Hundreds of people have signed a petition urging the University of Sussex not to sack casual staff as part of cuts in the light of the coronavirus outbreak.
The university has told staff it has lost at least £10 million in increased costs and lost income since the lockdown started, and has drawn up a series of cost-cutting measures in response.
Members of the Unite and UCU unions have launched a campaign, Crisis Justice at Sussex, calling on university management to rethink how the cuts are implemented. Almost 800 people had signed the petition at the time of publication.
It says the lowest paid and most vulnerable employees are most at risk of losing their jobs under a review of all non-essential casual and temporary contracts – some of which expire in the next two months, at a time when it’s likely to be impossible to find other work.
UCU Executive member, Andrew Chitty, said: “The cuts proposed by the University’s leadership are the worst possible response to the Covid crisis.
“They target the job security and futures of our most insecurely employed colleagues while leaving the pay and conditions of those at the top virtually untouched. They are the executive equivalent of upper-class panic buying.”
Unite Sussex Representative, Max O’Donnell Savage, said: “I was formerly working for Student Support without fixed hours – and, despite the fact that we have been on the forefront of helping students prior to the closure of the university, we have all had our hours cut to zero without any explanation or assistance.”
The campaign group says the university should use some of its £300 million in unrestricted reserves and cut the salaries of the highest paid to cover the shortfall.
A university spokesman said Sussex was supporting Universities UK’s call for the Government to step in and provide financial support to universities, which play a vital role in local economies.
He said: “Whilst Sussex is currently in a safer position than some institutions, we have to make financial decisions now to protect the future of the University for our students, staff and the local community.
“In recent weeks, the lost income plus additional costs due to Covid-19 has impacted the university’s finances and we have openly shared with our staff that this is to the tune of at least £10 million.
“We have met and are continuing to talk with the campus trade unions and are working together to find the right balance in how we move forward. The discussions have been productive and the most recent comments from a campaign group do not reflect the joint and meaningful way in which the university is working with the unions.
“As you would expect of a responsible organisation, we have honoured all of our contractual commitments. We have confirmed this many times with our staff and the Unions.
“The university’s leadership recognises that these are difficult measures and the Vice-Chancellor has already forgone 10 per cent of his salary. Our council has put this money towards our student hardship fund. That amount is being matched by the university.
“We have confirmed with staff that we are actively looking at whether the government’s job retention scheme could benefit some staff and we are in constructive discussions with the trade unions about a voluntary severance scheme.
“We will continue to take action in the best interests of current and future staff and students.”
LIKE WHAT WE DO? HELP US TO DO MORE OF IT BY DONATING HERE.