Trade Unions condemn “Fire and rehire scandal”
Chartwells, which provides the majority of catering at the University of Sussex, have announced they will make over 70% of their staff redundant on 17 November. This puts 39 of 55 posts at risk. They have also made clear that they will employ agency workers.
Chartwells is a subsidiary of the multinational Compass Group, which last year made a statutory operating profit of £1.6 billion.
Replacing permanent staff with agency workers will make its workers less secure in the middle of a pandemic and force families into food poverty just before Christmas. One member of staff facing the sack said: “This is a terrible way to treat those of us who love our workplace, have built great work relationships and have a mortgage to pay and a family to support. Chartwells and the University seem to have forgotten that while most staff have been at home we have been on the frontline risking our lives to ensure food gets to our students.” Full statement here.
Chartwells staff are currently providing hot meals to self-isolating students, whose numbers are only likely to increase over the coming months. Using agency staff, who work across multiple venues, to provide this vital service will compromise the Covid security of the campus.
The treatment of Chartwell’s staff is already a cause for serious concern, in terms of Covid transmission. The majority of customer-facing staff and chefs employed at the University are not entitled to sick pay, which makes it difficult for them to self-isolate when necessary. The University also does not monitor Covid cases in Chartwells staff, despite their role in preparing, serving and delivering food to students. UCU Health and Safety Rep, Emily Robinson said: “This shows a shocking lack of care for the students and staff involved, as well as for the wider community, both on campus and throughout Brighton and Hove”.
Trade Union Activity
Chartwells does not recognise a trade union. But the three campus trade unions (Unite, Unison and UCU) and the University of Sussex Student Union wrote a joint letter on Friday 23 October, calling on the University Vice Chancellor, Adam Tickell, to take the catering service back in house if he could not influence the decision. They also pointed out the decision had been made without due process, and without consultation with the unions.
The four unions are now working with Chartwells’ staff to resist the redundancies, and have launched a campaign to pressure the company and the University into halting this process - their petition is available here.
Unite Rep Max O’Donnell-Savage said: "While companies and communities across the country provide food to families in food poverty, Sussex University and Chartwells instead choose to put more families into food poverty just before Christmas, through what amounts to a fire and rehire scheme that runs contrary to our university's values. All campus unions and the student union have called for a pause in the redundancy process for a real consultation.”
Outsourcing at Sussex
The University claims that Chartwells’ actions are not their concern. However, managers in Chartwells have made clear that if the University were to intervene they would have to listen for the sake of their contract.
The contract with Chartwells is a result of the 2013 outsourcing of its Facilities Management and Catering provision. This was strongly resisted by the University of Sussex Student Union and the trade unions, and led to occupations on campus. In 2015 the University was ordered to issue a public apology and pay compensation to students who had been suspended during these protests. One later successfully sued for defamation.
Small businesses across the City and across the country are responding to Marcus Rashford’s rallying cry by providing meals to families in food poverty. The University of Sussex and Chartwells would be well-placed to support this effort, and use their staff and resources to help those in need in the local community. Instead of stepping up to these wider responsibilities, they have decided to push more families into food poverty by making them redundant just before Christmas.
Of a total of 55 staff, 39 jobs are at risk
Consultation over the redundancies began on 15 October 2020. Redundancies are expected to take effect on 17 November.
The University of Sussex employs 62 people on six-figure salaries
Chartwells and the University of Sussex both claim to support the UN’s sustainability goals, including ending hunger.
Contact: Max O’Donnell-Savage, Unite rep: 07903 348600