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Queen Mary statement on payment of student workers

Facts about Queen Mary Students’ Union eligibility for ‘furlough scheme’

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Queen Mary University of London is committed to ensuring, as far as we are able, that no student is financially disadvantaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, we have extended our Financial Assistance Fund for students in financial hardship.

The University has provided a financial commitment to Queen Mary Students' Union's (QMSU) to cover the cost of a legitimate claim to the furlough scheme, and ensure it can pay its student workers their normal wages, as if its commercial outlets were still open. The guidance for the scheme issued by the Department for Education ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): financial support for education, early years and children’s social care’, states that ‘HE providers should not seek to furlough a higher proportion of their wage bill than could reasonably be considered to have been generated through commercial income’. The University therefore agreed to cover the cost of wages up to the SU’s predicted commercial income.

QMSU has claimed that it could claim more through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and pass this on to student workers.  This is based on the formula used by the scheme to calculate the salary for workers on zero hour contracts, which are the contracts that the QMSU use. The University understands that the QMSU has told its student workers how much they might have received had this formula been applied and the rest of the scheme’s guidance been ignored. This would have resulted in student workers receiving more wages than if they had actually been working.

The guidance for the scheme makes clear that this is inappropriate, so the University cannot support QMSU’s claim.

 Queen Mary’s Council, our governing body, discussed this issue and reinforced the University’s position. In addition, the University has taken external legal advice on this matter that has confirmed that this interpretation of the guidance is correct.

The University is continuing to work with QMSU to ensure that student workers are paid what they would have been paid if QMSU's commercial outlets were still open.

No student at Queen Mary should find themselves facing hardship as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic. Any students that are struggling to make ends meet are strongly encouraged to make use of our financial assistance fund.

FAQs

What is your response to QMSU saying they could have claimed more money from the CJRS than they can recover from this agreement with the University?

The agreement from the University covers actual salary costs to run QMSU commercial outlets for the months the outlets are closed due to Covid-19. Claiming above the actual salary costs is not in line with Government guidance and is unethical.

Why has the University not given consent to QMSU accessing the CJRS?

QMSU pays its staff through the University and can only access the CJRS through this route. Having considered all the guidance from Government about the CJRS, our Senior Executive Team has ongoing concerns about accessing the scheme. The scheme is intended for organisations that cannot meet their outgoings. We are not, currently, in that position. We expect any attempt by a university to access the scheme to be closely audited by HMRC and the Department of Education to ensure that it falls within the issued guidelines.

What alternative measure has the University proposed?

On 16 April Queen Mary proposed to QMSU that the University would cover the cost of staff salaries, including those of student workers, up to the amount the SU may have legitimately claimed from the CJRS. QMSU accepted that proposal and we have been working with them since to determine which staff, including student workers, were eligible. Meanwhile, we are told that the SU’s student workers have been paid by the SU.

We are still waiting for the SU to provide clarity going forward on the salaries to be paid to all its workers, including student workers, and the extra financial contribution from Queen Mary that will be needed to cover this

This is an extract of the letter we sent to QMSU on 24 April for the external auditors: “the University will also underwrite the Students’ Union for an amount equivalent to what it might have received from the Government’s CJRS had it furloughed staff funded through the commercial activity of QMSU Services Limited”.

Will this ensure that all student staff are paid at least what they would have received through the CJRS?

Yes, based on actual salary costs to run the facilities.

What is your response to the student workers who are claiming to be suffering through much lower pay than they would otherwise have received?

The welfare of our students is our primary concern and no student worker who is employed by QMSU should be financially disadvantaged by the arrangement that we have entered into with the SU. We encourage any student staff for which this is not the case to get in touch with us (at covid19-support@qmul.ac.uk) so that we can address any issues.

Has the University's position been discussed by Council?  

Council, our governing body, discussed the claim that student workers are financially disadvantaged by the University’s decision not to facilitate QMSU’s application to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). Following QMSU’s presentation and subsequent discussion at the Council meeting, the Chair of Council wrote to the Acting President of QMSU [PDF 129KB] to emphasise Council’s full support for the University’s position on this issue and for the Principal, and also to express strong disagreement with the comments made about the Council meeting. The meeting had been extended to give adequate time to discuss the issues, and ensure all views could be heard.

QMSU has a financial commitment from the University already to pay its student workers their normal wages, as if its commercial outlets were still open. QMSU believes that it could claim more through the CJRS and pass this on to student workers.

The purpose of the CJRS is to enable employers who have been severely affected by Coronavirus to continue paying employees the majority of their wages. Council cannot in good conscience support QMSU’s claim for emergency government funding to pay student workers more than they would normally earn. To do so would also contravene HMRC and Department for Education guidelines.

The University is working with QMSU to ensure that payments to student workers are consistent with what they would have been if QMSU’s commercial outlets were still open. The University has recently extended its Financial Assistance Fund for students in financial hardship.

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