April 24 2020
Note on the series
Autonomy is running a Stories From the Frontline series of testimonies that aims to capture what it is like to be a key worker during this COVID-19 crisis. We’ve put a call out asking for those currently working in key roles to reflect on their working life at the moment. We want to give our contributors a wide berth in terms of what they can speak about: some discuss politics, others discuss their immediate feelings; some focus on their day to day tasks, others reflect on the sector as a whole; some are angry at management, others talk about what their customers or clients are experiencing. We feel it is important to hear as ‘raw’ an account as possible: needless to say, these testimonies reflect the individual authors’ views only.
We’ve kept each testimony anonymous and have edited out any possible identifiers of the workplace involved.
I work in a university in professional services and student support, primarily based in the library. The latter is a casual role supporting students with access needs, one on one. Students with disabilities are disproportionately at risk from severe cases of COVID-19, but the people who are working with them get no sick pay, meaning even if they need to self-isolate they may not be able to out of economic necessity.
On the 16th of March, while in a session with a student, I found out that I had lost this job. Luckily I have my other part time job in professional services which brings in about £650 a month, which is just about liveable on. In that role I am a trade union rep, so well placed to see that there was a complete lack of communication between different schools over the pandemic. There was no overarching policy about what staff with underlying health conditions should do, nor was there any effectively communicated policy on sanitising work stations. Whether I have this permanent role on the other side of the crisis is also an open question. Within a week of teaching being cancelled and moved online, a document containing references to the “termination of staff” was leaked to staff. It spoke of the need to cut staff costs rapidly, fire casual workers, as well as numerous mentions of the non-renewal of fixed term contracts and a voluntary severance round. There had been no communication of this document to the recognised trade unions until it had been leaked. This is happening across the sector.
Speaking for myself and other colleagues who lost their roles suddenly and with no support, it solidifies what I had already felt: that the university saw us as expendable, that we weren’t part of a community that is spoken about on prospectuses but automatons whose only purpose is a role, and a role that only has a purpose as far as it furthers profit. It seems like generally my University has learnt from the coalition government [of 2010-2015]: sound nice and cut hard. When we suggested to senior managers that they place pay restraints on themselves so that cuts start with the most well off, and not the precarious, they could barely stifle a chuckle that we would be audacious to suggest such a thing. When someone is okay being paid 20 times someone they employ it’s difficult to see how they could see their employee as a person in the fullest sense of the word, we are now going to see that attitude play out across the sector.
We’re looking for testimonies from those continuing to work during this crisis. In the main, this should be key workers. If this is you, then please be in touch!
This is meant to reflect what it’s like to work as you, right now, on the job. This is *not* meant to be an academic paper or a mere record of events.
What is your day to day experience of the job? What is your workplace like? What do you hear from your colleagues about the sector as a whole? What has changed since COVID? How is your relationship with your employer?
All testimonies will be published anonymously or using pseudonyms where relevant.
Please email no more than 800 words to: email@example.com