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Sussex union and students press the University to halt redundancies at Chartwells

As the University of Sussex’s catering contractor Chartwells presses ahead with plans to make 70% of its staff redundant on 17 November despite the extension of the government furlough scheme, unions and students have written to the University outlining why it must step in to stop this.



23 October 2020

From: Sussex campus unions

To: Adam Tickell

Cc: Denise Holt, Stephen Shute, Tim Westlake

Subject: Chartwell redundancies

Dear Adam

We are writing with regard to the University’s catering contractor Chartwell’s redundancy process, which if it takes effect as planned would lead to over 70% of staff (39 of 55) being made redundant on 17 November.

These staff are as much a part of the University as its direct employees. Indeed, many of them were directly employed by Sussex prior to the TUPE transfer to Chartwells. They are among the lowest paid and most vulnerable workers on campus and, in addition, are on the frontline in terms of Covid-19 exposure.

The University is responsible for the behaviour of its contractors, and to treat these workers as disposable in this way runs contrary to all of Sussex’s professed values and is completely unacceptable.

While there may currently be a drop in sales, this is almost certainly temporary, and to dismiss workers who in some cases have worked at the University for over twenty years is neither a fair nor a rational long term approach.

Should Chartwells (who remain extremely profitable) be unwilling to shoulder the short-term costs of preventing these mass redundancies then the most straightforward solution is for the University to step in and return the service in-house. This would ensure employment is protected for those at the bottom as well as those at the top, as well as allowing badly needed services to be provided for students (including meals to those self-isolating) and potentially the wider community during the pandemic. In particular, we are concerned about the continued feasibility of the University’s recent commitment to provide a daily hot meal service to students isolating on campus should over 70% of food outlets staff face redundancy. As we are sure you’re aware, the number of students isolating on campus is rising and we expect this trend to continue. Therefore, this hot meal service is vital for students and needs appropriate staffing to be able to deliver it.

We would further note that this decision by your contractor affects both University staff and students directly, and therefore should never have been made without the approval of Council and full union consultation via CJNC (incidentally no unions have been consulted thus far, as Chartwells has no recognition agreement despite operating at a University which supports union membership).

If this process is allowed to proceed, the University is essentially allowing its lowest paid workers, disproportionately from non-UK backgrounds and denied union representation, to be plunged into the worst job market in decades just before Christmas. This is a choice rather than a necessity - the funds to prevent this immiseration could be found simply by the introduction of our proposed 6:1 pay ratio.

We are certain that the University would not have approved this decision had it been aware of its scale and potential impact on our reputation, and therefore request that Sussex immediately instruct its contractor to halt this process while full and proper consultation takes place.

We await your urgent response.

University of Sussex Students’ Union

University of Sussex UCU

University of Sussex Unison

University of Sussex Unite

 

27 October 2020

From: Adam Tickell

To: Sussex campus unions

Cc: Denise Holt, Stephen Shute, Tim Westlake

Subject: Chartwell redundancies

Dear [colleagues],

Thank you for taking the time to write to me about this important issue.

This is clearly a very difficult and sad situation for everybody concerned, not least the catering staff who deliver such a valuable and professional service to our campus community.

The stark backdrop to this is a massive drop in catering income on campus this year, with Sussex Food’s takings down 90 per cent on last year. You will I’m sure be aware of the reasons behind this, primarily the prolonged reduction of students and staff on site due to Covid-19. While we all hope for a swift return to normality, I’m sure most would agree that the current arrangements are going to be in place for the foreseeable future.

The hospitality trade in universities and in the wider community are suffering hugely from the lack of footfall and customer spending. The action that Chartwells are taking is unfortunately reflective of a wider contraction of catering hospitality in all corners of the UK.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that the teams who run our catering services are as much a part of the University as you or I and many will have been on campus for far longer than I have.

As you would expect, we are in close communication with our partners Chartwells, who run Sussex Food, regarding this matter and have sought to gain a number of important assurances.

We are satisfied that Chartwells have been working and continue to work to limit the need for compulsory redundancies. This work includes taking advantage of government support, such as the Job Retention Scheme, which comes to an end at the end of October. They are actively exploring whether the government’s replacement scheme is a viable option but the situation is not clear at this stage.

In the meantime, Chartwells have sought to reduce their headcount through voluntary means first and have considered staff proposals to avoid redundancies, such as job shares. Where jobs are at risk, they are reallocating staff, where possible, across Chartwells and Compass businesses.

We are also looking at way in which we can help our partner even more at this time, by subsidising some of the food offerings to help increase demand on campus – such as the subsidy in place for meal plans for students who are in self-isolation. We’ll continue to look at options like this where we can – but it is really difficult as our campus just isn’t the same right now. I certainly would encourage any University staff who are on campus to use the catering facilities as much as possible.

