A trade union has branded the response of Queen's University to a collective grievance raised by zero hours employees at student union facilities which have had to close temporarily due to Covid restrictions as "disgraceful".
Unite said the decision not to place employees on furlough now leaves zero hours workers facing impoverishment, with almost half of the workers also losing their accommodation due to financial hardship.
The union called the response from the university as "among the most callous received from any employer during this pandemic".
But Queen's University said it was left with no choice, with no reasonable expectation of some sections of the university being able to reopen in the foreseeable future and no commitment to provide casual hours of work in this academic year, leaving staff no longer eligible for the scheme.
"Queen's flatly refused to avail of government furlough payments under the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme to obtain pay supports for casual and zero hours workers at student union facilities," said Unite Hospitality organiser, Neil Moore.
"Almost half of these workers are students trying to work their way through college; they can't access income support benefits, leaving them facing a real financial crisis. In a recent survey, 92% told us the loss of this work had affected their studies already.
"Devastatingly, 45% of our members told us they've lost their living accommodation as a result of losing this income. Many are being made technically homeless in the process.
"This action and the dreadful impact it will have is completely unnecessary. The financial supports exist to support these workers while these facilities are temporarily closed.
"Our members are genuinely shocked that Queen's is refusing to lift a finger, at no cost to themselves, to support them."
Mr Moore added: "In less than 24 hours, more than 800 signed a solidarity petition calling on Queen's to avail of the government's furlough scheme."
In a statement Queen's responded: "The university has successfully moved many of its core functions online but there are some services, critical to the successful operation of the university in normal times, which could not be provided as a result of ongoing restrictions.
"This includes The Speakeasy, the Students' Union Bar, which is not now expected to open during this academic year," a spokesperson said.
"The university has utilised the Government's furlough scheme (CJRS) for staff who are considered to meet the eligibility criteria laid out by the HM Revenue and Customs, and has topped up the pay of those impacted to 100%.
"The furlough scheme can only be offered to part-time or casual staff where work has been assigned to them that cannot take place.
"As there has been no reasonable expectation of the Speakeasy reopening and no commitment to provide casual hours of work this academic year, unfortunately, these staff are no longer eligible for the CJRS."
The statement added: "The university fully appreciates that this is a challenging time for our community and has taken steps to support students who are suffering financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.
"The university's hardship fund is available to all students in financial difficulties are encouraged to apply for this support. Other opportunities for casual work, whilst limited, are also being offered to students and casual workers wherever possible."