UCD Students’ Union (SU) have retained all their staff since the temporary closure of their shops on campus, despite losing all shop income. In a statement today, the SU has responded to an article published in the University Observer, the SU’s own newspaper, highlighting that although pay cuts have been made, they have “not laid off a single member of [their] staff”, keeping all 41 on the payroll.
The government’s Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme pays employees 70% of their wages, should the employer be forced to shut as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. Businesses are being encouraged by the government to pay the remaining 30% to their employees.
UCDSU has three shops on campus, in the Engineering Building, the James Joyce Library and the Student Centre. From March 12th until April 19th, SU shop staff were paid in full as the SU availed of the government’s scheme.
In an article published on Monday, the Observer highlighted that the SU has ceased to pay the remaining 30% of wages to their shop employees since April 20th.
Attention was also drawn to staff receiving “average weekly wages” for a period that overlapped with the Christmas holidays, with shop staff “now being asked to live on a fraction of what they would normally be paid.” UCDSU President Joanna Siewierska has responded to these statements explaining that the SU “is bound by Revenue’s operational guidelines of the COVID-19 Temporary wage subsidy scheme. The reference period to calculate the average hours worked is controlled and set by Revenue. This criteria is the same to every business in the country that avails of this scheme.” The SU has also indicated that the wages are not significantly lower than normal as a result of this criterion.
Siewierska has defended the pay cuts, explaining it is important to her that “no student working with us would lose their role through this extremely difficult time.”
Following questions in the Observer’s article regarding executive officer’s pay during this period, the President has said that senior members of the SU “have been impacted in exactly the same manner as all other shop employees. They are on the COVID-19 Temporary wage subsidy scheme. From 12 March 2020, it is the focus of UCDSU CSL to retain all employees during this extremely difficult and unprecedented period, we all have had to rapidly adapt to an ever changing situation developing around us.”
She went on to say: “No Shop income has been generated since 12 March 2020 when we temporarily ceased trading. We had to avail of the 12 week COVID-19 Temporary wage subsidy scheme to pay all of our shop staff from 26th March 2020.”
“From 20 April 2020 and for the foreseeable future UCDSU [Commercial Services Limited] rely solely on the COVID-19 Temporary wage subsidy scheme to pay our shop staff as we have no further available funds left to continue to top-up all employees weekly wages and pay commercial suppliers. We welcome the government’s decision to increase the COVID 19 Temporary Wage Subsidy scheme in Phase 2 from 85% of net weekly wages from 4 May.”
According to their records, the SU has been in good financial standing in recent years, previously budgeting closing reserves of almost €80,000 by June 2020. Last year, the SU received €295,000 in income from their shops on campus and have budgeted for an income of €175,000 this year, although the latter figure is likely to be significantly lower than expected. Following financial strain stemming from the university closure, and a sudden discontinuance in shop income since March 12th, it is clear that the SU will experience prolonged financial difficulties, not unlike many Irish businesses.
The last time the SU experienced financial difficulty, it led to a substantial loan from the university. Back in 2011, the SU accumulated a debt of €1.4 million over a four-year period. It took a loan of almost €1 million from the university to keep the SU afloat. At one point, they owed almost €250,000 to the Union of Students in Ireland alone.
The University Observer is editorially independent of UCD Students’ Union, as outlined in the SU’s constitution.
This article was updated shortly after publishing to include a number of comments which were received after going online.
Conor Capplis – Editor