We have recently received messages from student workers who are happy for us to share their statements on working at the University of Birmingham:
‘I was told by Worklink that I wasn’t going to be paid today and there was absolutely nothing they could do about it (was owed £1,900), I went to Guild Advice because I wasn’t going to be able to pay my rent and spoke to a lovely lady called …. who then contacted Worklink for me and somehow managed to get me paid today (not the full amount but it was something) so definitely go to Guild Advice if you are having issues!’
‘I’ve just graduated and have been struggling to get my P45 from them since May. I emailed them 3 times and called them telling them definitely ‘do not send my P45 to my student address’ and have given them my new address, I then called them to make sure they wouldn’t do this. Bearing in mind it took months to even get a response back from them and they assured me they would read my emails, when I finally heard back off them around 3 weeks ago they advised me that they had sent my P45 to my student address and couldn’t send me another because they’re not allowed to.
I’m absolutely fuming. I’ve been working since July for a new company and gave them two months’ notice to sort this out! I’ve been taxed hugely because not only have they sent my P45 to the wrong address so I couldn’t give it to my employer, they haven’t sent it to HMRC. To top it all off, they’re still sending me catering emails every day although I’ve finished in May.’
‘I have been wrongly taxed this month which means that I’ve been paid £100+ less than I was expecting, for a job I did recently; a job I loved. I had big difficulties registering onto New Core and because of that, I couldn’t actually declare my hours of work earlier. As a consequence I had my payment delayed by a month. At the moment I’m trying to access my New Core account but it won’t recognise my credentials – so I can’t access my payslip (although I know how much I’ve been paid as I’ve checked my bank account, I do need to see and print off my payslip).
The issue of wrong tax deductions is not something new though. I think what they do is allocate a particular tax code to all students (without asking them in advance) and then the onus is on the students to check that the payment’s been made correctly, on time, and for the right job. Many of us juggle multiple jobs at the same time. I imagine international students must be disproportionately affected by such a problematic policy.
I remember years ago when I first did some work for the University, my then housemate (who was undertaking a PhD) told me about the situation with the wrong tax code being used for students, and how he’d been affected by it. So I was warned then, and I was expecting that by now they’d have sorted it. Instead, the hurdles that we need to go through have only multiplied.
Before this job, I had done another one for a few months. During that time, I was constantly wondering whether the pay was actually accurate (as it didn’t seem to be, maybe I was overly taxed for that job too? Who knows) but when you’re dealing with so many competing things in life (and a demanding course), you have to preserve your energies – and I didn’t have any energy left to chase the payments for that job and to keep checking my account. I aknowledge that this is a privileged position to be in though as at the time I was able to leave this issue on the side. But it’s not right, nevertheless.
Some students might be too afraid to even ask about their payments as they may think that they’ll be labelled as ‘troublemakers’ and as a result they’d lose the few hours they get from the university. Being a casual worker puts you in a vulnerable position.
It’s really worrying to think that potentially thousands of student workers on campus might have been wrongly taxed or wrongly paid: either without them even knowing about it, with them knowing when it’s too late, or knowing but not having energy to follow up with the chasing of money. How much money is the University making out of students’ (imposed) lack of knowledge or energy? It’s the university’s duty to inform us, to address our concerns immediately, and also to prevent these issues from happening.
Also, when student casual workers get ill, we don’t get sick pay – so we’re penalised for something that is beyond our control. Isn’t this discrimination? What implication does that have for disabled students on campus, or students experiencing chronic illness? Or to anyone else who is unwell for a while. By making us work casually (rather than on a proper contract with employee rights), we are put in danger as we are made to come into work even when our doctors tell us that we should stay at home. We come into work because we need to pay our rent as otherwise the University or private landlords in Selly Oak will kick us out of our homes. Many also come into work without proper training which we should be given and be paid for it.
I’m glad that Unison (one of the trade unions on campus) is supporting and amplifying our claims. Students need to come together to hold our employer to account! Meeting with the University’s senior managers would be a good start. Having Worklink reps in the union or as part of a society might also help. Have a think about it.’
I was at UoB for my MA and PhD (now working elsewhere and waiting for the viva), and in those 6/7 years had loads of short-term, hourly-paid contracts for jobs through WorkLink. Ad hoc invigilating for the main exams team and schools, evening shifts as a receptionist, and teaching/ marking for the history department. Having different contracts that paid different hourly rates confused the system no end, especially when our payslips were changed (a few months before the introduction of New Core I think) and suddenly we just had a ‘worklink payment’ line that did not differentiate between jobs, making it harder to ensure we were being paid correctly. I often had to chase up pay that could be outstanding for several months, going back and forth between the WorkLink office and payroll, and dealing with the ensuing tax problems with HMRC. It might be cynical, but it did begin to feel like these obstacles were deliberate, and that the university hoped that we would give up chasing late pay. I now have a full time job, a salary, and one pay slip- the difference is amazing! I finished working at UoB in May, just before the introduction of New Core. I think my last payslip (covering all my invigilating that was being signed off by different administrators in different schools) was correct, but honestly by that point I was too tired to chase it up. I hope your latest round of strike action helps make some changes.’
The reality of being a casual worker at the University of Birmingham – you don’t get paid for work done 3 months ago, you get wrong payments, and you’re overly taxed.
The university has also put students at risk of injury by asking them to break our strike in July and to take on roles without any training and experience.
If student workers wish to join us as members, please email us at email@example.com
We’d also be interested in finding out more about working conditions, wrong or delayed payments, over taxation and any other issues that student workers are facing.
Finally, if any students wish to contact the university and if they want advice on how to do it more formally, please email us. Our caseworkers would be happy to advise. The university needs to take students’ concerns seriously.
If students wish to submit statements for us to publish (anonymously) on social media or our website, please email firstname.lastname@example.org