Furlough: Being Sensible Now To Help In The Future

SU President Jack O'Neill has today announced that a number of the Officer team are to be placed on furlough. Read his blog to find out more about why the team have made this decision.

As the full impact of COVID-19 is being realised, everyone on an individual basis or an organisational basis is coming to terms with quite how different everything will be as a result of the pandemic. We know that there are going to be some tough times ahead, so we wanted to be honest with you and tell you what we – as an Officer group - are doing to muck in.

After careful consideration and numerous team discussions, we as your elected representatives have made the tough decision to furlough some of our roles. This means that we will be temporarily putting jobs on hold but importantly it also means financially we can access the Government's job retention scheme and claim 80% of the salary for the period they are furloughed.

From today, Lucy (VP Welfare & Diversity) will be going on furlough with Dom (VP Sport) and Sophia (VP Societies & Media) also moving onto furlough from 16 May. All three Officers will be returning to work on 15 June in order to tie up loose ends on projects, work on student group training, and to prepare for the handover to the new Officer team.

Why do we need to do this?

As was announced a few weeks ago, we have had to adapt our organisation in accordance with the challenges that we face in this unchartered and unprecedented situation. The greatest of these challenges is undoubtedly our financial position. As a Union, we’ve built up a number of robust policies to protect against sudden changes in our income, but our cash reserves are not unlimited and that has required us to take urgent action to safeguard the long-term future of the organisation we all love.

We identified our core services and put in place measures to ensure they could continue supporting you before making the decision to furlough a number of our permanent staff team.

As elected Officers, we are also trustees of the organisation. Therefore, when acting as trustees, we put on a different hat focused on the longevity of the organisation, in particular, we look at how our finances are stacking up.

We believe that the work we have undertaken to date as an organisation will have a significant impact on our ability to navigate these tough times but we could go further and it was only right that we acted with due diligence and considered the role we played in safeguarding the Union and the practicality of furloughing Officer positions.

Together we developed a set of principles to understand which roles we could potentially furlough and which roles were essential to tackle upcoming student issues.

Broken down these were centred on:

  • Which high-level committees did the role sit on where policy could be influenced?
  • What do we expect to be the key issues facing students?
  • What is the current workload of each role and could this be shared by other members of the Officer group?

Taking these into account, we believe that the President and VP Education roles have the ability to influence significant areas of academic policy. Considering we are moving into a period of online assessments; it is key that we represent you at the highest level on these topics.

That is not to undervalue the other Officer roles. When evaluating workload, it is clear that once Student Group Elections are complete, there will be significantly reduced demand on both Dom and Phia’s roles.

It is a very similar outlook for Lucy. Her role leads on liberation, wellbeing, and welfare campaigns and she would generally have been delivering a campaign around campus during the exam period – all activity that now won’t be happening but can be picked up by the President or VP Education where needed in a digital format.

Ultimately, the mission of the Students’ Union is to make student life better at Royal Holloway: that is our simple but ever so important aim. Without making some difficult decisions now, we may be in a position where we can’t continue doing everything that we currently do, and that is something we need to keep in mind.

Reassuring You

We understand that this may feel like a large step into the unknown, but we believe we have struck the right balance between being able to represent students while also being fiscally responsible as trustees. It’s also important to say that this is a decision that can be reversed.

Essentially, we can turn the tap on and off. If there is a sharp increase in queries or tasks that relate to a specific area of expertise, which requires us to recall an Officer from furlough, then we have the ability to do so.

We are still very much here to support you – that never changes. Throughout the last month or so, we have been continuing to represent you, now more than ever. We have been involved in determining accessibility requirements in assessments, successfully lobbied for a No Detriment Policy and publicly lobbied for flexibility for students’ housing concerns.

This doesn’t change. When Lucy, Dom and Phia go on furlough, myself and Kate will be picking up the extra bits of work. And, as always, we will be there to help with any random queries, as will our superb staff. This week we have completed a full overhaul of our Coronavirus Hub, adding specialist advice around a number of key topics important to you and we'll also be updating the different status of our services as time goes on, to demonstrate how you can access the support you need.