350 housing, dining staff laid off amid a projected $80 million Student Housing deficit

UBC Student Housing and Community Services are temporarily laying off almost 350 housing and dining staff in order to offset the financial impacts of COVID-19.

At the November 20 Board of Governors finance committee meeting, VP Students Ainsley Carry announced the layoffs when asked how the university planned to reduce labour costs in areas that have seen significant revenue losses due to the ongoing pandemic. Lesley Cormack, deputy vice chancellor and principal of UBC Okanagan, said that the campus was looking at similar reductions.

The decision comes as Student Housing and Community Services (SHCS), which has a separate budget from UBC, is projecting a deficit of $80 to $90 million, or a 40 per cent loss of revenue, for the 2020/21 fiscal year as a result of COVID-19.

On-campus housing occupancy is at 41 per cent, meaning fewer students currently rely on dining and residence services. SCHS did factor in the increase of around 1,000 new residents next semester when making their decision.

“These layoffs are completely driven by the current situation of COVID-19. This is not about a reorganization or a change in how we do our business,” said Andrew Parr, the associate vice president of SCHS.

SCHS decided which staff to lay off on a voluntary basis first before moving towards a seniority-based approach. Impacted employees were notified last week.

The layoffs start on November 30. Employees who are laid off will be out of work for up to ten months, or around the start of winter session 2021/22 next September.

“Depending on the business flow, and [if] things around COVID changed, we could ask some or all of those employees to return to work in advance of that ten month period.”

If the pandemic continues into the fall and classes stay online, then the layoffs would likely be extended.

During the layoff period, employees will still have access to an income, although it would be a reduced amount.

“They would be eligible for up to 85 per cent of their wages as a top-up that UBC would pay. And that's an absolute maximum of $350 per week, over and above their employment insurance benefits,” Parr explained.

Other benefits laid-off staff will continue to be eligible for include UBC’s employment insurance, professional development funds, as well as the university’s Employee Assistance Program.