Queen Mary management are boasting about sacking staff during the pandemic

Recently, Queen Mary senior management openly boasted about the fact that they have been laying off casualised staff in large numbers. What’s worse, they even tried to make you believe that this was actually for your own good.

A shocking blog post sent to all staff claimed that Queen Mary has a record of “challenging fixed-term and casual contracts” as part of its commitment to become “the most inclusive University of our kind, anywhere”.

But a closer look at the reality behind the claims in the article tells a very different story. It shows that management are deliberately misrepresenting the truth. Let’s look at these claims in turn.

Claim #1: Laying off staff promotes job security

The first claim is that Queen Mary is deliberately employing fewer people on fixed-term contracts in order to fight casualisation. The blog reads:

“I am very pleased to tell you that our […] data return shows a 6.6% decrease in fixed-term contracts (FTCs) and a huge 35.4% decrease in the use of one-off or casual contracts in the year 2020/21.”

But what exactly happened to those staff who were on fixed-term contracts? Were they rewarded for their hard work with the security of a permanent position? No. Anyone who was working at Queen Mary at the time can tell you what actually happened. 

The reason that the figures declined was because large numbers of fixed-term staff lost their jobs in the middle of the pandemic

When Covid hit in 2020, the Principal decided to implement a widely-advertised “recruitment freeze”. He also refused to take advantage of the government’s furlough scheme to keep people in post. As a result, many fixed-term contracts expired without any offer of renewal and people lost their jobs. 

Some of the affected staff had worked at the university for years. All of them faced huge financial uncertainty and hardship right in the middle of the pandemic. Furthermore, the work they had been doing was often passed onto their already overburdened colleagues, leaving students with less support in the new academic year.

This wasn’t about job security. It was about austerity.

Claim #2: The recruitment freeze never happened

Amazingly, though, the article instead claims that the university did not resort to “drastic measures” in this period. It says “we did not resort to redundancies” and “we continued to recruit”. Try telling that to the hard-working staff who lost their jobs. Or indeed to any member of staff who received repeated all-staff communications from the Principal telling them about the recruitment freeze. 

The article does admit that “difficult decisions” were taken in 2020 to “weather the storm” of Covid-19. But what it doesn’t mention was that Queen Mary put over £37 million in surplus cash into its bank account that very same summer, boosting its reserves to nearly £100 million. 

These weren’t hard but careful choices taken in your best interests. They were savage cuts made to boost an already healthy balance sheet.

Claim #3: Laying off women promotes inclusion

It gets worse. As well as boasting about laying off so many staff, the article also proudly reveals that women were disproportionately affected:

“for teaching-only staff, we saw a huge reduction in the overrepresentation of women on fixed-term contracts: from 62% of women and 57% of men on FTCs in 2017/18, to 53% and 51% respectively in 2020/21.”

But what this actually means is that many more women in fixed-term positions lost their jobs in this period than men. 

This shocking admission also fits the picture that UCU has seen in casework. Women are often the first to lose their jobs when cuts are made at Queen Mary, especially when they have children. 

In anonymous testimonies recently gathered and shared by Queen Mary UCU, one member of staff said,

“During a recent departmental restructure, it was notable that all of the staff members whose jobs were at risk were women – no male staff members were affected. The stated objective of the restructure was to reduce the number of staff working part-time. There was no allowance made for the fact that women are significantly more likely to work part-time than men making this, in effect, indirect discrimination.”

Another colleague told us,

“The main feeling I got while being pregnant at QM was that it was a nuisance and as if people that are pregnant don’t exist and don’t need to be planned for […] QM’s decision to refuse furlough for people teaching on zero hour contracts meant I could also not receive governmental maternity pay.”

This wasn’t a policy of inclusion. It actually excluded women from the institution.

Stand up to the lies

Management would like you to believe that no recruitment freeze ever happened, that laying people off promotes job security, that disproportionately laying off women promotes inclusion, that left is right, black is white, and up is down. 

Don’t let them get away with it. Vote for action on casualisation in the ongoing ballots. Post your ballot papers by 12th January.