'AS universities expand, the pressure on support staff is enormous'

December 24, 2004

Hugh Lewsley  is the senior Transport and General Workers' Union shop steward at Queen's University, Belfast. He has been there for eight years and manages a security team.

He said he has never seen morale so low. "The problem is that universities are expanding but they are underfunded, and the pressure on support staff is enormous."

Mr Lewsley said security is in danger of being neglected at Queen's.

"The peace process does not mean the end of all violence. The problems with student behaviour in the Holylands area of Belfast have been well documented and that violence could spill over onto campus," he said.

He is also particularly concerned that Queen's Elms Village, home to between 2,000 and 3,000 students, has no security at night. "I think that if parents realised their children were staying in student accommodation without night-time security they would be horrified."

A spokesman for the university said: "Queen's, like most universities in the UK, continually reviews the provision of academic support services, including security. It delivers a high level of service within budget limitations."

Dougie Wright is a porter and the TGWU convener at Warwick University.

"Support staff in all universities are overworked, particularly at this time of year," he said.

The success of the conference trade at Warwick has brought particular difficulties.

"Conferences can bring last-minute work, so overtime is an issue. It is written into staff contracts that overtime is at management discretion. The union view is that it should be voluntary," he said.

Last year, Warwick disciplined a number of cleaners who refused to do certain overtime shifts. One of them was seeing her son off to Iraq.

A spokesman for the university said: "There was an issue with the cleaners last year and nine were given written warnings. These were subsequently rescinded by the university in the spirit of good relations. At the time, the cleaner whose son was going to Iraq had not made this clear to us."

He added that Warwick increased the number of manual staff from 486 five years ago to 783 in 2004.

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