New proposals for porters face backlash


Proposals to change college porter working arrangements, recently tabled by the University, have sparked concern among the workforce. Intended changes include putting all porters on flexible contracts, the creation of a worker pool who can cover shifts at short notice, and the end of ‘rotating’ shifts.

Currently, many porters work on a ‘rotating’ rota: switching every week between day, afternoon and night shifts. This pattern operates in the colleges of St Mary’s, St Hild and St Bede, St Aidan’s, Van Mildert, Trevelyan and Hatfield. Day shifts are generally from 8 am to 4 pm, afternoon shifts from 4 pm to 12 am and night shifts from 12 am to 8 am.

Due to working a range of shifts porters receive 18% extra pay for the night shifts they are assigned as part of this rota. However, under the new proposals, the University asks porters to work either only afternoon and night shifts or only day shifts.

In other colleges, such as Collingwood, some porters currently work permanent night shifts. Under these changes proposed they would also receive less pay as this would no longer be an option. According to Nigel Race, a college porter and GMB union representative, the proposed changes would cause a “substantial drop in pay” for these workers, especially if they are unable to work afternoon and night shifts.

Race said: “From my experience, and we’ve had members meetings about this, nobody is happy about all of this. People have expressed preferences because that is what is on the table […] they’re not happy about doing it, they realise that in reality there are no other alternatives.”

“I’m a carer for my dad so I really cannot do the afternoon and night shifts”

One porter Palatinate spoke to, who had worked at the University for over 10 years, was worried about the proposals. “I’m a carer for my dad, so I really cannot do the afternoon and night shifts”. However, he estimates that he will be £400 a month worse off by working the day shifts.

He criticised the University’s decision-making process. “I feel like they haven’t consulted anyone who actually works the shifts.”

A University spokesperson told Palatinate, “We understand all change is challenging and some are more affected than others. We continue to consult with staff and their trades union representatives, as we have done throughout this process, and we will work with them to minimise any disruption to existing staff as a result of any changes.”

Another porter explained that he had put afternoon and night shifts as his preference to avoid a cut in pay. However, he was concerned at the effect this would have on his home life, “I feel backed into a corner, I don’t want to work only night shifts. It’s nice to be able to pick the kids up from school and be around more. But I can’t financially work the day shifts.” Another employee echoed this sentiment, saying, “Some people are going to have to do shifts that will ruin their work-life balance just to keep their current level of pay.”

Originally the proposals also included the end of all part-time contracts, however, Durham has now told part-time employees that they can maintain their current working arrangement for another year.

A spokesman for a trade union on campus told Palatinate that “staff are dismayed in relation to the scale of these proposals and there is a sense of betrayal and resentment building as that these are one of the very small groupings of staff who worked through Covid-19 putting themselves and their families at risk and this is the reward, less pay and worse working shift patterns, at a time of ever-rising household bills and increasing fuel bills to drive to work.

“Less pay and worse working shift patterns at a time of ever-rising household bills”

“Many long-serving and older RSA’s (Residential Services Assistants or porters) with underlying health conditions are faced with either accepting lower-paid working options or undertaking unrealistic shift patterns to qualify for nightshift allowances to maintain their existing salaries.”

“Management have agreed that pay protection will be in place for a one year and part-time staff can delay moving to full time for one year, although this has been described as completely inadequate. Discussions are ongoing.”

The University spokesperson told Palatinate that “Residential Service Assistants (RSAs) play a valuable part in College life and the provision we offer to our students and we are hugely grateful for the work they do.

“The changes we are proposing are designed to ensure that this service is consistent and fair across our Colleges, ensuring the best possible experience for our students, staff and visitors. The current system requires us to spend over £300,000 per year on casual staff to cover sickness and leave.

“The changes we are proposing are designed to ensure that this service is consistent and fair”

durham university

“The new system would introduce an additional 15 full-time-equivalent roles within the RSA resource across Colleges to considerably improve the effectiveness and resilience of our residential services. Use of casual staff would be almost completely removed and there would be greater opportunity for RSAs to develop their careers.”

The spokesperson continued, “We are also looking to continue our drive to bring greater gender diversity to the role to help address the University’s gender pay gap.

“There would be no change to the student service provided or residency charge as a result of the changes being proposed.”

Jack Ballingham, Opportunities Officer at the Students’ Union, said: “We worry that this could be another example of an ill-conceived restructuring plan, and we’re concerned that its impact on students could be far greater than that which the University claims.

“We’ll be looking further into these impacts, including asking questions of the University’s Executive, and we’ll be working closely with other student leaders and campus trade unions to develop a response. If students have any concerns or questions I would encourage them to get in touch with us so that we can raise them with the University.”

Image: Maddie Flisher

3 thoughts on “New proposals for porters face backlash

  • Absolute disgrace – Porters are the heart and soul of the ‘working life’ of colleges. Just one more erosion of the once sacred tradition of colleges looking after ‘their’ staff as the relentless march of centralisation claims another victim

  • A really valuable article, thanks! All support staff are the bedrock on which institutions across the university are built. Existing staff should not have their conditions changed under their feet to suit the university (I am looking at you, USS) unless it is absolutely necessary. Nor should new staff have radically worse employment conditions.

  • I have a few bullet points not mentioned in your article about porters.
    The shift times are not all 8-4,4-12,12-8. Some people use public transport to access work so they work 7-3 and so on, finishing at 12 you cannot get a bus
    The extra jobs mentioned are financed in some way by taking money from the porters due to the restructure.
    The Ops Directorate have not recouped the staff they lost in the first restructure.They will lose staff as before but this is not just happening to porters,servers staff,chefs etc have already taken other jobs.
    The weekend porters who do 12 hour shifts 7-7 or 8-8,will then be doing 12 midday to 12 midnight classed as day shift ??
    The Ops Directorate cannot give weekend jobs away doing the 3 shift system as 14 hours on a weekend is no good to anyone with bills to pay.
    My last point is that a porters job is not easy,so any recruitment done centrally is a waste of time,the people they send into the colleges are not fit for purpose ( bums on seats)
    Or they leave once they have to do a nightshift working alone looking after drunken people.
    Give money back to colleges and get rid of Ops Directorate,that will save money


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