Catering staff at Sussex University have successfully stopped plans to make 39 workers redundant after Sussex Food staff were informed in October that at least 70% of the workforce were to be laid off. For Chartwell’s Higher Education – the company that manages Sussex Food – the lower footfall on campus was an excuse to make sweeping cuts to the catering team, despite staff continuing to serve self-isolating students on campus throughout the term.
For the already low-paid staff at Sussex Food, this was a frightening prospect. In an open letter to the university, staff said:
“Some of us are not going to be able to pay our rent. Some of us are only going to be able to feed our families by using foodbanks. Some of us are going to have to tell our children that the fact they are getting no presents for Christmas doesn’t mean that we don’t love them, it is that we simply don’t have the money to. We’re not sure a child will understand this but we have to hope they will.”
Even after the government’s announcement that they would extend the furlough scheme covering 80% of wages until March, Chartwell’s still planned to go ahead with the job cuts. Corporations like Chartwell’s – whose parent company Compass Group PLC made more than £24 billion in revenue last year, and is listed on the FTSE 100 – are using the cover of the pandemic to make workers pay for the current economic crisis. For working class people in Britain and around the world, this has led to a jobs massacre and widespread attacks on working conditions.
A campaign to defend the jobs was launched by Crisis Justice at Sussex – a campaign by university staff in UCU, Unite and Unison to defend precarious jobs on campus – demanding the university step in and protect the jobs. A fundraiser for the workers raised £6000 in under 24 hours, and an online rally was held on Wednesday 11th November to build the campaign.
By Friday, the campaign won an inspiring victory, with Sussex University stepping in to support the workers’ wages, allowing them to go furlough and protecting the jobs until March. The successful campaign against these redundancies shows that if we get organised, we can resist the bosses’ attacks on jobs during this crisis.
Private companies like Chartwell’s have clearly demonstrated that they can’t be trusted to protect the jobs of staff. The only way to ensure no further threats to workers is for the university to take outsourced services back in-house and fighting for a fully funded, fully publicly-owned Higher Education system. On that basis, we could run the university based on the needs of staff and students, rather than those of the market.