Students employed through Lancaster University's Employment and Recruitment Service (ERS) have been left with no answers about if they will be included in the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

When the University announced the closure of most campus buildings last month, many workers, including college bar staff, and student ambassadors, employed by ERS were laid off. These students, as well as some non-students, were employed on zero-hour contracts and while ERS did agree to pay student workers for the hours they were supposed to be working the following week, at the time of writing there has been no clarification as to whether ERS will apply for the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, despite being perfectly at liberty to do so.

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, any worker who was on the payroll on the 28th February is entitled to be furloughed by their employer and have 80% of their salary paid by the state, with employers strongly encouraged to pay the remaining 20%. In the case of those on zero-hours contracts, where pay varies from month to month, the 80% should be the higher of either your earnings in the same month of the previous year, or your average monthly earnings from the 2019/2020 tax year.

Spineless believes that all ERS employees who were on the payroll should be entitled to this, as the scheme applies equally to workers on zero hours contracts as full-time workers. In cases where employees have been laid off before the scheme was announced, employers are at liberty to rehire staff and put them on furlough. However, it is up to the employer to rehire and enroll employees through the governments’ scheme.

At the time of writing, ERS has failed to clarify whether its student employees will be enrolled on the scheme. We spoke to multiple students who, until recently, had jobs in college bars and other outlets on campus. Some were working full-time on zero-hour contracts and it was their only source of income, while others were working alongside their studies part-time, but were equally dependent on the income they receive through ERS and all have been plunged unexpectedly into financial hardship.

Others described their difficulty in getting any clear answer from ERS after emailing them to find out if they could be rehired and put on furlough to be eligible for the government scheme. On Monday 30thMarch, an email from ERS asked former and current employees whether they are currently working from home and to clarify their situation.

We spoke to one student who wished to remain anonymous (for fear that speaking out could affect future employment) who said: 'Even some kind of communication with regards to the retention scheme would be beneficial. I emailed my manager about it on the day the scheme was announced and they knew nothing about it and they haven’t contacted me since.'

They went on to say: 'I am impressed by the way that the Students’ Union have handled the issue of rent amongst students but am disappointed that they don’t seem to recognise the impact this loss of income will have for many students.'

The slow response of ERS is causing undue stress to students and other workers at an already stressful time. As a major employer, ERS should be acting faster to reassure employees of the situation.

The pandemic has reinforced the precarious nature of zero-hours contracts. Spineless would urge Lancaster University and LUSU to look into making sure they uphold the highest standards in workers’ rights, and employ students on proper contracts. In the meantime, Spineless sees no reason for ERS’s slow response and would urge them to reemploy any employee that has been laid off due to the pandemic and enrol them through the job retention scheme.

If you were previously employed by ERS and have been affected by this and would like to share your story, please message us on Facebook.