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Unions stand with our catering staff - save our frontline workers

Published on 30th October 2020 at 08:43.

Friday 23 October
Fao: Tim Westlake

Dear Tim

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

For more information and to take action

University VC updatePress release from UCU SussexSign Change petition