Porters have been the subject of an ongoing debate at York between students and the University Photo Credit: itspaulkelly
Porters have been the subject of an ongoing debate at York between students and the University
Photo Credit: itspaulkelly

The University revealed that "we will then aim to recruit staff into these posts for the start of the next academic year."

Bob Hughes, YUSU Welfare Officer, believes it is, "disappointing for many students that these basics aren't covered within the role." Last term students voted overwhelmingly in favour of YUSU lobbying for 24 hour portering, however the University has still not introduced this policy.

The University argue there have been no serious incidents and therefore the duties carried out by facilities assistants are satisfactory.

Taylor has argued that the employment of FRAs is misleading, as its really not made clear both in the advertisement and the arrival induction.

"This is given further weight when you have some of our members paying more rent than others, and their college having less coverage. Granted, the rent is largely for the room and bills but if that's genuinely the case then we have to decide what gets advertised for the benefits of on campus accommodation."

Taylor has questioned whether the University is putting students first, "It's a question about priorities, listening to what students expect as bare minimum service level, and how true their advertisement is to the real thing.

"It's not acceptable to plug the more holistic benefits to living on campus, but when services are cut or watered down to make it solely about the room. The lights on staff should be first aid trained at the very least.

"If they give the role more functions and responsibilities then they would be able to roll out contracts beyond 30 weeks because it would be worth it.

"It is carefree to an extent. I've had a member of staff at the University describe it as a 'welfare service', but it isn't, it's just a human being, sat in a room with a telephone, with a light on. If you cross the potential issues that students might end up bringing to the table, along with their job remit limitations there are definitely gaps which need filling."

Bob Hughes added that, "It is clear from speaking to students, and in the support for the recent YUSU referendum motion on 24-hour college staffing, that students care very strongly about having staff in-college who can be there to help support them, whether that's providing access to keys and mail or whether it's making sure that there is someone who can help in an emergency.

"In my mind, the 'lights on' assistants should be first-aid trained as a matter of course, and should be able to assist students with the basics of on-campus living, namely mail and keys, and I think it's disappointing for many students that these basics aren't covered within the role."

Sarah Brown, a first year linguistics student commented that, "Generally, the service provided by the porters is very good. It is a slight concern that the receptionists aren't first aid trained. They should definitely have basic training."

Lizzie Kenchington, a first year Alcuin student said, "It annoys me that the porters are not there 24/7. Very often when I need to contact them in the porters lodge, the reception hatch is closed."

She admitted that their lack of first aid training is "slightly worrying".

Last Christmas holidays, around 550 students on the main campus had one porter at Wentworth College Reception.

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1 Comment

Phil Posted on Monday 18 Mar 2013

Somebody had better call Whine-One-One because it sounds like these students need a Waaah-mbulance.