Cardiff SU threatens to ‘fire and rehire’ 45 staff if they refuse to take a pay cut

A staff member has called the measures ‘unjust’

Cardiff University Students’ Union has told 45 staff members they will be fired and rehired on new terms, unless they accept a reduction to their contracted pay.

In documents leaked to The Cardiff Tab, the Students’ Union says the company is facing “unprecedented levels of financial uncertainty” and needs to make “well over a million pounds” of savings next year.

The most significant cause of their financial difficulty is the closure of Y Plas, which in a normal week can bring in around £75,000 in income for the Students’ Union. The SU is thus facing a reduction of income of around 1.4 million pounds.

Many Students’ Union staff are contracted on the basis of a pay scale, with pay rising in increments every year until they reach the top of their pay scale.

The SU’s proposal is that the 45 staff who have not yet reached the top of their pay scale will not receive the raise they are due this year. Staff say this will lead to the loss of thousands of pounds from their income over the next five years.

One of the employees affected says the measures disproportionately affect junior staff on lower pay, whilst those who have reached the top of their pay scales face no cut.

The Union has also let go most of staff on fixed-term contracts, such as cleaning staff and have said that all-company pay cuts and redundancies are “still a real possibility”.

In leaked questions from staff to the SU, a staff member says that “those on lower pay grades are much more reliant on pay grade incremental increases”, saying that “even £40 more per month is the difference between what sacrifices we make in order to pay bills and eat properly”.

Another employee states that “some staff members make difficult choices regarding heating or food in winter months, and some have taken out credit cards and loans to make it to the end of the month”.

The Union has told staff who have refused the changes that they are at risk of being dismissed from the company, and that they would then be offered the chance to return on the new terms. An SU employee said “Staff have been left in floods of tears after being told to accept the changes or be sacked.”

One of the employees affected told The Cardiff Tab that some staff are considering suing the organisation if this goes ahead.

The Students’ Union is directed by a five-member Senior Management Team led by a CEO. The CEO is said to earn £85,000 per anum, while the other members of the team are all paid above £50,000. The majority of SU staff are paid around £20,000.

An SU employee said the pay inequality between the CEO and staff meant the lack of cuts to the CEO’s own pay while the lowest-paid face cuts feels ‘unjust’. “It’s a reminder that it’s always the most vulnerable at times of stress that suffer the most. The Union exists to stop these kinds of practices in the University, so to be doing it themselves feels wrong”.

SU decisions are overseen by a Board of Trustees which includes the Senior Management Team and the elected Sabbatical Officers.

The SU employee stated that staff have asked to talk to the Board but have been told they are not allowed, adding: “The Saabs are more or less the majority on the board so if the Saabs all united and disagreed with it they could also stop the measures. I think quietly a lot of the Saabs do disagree with it but they’re frightened of the SMT and they don’t want to speak up. The SMT grip them very tightly and they feed them the information they want to feed them.”

SU President and Chair of the Board of Trustees, Tomos Evans, said: “I and the other trustees have the responsibility to ensure the future sustainability of the Students’ Union, that involves making difficult decisions. I am disappointed to see this view presented, I want to confirm that Sabbatical Officers have had every opportunity as trustees to question and discuss the cost-saving proposals that the Board enacted. I and the rest of the team are confident we are pursuing the correct course of action.”

Another staff member told The Cardiff Tab: “Staff have been told we’re not allowed to talk about the measures or we’ll face disciplinary action. We’ve been treated with contempt, had out salaries cut and our voices taken away. So many staff are upset, feel undervalued and are extremely anxious for the future.”

Another staff member said the Union is in “chaos”, and that “Senior Managers seem pretty determined to shut down the voice of anyone who disagrees with them. Staff have been railroaded into accepting the new contracts. I’m shocked that an organisation like ours can treat its staff so poorly.”

A Students’ Union spokesperson said:

“Like many other organisations, the Students’ Union is facing unprecedented financial and operational challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic. To date, despite the significant reduction in income, no compulsory redundancies have been made and staff members have had current pay levels protected throughout.”

“The Board of Trustees have approved the pausing of pay increments this year, which maintains everyone’s existing pay levels, most employees have agreed to this change for which we are incredibly grateful. Staff at all levels including the CEO and members of the Senior Management team are impacted by this.”

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