Anger as Sheffield vice chancellor turns back on university workers

Workers call for support as their pay falls below minimum wage

Unite, Britain’s leading union, has accused Sheffield University vice chancellor Koen Lamberts of turning his back on workers at the university’s campus amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a letter to the union, Sheffield University has confirmed that Koen Lamberts will not meet with Unite and will not intervene to help workers earning well below the minimum wage.

This is despite an open letter signed by over 1,000 staff and their supporters asking him to use the university’s finances to furlough the workers at 100 per cent. Unite has called his decision ‘ill judged’ and is calling on the vice chancellor to think again.

500 workers employed by Sheffield SU, who are on a toxic combination of the minimum wage and zero hours, as well as 200 workers employed by the university’s arm’s length company Unicus, are now being paid the equivalent of £6.16 per hour. They face a cost of living crisis.

A survey conducted by the union has found that 73 per cent of affected staff said they will struggle to pay for housing costs, while 67 per cent said they will struggle to pay for food and basic amenities. Just 9 per cent have savings that will make up the loss in pay and only 15 per cent have family who can support them financially.

Workers directly employed by the university have been assured that they will be furloughed on full pay.

Unite regional officer Harriet Eisner said: “Koen Lamberts has turned his back on the community that makes up the University of Sheffield. This is an ill-judged decision which is going to affect the reputation of the university. We urge him to think again and engage with the union which has the workers’ best interests at heart during the current health crisis.

“The vice chancellor is in charge of the University, employees of Unicus and the Students’ Union are part of his university community. They are employed on the lowest possible pay rates and are currently furloughed on 80 per cent of that. I find it incredible that the vice chancellor appears to be washing his hands of these young people who have paid fees to study at his university and work at his university in order to pay for their food and accommodation.”

Hundreds of staff employed by Sheffield Students’ Union (Sheffield SU) have been furloughed on 80 per cent of their pay since the beginning of May. Workers employed by Unicus the university’s arm’s length body have been furloughed on 80 per cent of their pay since the beginning of April. Sheffield SU gets most of its funding from the university.

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