We are also assured that the sector leading and crucial support that we are committed to providing for our self-isolating students, and students on campus in general, will not be impacted as a result of this process. This activity will continue to be prioritised and provision is being retained to deliver the services that our students need and want.

There is no easy fix here, and we are not the only university that is facing these desperately difficult circumstances. We will stay close to what is happening at Chartwells and we will continue to do what we can to boost sales – as ultimately that is where we can have most impact on their decisions at the moment.

We will continue to provide whatever support we can to Chartwells in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for all.

With best wishes,

Adam

 

2 November 2020

From: Sussex campus unions

To: Adam Tickell

Cc: Denise Holt, Stephen Shute, Tim Westlake

Subject: Chartwell redundancies

Dear Adam

Many thanks for your response. It definitely seems that we are in agreement on the seriousness of the issue and the importance of finding a solution that provides the best possible outcome for all.

In that spirit we’d like to make the following positive proposals which we hope can be agreed as soon as possible to minimise the stress and anxiety being suffered by workers and the increasing adverse publicity the University is attracting.

First - we need to ensure that on this matter (as on other issues) we are working together: consulting properly and involving the workers fully. Chartwells does not recognise unions, which is clearly not acceptable for any partner of the University and not in line with the Strategic Framework ethos. A union recognition agreement on the lines of the UoS one should be put in place.

Second - it is imperative that students are fully involved via the USSU. The number of self-isolating students is over 100 and likely to continue into, and perhaps through, Christmas, and there is simply no way that a headcount of 16 Chartwells’ staff (including 4 managers) will be able to provide the services they need and have been promised. As one affected staff member has put it - can 12 frontline staff support over 3000 students, especially bearing in mind that there were 120 Chartwells employees in March 2020?

Third - we need to treat all of our colleagues fairly, and ensure that the burden of Covid is borne by those most able to do so. Just as library staff were re-purposed while the library was closed, so too should Chartwells’ staff - either to supply meals to self-isolating students, or as part of the Engage for Change community work co-delivering projects on the ground in local communities. The University did not contemplate letting these library staff members go simply because of a short-term fall in demand - nor should it allow this to happen to Chartwells’ staff.

Fourth - we are sure you will agree that staff, especially the lowest paid, need security in their work. Chartwells have proposed that staff made redundant will be brought back via their new internal agency Constellations. This is clearly unacceptable - it shows that there is still a need for staffing beyond the 16 that will be left post-redundancy, but that Chartwells want to employ people on zero-hour contracts to maximise their profits. This has the potential to seriously impact the quality of our services and damage the reputation of the University. In addition, the use of a rotating army of short-term casual staff will obviously massively heighten the spread of infection. We therefore propose that the University commit to ensuring that its contractors do not use agency staff / zero hours contracts - which will naturally reduce the need for redundancies.

Fifth - having spoken to staff we have extremely serious concerns with regard to the redundancy process itself. A number of staff have already been informed (despite the consultation being ongoing) that they will be losing their jobs. In some instances, supervisors are providing scores for their teams only for these scores to be subsequently altered. Furthermore, a member of staff made redundant by Chartwells in March has indicated how Chartwells deliberately down-scored him as he was a long-serving employee with University terms and conditions in order to replace him with a cheaper alternative. These allegations need thoroughly investigating before the same company is allowed to complete another redundancy process.

Sixth and most crucially - the national lockdown has now been announced and it has been confirmed that furlough will run until December at a minimum. It now makes undeniable sense to halt the redundancy consultation and to prevent nearly 40 families losing their income in the middle of a national lockdown while the government could pay the majority of their wage. We have been informed by senior managers within Chartwells that any intervention by the University will be a central consideration in their decision.

All of these proposals are practical and should meet the needs of the University and its staff and students. We have attached a full costing of how the implementation of a 6:1 pay ratio would more than pay for the salaries of all the staff facing redundancy. The University should make a firm commitment that no one should lose their job while another member of staff is earning more than £105k a year. We’d of course be happy to listen to alternative costings proposals that provided the same outcome.

They’ll obviously need working through, and so the first thing that needs to happen is for the current redundancy process to be halted to allow all stakeholders and affected staff to come to a long-term solution.

The sooner this can be announced the better - we are sure you will have seen that there is vast support with over 1000 signatures to the Chartwells’ petition, and growing press interest. This will only continue until the threat of mass redundancies is taken off the table.

If you could communicate this to Chartwells and schedule an emergency CJNC as soon as possible, that would be much appreciated.

Best wishes

University of Sussex Students’ Union

University of Sussex UCU

University of Sussex Unison

University of Sussex Unite

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