UNIVERSITY catering staff, who have been cooking food and delivering it to students in self-isolation, could be made redundant as part of “mass job cuts”.

Staff at the University of Sussex are petitioning to save their jobs over fears that 70 per cent of the workforce could be made redundant before Christmas.

Employees claim they have been told by operator Chartwells Higher Education that 39 of 55 jobs are to go, with staff who do not make the cut to be dismissed on 17 November.

The mass redundancy would leave 16 people to manage a restaurant, three cafes and two vans used to deliver food to students currently self-isolating.

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An employee who did not wish to be named, told The Argus that some staff fear they won’t be able to meet mortgage payments.

They said: “We have been told that out of 55 people currently working in the Compass’ outlets in the University of Sussex campus, 39 will be left without income just before Christmas.

“This means long-term staff who have worked for 10-15 years in these sites, who know their clientele intimately and who experience of a wide variety of tasks, will be replaced by staff who have probably never been to any of the sites.”

“Some staff are scared how they will pay the mortgage next month, others believe that they do not even have a chance on the job market because of their age.”

It comes as the number of coronavirus cases at the university continues to rise. A total of 61 further cases of coronavirus were recorded between October 19 and October 22 - the most recent figures the university has reported.

Of these, 51 were students on campus, eight were students off campus and two were staff members on campus.

Chartwells refused to confirm that 70 per cent of staff would be made redundant but said those that will be can join the in-house workforce programme.

A spokesman said: “Due to the reduction in demand for catering on campus as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the introduction of subsequent social distancing requirements, our food service operations have been significantly impacted.

“While we have worked hard to do all that we can to protect jobs, we have unfortunately had to enter into redundancy consultation with some of our colleagues working across our catering provisions at the University.”

The pandemic has seen a 90 per cent reduction in demand for catering on the University of Sussex campus compared to last year but said students would not be impacted by the job losses.

A spokesman from the University of Sussex said: "Chartwells staff working in our on-campus catering outlets deserve our sincere appreciation for the professionalism and valuable service they provide at all times, and particularly this past year making sure that our students on campus can get access to nourishing food.

“We’re doing everything we can to boost sales at the catering outlets on campus, including subsidising some of the food offerings.

"As a result of the pandemic Chartwells has seen a 90 per cent reduction in demand for catering on campus compared to last year. This is unfortunately reflective of a wider contraction of catering hospitality in all corners of the UK.

“We are working closely with our partner during this extremely difficult time for everybody involved.

“We are assured that the sector leading and crucial support that we are committed to providing for our self-isolating students, and students on campus in general, will not be impacted as a result of this process.”