As you may have seen from his latest email to all students and staff members, QMUL Principal, Colin Bailey, is still refusing to allow us to furlough our student staff. Yesterday, we raised this issue at length in the College Council (QMUL’s governing body), and unfortunately Colin Bailey repeatedly shut us down.
Colin Bailey has continued to make uninformed and unfounded claims about how the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) operates. He has said that our right to access it is ‘unethical’, that we have not paid our student staff correctly, and that no student staff member is financially disadvantaged by the current situation. All of these statements are untrue.
The government sets out specific criteria on how pay must be calculated for zero hours workers on furlough, and that is all we are asking for.
Colin’s claim that he is offering to provide the same amount of money we could ‘legitimately’ claim from the scheme is therefore incorrect. There is no legitimacy issue here. There are the government guidelines, and there is QMUL’s apparent stance that they do not like how generous the scheme is. We say - take this up with the government if you have issues with the generosity of the scheme - do not attempt to subjugate the rules and take it out on our student staff.
Wes Streeting, Member of Parliament for Ilford North and Shadow Treasury Minister, said today in a letter to Colin Bailey that QMUL’s proposals are “of course not in line with the government guidance which states that workers on zero-hour contracts should be paid 80% of their average monthly wage and not 80% of their forecast wage”.
The money that we could claim from the CJRS is around £62,926 for the month of April, whilst QMUL are offering to pay for the wages up until £39,926, a difference of around £23,000. It is, therefore, no wonder that our students are facing financial hardship during this time, with their pay entitlement cut by 36%. This difference is only set to grow after May as our budget forecasts begin to decrease. During this incredibly uncertain time, especially for students and young people, we want to offer our student staff the financial security that the government says they are entitled to. We find ourselves asking why QMUL doesn’t want to achieve the same.
We are still yet to receive a definitive answer as to why we are being prevented from the CJRS, especially considering many other universities and unions, both in London and across the country, have been accessing the scheme. No student has ever been promised money by the Students’ Union that they have not received. They have simply been told how much money they would receive this month if we were allowed access to the CJRS vs. what they are receiving this month from the University’s scheme. Some of our student staff members are receiving £0 this month, which we believe is unacceptable, especially coming from an institution that claims, ‘their foremost priority is students’ health and welfare’. Others have received a drop in pay of over £500.
The Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs, Rushana Ali MP, Apsana Begum MP, Wes Streeting MP, Jon Cruddas MP, Unmesh Desai AM, GMB Union, Community Union, UCU and many more have all urged the university to reconsider their approach and follow the guidelines.
The university said to us in a letter “the University will also underwrite the Students’ Union for an amount equivalent to what it might have received from the Government’s CJRS had it furloughed staff funded through the commercial activity of QMSU Services Limited”. If only this were true.
We ask that Colin, along with the rest of the Senior Management Team at Queen Mary take a look at some of the testimonials we’ve posted from our student staff members and see the human costs that their decisions are having on students. At a time where most students should be sitting their final university assessments and celebrating their achievements, many of our hard-working student staff are suffering real financial hardship as a result of this decision, and it is entirely down to them.
We invite members of College Council, and all students, to watch our Emergency Student Council meeting Thursday 28th May 6pm on our Facebook page to hear the student voice without confusion and interruptions, as we’ve so often been subjected to in meetings and online.
Joe Vinson, Commercial Services Officer
Megan Annetts, Acting QMSU President