UoM SU blasted for giving staff ‘poverty’ furlough wages

One student employee usually works 94 hours, but is getting furlough based on just six hours’ pay

Student staff have blasted UoM’s Students’ Union for giving them furlough pay based on hours worked in the tier restricted months of September and October, meaning some students are getting furlough pay based on just a handful of shifts.

In the furlough proposal, one staff member had 100 per cent of their hours cut, receiving no shifts whatsoever. Another had their hours reduced from 94 to six and has subsequently lost around £500 worth of income.

Charlie, one of the Union’s student employees, told The Manchester Tab: “Many of us get insufficient loans to live on anyway and therefore rely on this job and furlough to get by. I’ve been burning through savings to try to make it this far. If this decision is upheld then I don’t know what I’ll do next.

“We were backed into a corner and forced to make a split decision with little explanation or face being left with nothing. Our only chance to query and voice concerns was a week after the deadline”.

Student employees of the SU are outraged at not only the reduced furlough payment but how they were given less than 24 hours to respond and sign onto the furlough plan. They were told on the 12th November and the deadline to reply was the 13th. If this deadline was missed, employees were told that it would result in student staff receiving no furlough pay at all.

Image credit: Udayan Banger

Another member of staff said: “My average income went down by £300 and a fair number of us got no shifts. I think on average people were working less than three shifts a week in September, if that”.

Sebastian Schmidt, a student employee of the Union tweeted: I would like to know what @OfficialUoM and @ManchesterSU will be doing to rectify this situation and to avoid plunging students into further hardship during a time in which they are already suffering from being in one of the worst job markets in history.”

Schmidt said: “I personally average around 60-70 hours worked every month of the year. In the period they are calculating furlough from, I worked 14. What I hate about this email is the pressure to sign on to an inadequate furlough or receive nothing at all”.

This is not the first time that there has been an issue regarding furlough pay with the SU. One member of staff said: “It was a hard fought deal even getting furlough in the first lockdown back in March”.

Chris Waugh, a former SU Welfare & Rights Officer, who is now studying a PhD in sociology said: “It’s fair to say that the way that the University of Manchester has handled student wellbeing during this pandemic has been at best tone deaf, and at worst, actively disgraceful.

“One would hope that UMSU, as our union, would be standing up for our wellbeing. In a sense, they have done so, providing support to the brave souls occupying Owens Park. However, that sense of care is undermined by the frankly shameful way in which student staff have been treated.”

Image credit to: Udayan Banger

“How can a union – our union – justify putting its own members on poverty wages, against the guidelines of HMRC, with a very coercive manner, at a time when so many of our members are already struggling with their mental health, with the insidious broken promises made about the state of their education, and the prospect of the worst job market for young people in history?

“Speaking as a former SU exec officer, I can appreciate the difficulties of running an SU. I know first hand how difficult it can be to manage a small budget, fund staff and navigate a union through difficult challenges. But when I was in office I would never in a million years have considered treating my staff with the callousness and contempt that UMSU has treated its students. We deserve far better from our union.”

Whilst the HR team from the SU have since responded to the student employees email campaign over the weekend, in regards to the meeting on Friday, a student has told The Manchester Tab that they remain “unsatisfied” by the Union’s response.

An SU spokesperson has told The Manchester Tab: “We have been listening to the concerns raised by our student staff. We fully intend to review furlough arrangements and whilst we acknowledge that we didn’t communicate as well as we should have, we are going to ensure that our student staff team is properly consulted with moving forward. We feel it would only be fair to share that review with our student staff first at the upcoming student staff meeting.”

Featured images credit to: Sebastian Schmidt (left) and Udayan Banger (right) 

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