It has been brought to our attention that whilst the Slate remains occupied, there are conference workers who are unable to carry out shifts that were planned for events inside the building, and thus may have experienced a loss of income. This is an issue which we take incredibly seriously, and which clearly deserves an official response.
As an activist group, we have spent the last two years forging links and connections of solidarity with many staff on campus. We view this as an absolutely essential element of our organising and political outlook, and this is strongly reflected in the demands and statement on our ongoing occupation, as well as the incredible widespread support we’ve had from staff not just at Warwick, but across the country.
Right now at Warwick, hourly paid teachers are struggling to make ends meet because of the exploitative employment practices of this University, and that is one of the key reasons we are in occupation. This relentless agenda of casualisation has impacts not only for academic staff, but for workers across the whole institution, and it’s ultimately responsible for situations where work can simply be withdrawn without protection or notice. If the University offered robust and stable contracts to all its workers, then it would not be possible for staff to lose out on income because of factors beyond their control, as is currently the case with the occupation and the related cancellation of events in the Slate building.
If seminars had to be cancelled due to a lecture room being occupied, or flooded, we think it would only be fair for the University to pay for the hours that affected seminar tutors were scheduled to work. The same should absolutely apply to Warwick Conferences’ workers whose shifts have been disrupted. It is not fair that workers don’t get paid because events in the Slate have been cancelled: the fact that this can happen in first place is because the kind of employment practices and contractual forms that the University and Warwick Conferences adopt allow them to pay workers by the hour without any kind of security or any duty being placed on the employer to guarantee workers’ income or hours even in case of business disruption. This effectively allows employers to shift the business risk completely onto the workers, who are necessarily more vulnerable and suffer disproportionately if their hours are cancelled. We should be clear that in this case it is the employer who is at fault, as they implement hyper-flexible, exploitative employment practices which leave workers in a situation of structural insecurity.
The University has many staff in its upper management ranks earning hundreds of thousands of pounds each a year. Meanwhile, hourly paid tutors are carrying out often hundreds of hours of unpaid labour and training without even being considered employees by the University and cleaners still do not receive a real living wage and are having their breaks taken away. The business model of Warwick treats staff as disposable: in front of this injustice, we won’t stay silent. When students are increasingly impoverished, dispossessed by extortionately expensive services, spiralling debt, insufficient accommodation, inadequate levels of study space, and underfunded and overstretched welfare services, as more money is pumped into capital investment – we will not stand idly by. The University’s actions are disgusting, and must be challenged, especially when they criminalise those who dare to speak out.
It must also be stressed that the University could have avoided this occupation even happening in the first place, had it truly taken on board the voices of students and staff at Warwick. It could have listened to the staff Assembly nine months ago in regard to the TEF as well as the democratic will of the Students’ Union; it could have decided to meaningfully engage with the concerns that hourly paid workers have been raising since the Teach Higher fiasco in 2015; it could have scrapped the injunction and apologised for the events of December 3rd 2014 long ago instead of perpetuating division, anger and trauma for two years.
Hence this occupation was borne out of political necessity – those who are participating (and thus risking quite a lot) are doing so because the diabolical situation facing both students and staff here at Warwick and beyond requires urgent, direct opposition. By meaningfully negotiating with us, the University can end this impasse. So far they have failed to do so, and with the occupation entering its second week, we urge them to change their position.
Furthermore, we call on University management to reimburse any conference workers who may have lost out on income as a result of the occupation. This is clearly the route that an employer who truly cared about the well-being of its staff would take; it’s time that Warwick put its money where its mouth is.