THE BLOG

Fighting Privatisation to Save Student Jobs

01/05/2013 12:13 BST | Updated 30/06/2013 10:12 BST
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A Students' Union is run by students for students. This is the line, in one shape or another that we are continually told when it comes to our Students' Unions.

More than just a building, a Students' Union is a place for many of its members to come for support, advice, help, employment and most importantly; fair democratic representation.

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The Students' Union to which I have dedicated a large portion of time to (Queen's University Belfast Students' Union) has, in the past readily employed students in a number of roles which includes; bar staff, SU security (Dance Committee) and customer service in the SU shop. At present, our union employs 18 security staff, around 50% of whom are current students while another 40% are graduates of Queens.

In my assessment it would be fair to remark that those 18 security staff have dedicated years to QUB Students' Union and go above & beyond their roles to facilitate events, ensure safety and engender a truly approachable, student friendly environment.

Unfortunately some of Queen's University Belfast Students' Union management do not seem to value our current security team given that at the beginning of April, security staff here were suddenly told that contracts they have previously held will be terminated at the end of the month (May 2013).

In response to this horrendous decision that effectively cuts student held security positions within our Students' Union, a campaign has been organised to request an immediate end to the outsourcing of jobs to private security companies.

Scrapping Union security positions (currently filled by students, graduates and dedicated staff) without any proper consultation or advanced prior notification is an utter disgrace, especially considering a Students' Union is supposed to actively promote student on-campus employment.

A recently held meeting between management and employees of the Students' Union saw current security staff being given application packs for security company G4S which just so happens to be the very company benefiting from this outsourcing venture. Let me make clear that an application form is no legal guarantee of a secure job, whether with G4S or another company even if it is unofficially implied that jobs will be given.

This has left our current security team with two options- take a job offered with G4S (on a zero-hour contract, without support or protection), or lose their job. The simple reality is we have no autonomy over an external private company so cannot protect students as robustly as we would like.

My outrage at this (apart from the obvious) stems from the idea that QUBSU is a Student's Unionnot a commercial union; a Students' Union run by students for students.

Protecting jobs in Students' Unions here in Northern Ireland, the rest of the United Kingdom and Ireland must be a top priority. We cannot stand idly by while staff and students face potential loss of jobs and income. We must also protect future job opportunities for students, so they can work for their union with piece of mind that a wage is there for them - this provides stability and sustainability.

A Students' Union should be working for students, with students and not disenfranchising them through this on-going commercialisation process within QUBSU or many of the others of which I've recently became aware.

Outsourcing of jobs in our Students' Union to external companies is part of a dangerous creeping commercialisation within Queen's University Belfast Students' Union. Again this is clearly going to be costing student jobs, destroying the hard work put in by those who have been dedicated employees here for many years and creating discord at a time of economic austerity when jobs are needed most by those in education just to scrape by.

Another thing that has irked me is that our ratified SU strategic plan (2012-2015) clearly states that "the Students' Union also places a key priority on 'putting money in your pocket'." And that they "will do this by promoting and offering part-time job opportunities and by providing expert financial management advice."

So to fight back against these job cuts a campaign was organised and in a single day, almost 1200 students signed a petition calling for a referendum on this particular issue. This referendum will be held on 9th May 2013. As an activist within my Students' Union I must say to everyone out there that the response we have gotten to our campaign is overwhelming and proves that not all students are apathetic to such serious injustice.

This campaign has seen students from across Queen's University campus coming together to demand that jobs be protected within the Queen's University Belfast Students' Union.

Our campaign group call upon the Students' Union executive management to stop the removal of student jobs and maintain current rolling employment levels on campus to help boost student employment and remain in line with the approved strategic plan.

We further call upon incoming Students' Union President to uphold the strategic plan of Looking after the pound in your pocket with more on campus jobs and improved support & advice, something that was featured as a key policy in his manifesto pledge this year.

We are additionally calling for QUBSU Management Board to reverse the decisions to outsource our students' union jobs and in future consult the ruling body of our Students' Union (Student Council) on such important matters. The Students' Union has had its reputation severely damaged and they must now reaffirm their support for protecting and enhancing job opportunities for students to recover.

I call upon students everywhere to stand in solidarity with students and employees here at Queen's University Belfast Students' Union over the next few weeks. We will be preparing to take on union management in defiance of cuts and in defense of student jobs.

I also warn other Students' Unions to look out for creeping commercialisation on their campuses as this is becoming so common within Students' Unions throughout the UK and Ireland. A Students' Union is not a business to be commercialised, exploited and profiteered off.

Please Tweet us your support (@QUBSU, #SaveSUJobs) and feel free to send solidarity in the form of videos, posters and statements, we will stand united in the face of attacks on Students' Unions, especially the creeping, undemocratic variety!