HUNDREDS of staff and alumni of Essex University have called on university bosses to step in after catering staff on zero-hour contracts had their hours and pay suspended.

Employees of Essex Food, a subsidiary of the university which provides catering on site, were told on March 19 they would receive no more hours or pay due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This has left many employees of the firm facing desperate financial hardship.

Essex Food worker Stella, 21, said: “It’s scary in the middle of this crisis we are being left to fend for ourselves not knowing where our next paycheck will come from.

"We might be on zero hour contracts but many of us regularly work full time hours, not just the odd Saturday. We rely on our wages to pay our rent and bills like everybody else, some of us have families to support.”

Last month the Government announced it would pay 80 per cent of employees wages if staff were furloughed rather than let go.

Since the announcement, the likes of University College London has committed to paying the average hours of its cleaning, security, and hospitality staff, whether or not they are required to work during this period.

More than 250 people have so far signed an open letter to vice-chancellor Professor Anthony Forster calling for similar measures to be put in place for Essex Food workers.

Dr Jordan Savage, a lecturer in US literature, is one of the signatories of the letter.

She said: “One thing this crisis has laid bare is that many workers whose jobs are often thought of as unskilled or unimportant are in reality vital to the whole functioning of our society.

“Our colleagues in Essex Food are as much an essential part of our university as teaching and administrative staff. They deserve respect and equal treatment.”

Susie Morgan, director of people and culture, said the university was working to provide support.

“We know our hourly paid staff will be particularly worried at this time,” she said.

“We have honoured all the shifts which were already booked but could not be worked due to the current situation.

“We are now looking at what assistance we can draw down from Government grants in the hope we will be able to provide some support for these staff. e are also working closely with the trade unions on this matter.”

Visit to see the letter.