A recent Freedom of Information request has shown that the University furloughed 290 academic staff between 1 April 2020 and June 2021. Due to the UK Government paying 80 percent of furloughed employees wages until July 2021, the cost of furloughing this proportion of staff was not significant and only amounted to £128,188.42 in “top-up wages”. The taxpayer has and will therefore largely foot the bill for the job security provided by the furlough scheme.
The Freedom of Information request suggests that the University has made maximum use of the UK Government’s unprecedented assistance for employers, and the minimum contribution by employers towards the scheme was only set at 10 percent in July. In an attempt to encourage employers to reduce their reliance on the furlough scheme, from August employers will have to pay 20% towards the wages of those employees they chose to furlough.
Using data obtained from the University of York, it can be said that the furlough scheme has been instrumental in ensuring that staff at the University weren’t made redundant in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Rather than the number of redundancies rising between 1 April 2020 and 1 June 2021, only 10 redundancies were recorded, in comparison with 15 between 1 April 2019 and 1 June 2020. The Freedom of Information request highlights that the furlough scheme has been initially successful in safeguarding the jobs of academic staff working in higher education.
The only caveat to this positive outcome is the finding that the number of staff who received voluntary severance or settlement increased dramatically, with 125 academic staff volunteering to leave between 1 April 2020 and 1 June 2021, as opposed to only 20 the previous year. Voluntary severance differs from redundancy in that those who are made redundant are dismissed by their employers, while voluntary severance consists of leaving through your own accord. It is extremely common for staff to voluntarily leave if they believe it will lead to them receiving better compensation than the standard redundancy package.
Benefits often acquired out of volunteering to leave include not having to work during your notice period and receiving extra redundancy pay. The higher proportion of academic staff leaving because of voluntary settlement most likely explains why the pandemic appears to have had no impact on the number of academic staff that were left redundant. Nouse’s Freedom of Information request has therefore found that the furlough scheme does appear to have limited an increase in staff redundancies, although this has been offset by a rise in staff choosing to leave voluntarily.
Another significant but worrying finding from the Freedom of Information Request is the revelation that the University has hired fewer than 5 individuals relating to Security since April 2020. In November 2020, Nouse reported that YUSU had called on the University to increase the security presence on campus in response to unverified reports of violence near Halifax College. The Freedom of Information request suggests that there is no substantial evidence of the University hiring more security staff in the wake of the incident.