Image Credit: YUSU
YUSU is unable to confirm whether it will compensate its student bar staff for work lost due to the outbreak, an email leaked to Nouse has shown. A statement today by Union President Samara Jones said there were “a number of options” for staff unable to fulfil their normal roles.
In a bulk message to student staff on Tuesday afternoon, the Students’ Union said that because all venues are currently closed, it would give its employees a choice: either fulfil an unspecified role as ‘key worker’ through “city or University partners”, or have their contracts temporarily terminated until the end of the pandemic. A second email sent on Wednesday sought to provide more information on YUSU’s policy, but did not answer the question of whether YUSU would still pay its staff who were unable to work.
In its first email, the Union said it was “100% committed” to providing work opportunities for those in York, but said that it believed that anyone that did not want to turn up to work was “wishing to take a break from [their] contract”. A number of staff who spoke to Nouse suggested that this subverted the advice of York’s own Vice-Chancellor, who asked students to stay at home if possible.
The funding subsidies are intended to help those in Britain’s service industry affected by the outbreak. It includes restaurants, cinemas, and cafes that are unable to open due to the virus. One member of YUSU bar staff has said that most of the team were “livid” after receiving the email: a point underscored by YUSU’s quick response yesterday afternoon, which admitted that the message had “raised more questions and concerns than [it] answered”.
YUSU student bar staff can typically expect around eight hours a week from working on campus during term time. The weekly pay equates to around £50 at minimum wage. Combined with a student loan, the pay is enough to support students on a tight budget, and give them independence in spite of the lockdown.
Nouse talked to one member of staff who called YUSU’s suggestion that they take unpaid leave “f***ing scandalous”, arguing that the email was asking students to “risk our health by going back to York or cutting off our pay.” Another said that YUSU had put them in a “tricky position”, and said they would now have to decide either to “stay home and get our rent refunded or come back to the deserted campus and keep our jobs.”
YUSU clarified that it was looking into the government subsidy for those unable to work, but would have to get some “important legal and financial questions answered” first.
YUSU’s announcement came as Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin tried a similar tactic. In a video message, the head of the pub chain suggested employees “get a job at Tesco” after citing concerns about the timeliness of the wage subsidy. Government policy is unclear on whether workers who have found alternative employment will be reimbursed.
Staff have today drafted a letter of complaint to the Union in response to its announcement yesterday. Sabbs and other leaders reportedly met yesterday to find a resolution to the problem, but have not yet confirmed whether they will be compensating staff for lost pay.
Elsewhere, the Union has attempted to provide support for students through a digital ‘Covid-19 community’. The Facebook group has so far offered coronavirus advice, as well as a wealth of digital resources for students stuck at home. The group has so far amassed over 700 members.
The University has also been doing its part, launching a one-of-a-kind fund to help students struggling financial due to the pandemic.
YUSU defended itself to Nouse in a statement released today by President Samara Jones:
“Like everyone, YUSU is dealing with the rapid and unforeseen change arising from Covid-19. As well as the health and social impacts, this will have a major economic impact and in the short term, at the very least, means significant changes to the way that we all study and work. YUSU has written to all student staff as part of our workforce planning to establish how we best provide continued employment and meet contractual arrangements that were designed for a very different context. Understanding more about student staff members’ individual situations is important to help us assess options and make plans for next steps.”
“In the current situation, there are a number of options for employers to consider for staff who are unable to attend their normal roles, for example as a result of venue closures. These include potential redeployment, where appropriate, sick pay (for those isolating on medical advice or certified unfit) or inviting staff to consider being 'furloughed' under the government's job retention scheme. Our communications with staff were to help establish some clarity on individual situations. At this point in time it is not clear if the government's 'job retention scheme' is applicable to student employees because the scheme guidance documentation and application process has not been finalised. If the scheme is applicable they will be invited to opt into that and made aware of the implications of doing so. We do know that the scheme is invalidated if you take up employment elsewhere for example.”
“YUSU is exploring opportunities that would enable students to contribute to workforce shortages within the community, whether that’s supporting with deliveries or local food supply chains or even supporting University departments as they prepare to switch to online delivery. These discussions are at an early stage but if successful, may well be something that would be of value to students working remotely, or those that are in the area and want to contribute, or would appreciate part time work to offer an income stream.”
“Like many charitable organisations we face a situation where there will be significant losses of income from key activities due to reasons beyond our control. It is only prudent that we establish clarity and consider different scenarios. We understand that students, like all citizens, face real uncertainty at present and while we are hugely sympathetic and committed to supporting students through this, it’s important that YUSU can undertake planning, understand variables and look at next steps in the light of this. In this context we will need to change the way we work and will have to make some difficult decisions in the weeks and months ahead to grapple with future uncertainties. The decisions will not include forcing people to travel to York when it's unsafe for them to do so and against government advice, as always our priority is the wellbeing of our staff and members.”