Are Students’ Union Bar Conditions Fair?

The Royal Holloway Students’ Union came under scrutiny for their budget deficit of £98,464. However, as The Founder has discovered, their mismanagement appears to also extend to the practises surrounding their bar staff. Having spoken with several of their employees who work both in Medicine and the SU Main Building (all of whom wish to remain anonymous), rather startling issues have come to light. On their website, SURHUL state ”Our mission is to provide outstanding representation and services that promote active and constant participation”; an ethos which now appears under question.

One employee spoken to stated that, whilst working at the bar, it was highly unlikely that they would receive their break before 2:30AM, meaning that most staff would be waiting between six and seven hours for their break. Even then, the break would only last for twenty or thirty minutes, even when shifts might run on until 5AM or later. When the demands upon the bar staff are examined, this appears to be an insufficient period of respite. Additionally, the bar staff are tasked with clearing up the entire premises following an evening, including toilets and the smoking areas.

One such experience described to The Founder was an evening when there were no gloves available for those who had to pick up the cigarette butts. The interviewed staff member said that, as a group, they had to persist without gloves; otherwise they would not be judged as having completing their tasks and would face a reprimand.  The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states that employers must provide their employees with the required PPE (personal protection equipment), obviously not adhered to on this occasion. Having to proceed with this job was unhygienic and repulsive for the employee interviewed, as well as in violation of employment law.

Those working late in the Students’ Union have the opportunity of getting a Non-Res bus from the premises to their residences, should they live off-campus. This is an extraordinarily sensible idea, particularly considering attacks that have taken place in the surrounding area, targeting students walking alone. In spite of this, The Founder received information that, on more than one occasion, bar managers have not adequately communicated with the Non-Res drivers, resulting in employees walking as far as Kingswood, often after 4AM, by themselves. This is both unsafe and impractical, forcing the choice between taking a slower, better lit route home, or a faster and more hazardous path.

The Summer Ball was also a topic focused on by interviewees, two of whom worked for over 11 hours. These shifts were punctuated by two twenty minute breaks, allowing barely enough time for them to collect their food and find somewhere to sit down. When the £5000 profit made from the Summer Ball is considered, surely the option of hiring a few more staff was not unfeasible. This would have permitted slightly longer and more flexible breaks among the employees, giving them the opportunity to rest properly before recommencing their shifts. Instead, the £5000 profit is being used to reduce 2013 Summer Ball tickets by roughly £2 each; a relatively insignificant gesture in the face of the overall expenditure of £128,000 for the event.

Perhaps the most unjust aspect of the exposed situation was the rate of pay for SU bar employees. The standard wage is £6.08 per hour, raised to £6.38 after midnight. This thirty pence increase seems inequitable with the work by staff undertaken post-midnight, particularly after the venue closes. Comparatively, a standard McDonald’s employee is paid fifty pence extra per hour after 11PM. On campus staff at ‘Crosslands’ are paid over £8 per hour – a very reasonable wage. When the sociability of their working hours and more subdued working environment is considered, this seems illogical. As an example, one SU employee informed us of an instance when they had to clear up a used condom and other such detritus from the main building dance floor. Yet, as they operate under different authorities, this disparity remains unnoticed.

Hopefully a new academic year and new sabbaticals for the Students’ Union will produce a more favourable situation for the hard-working bar staff. Indeed, plans to generate extra revenue for the SU are in place; the most promising of these is the Student Letting Agency. Success in this and other endeavours have the potential to help alleviate some of the pressure and unfairness experienced by the Students’ Union staff.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interviewees are not necessarily shared by The Founder. All information pertaining to working conditions was provided by anonymous employees of the Royal Holloway Students’ Union.

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