The author of this piece requested that it be published anonymously. These are not the opinions of Trinity News.
Working in Trinity Hall (Halls) this summer has been unpleasant; and I was not the only one who had concerns. Speaking to my coworkers, a large cohort of students, we had several concerns about the processes followed throughout our employment.
A recurring theme I came across when talking to students was that they felt that they were unable to report issues they were facing for fear of being- as one student put it- “indirectly punished”. If they were to report anything, the students felt they would face being singled out as a “naggy person”, and so they “wouldn’t be able to say anything about it”.
“Or I would, but I feel like I’d be punished for it,” a coworker said to me.
Another student who spoke to me said that they wished to report an issue with a flatmate but felt like they would be criticised and “assigned to the bad duties such as deep cleaning”. A different student also described how this began to affect their mental health and they experienced “heart palpitations” or became “depressed” when they needed to interact with upper management at Trinity Halls. One student I talked to believed that fact that because accommodation came with the job, management in Trinity “have far too much leverage, and bargaining power”, adding that “if they threaten to fire us, when we get fired…we don’t simply lose a job we lose our place to live”.
The provision of accommodation led to students in more vulnerable positions to apply to the job of a housekeeping assistant. As one student who spoke to me said: “There are a lot of TAP students, and people who have entered through HEAR or DARE.” This dynamic was also noticed by another student who felt that “there are very few people, in general, who sign up to this job should they have had many other options. I think that vulnerability, and the allure of the accommodation keeps people here. And subjects them to really bad treatment.”
Some of management and students hired to work in Trinity Hall in more senior roles have access to “masterkeys”. Students were told that these keycards grant their user access to all of the apartments, as well as individual rooms in these apartments. Many students had problems with the existence of these masterkeys – especially with the fact that their peers had access to these cards outside of working hours. One student described how they were terrified going to bed the first night they moved in because they felt uncomfortable that someone they didn’t know could access their room at any point – even if they locked the door.
Other students alleged instances where masterkeys were used by other students to access their flats during lunchtime or after work hours. This was reported, and in response students were asked to hand up their keys after work, but a student I spoke to confirmed that a different member of management told them to ignore this rule. This meant that some students still had access to other students’ flats outside of work hours.
Concerns from students, like myself, also arose from having masterkeys to guest rooms, and having access to them outside of office hours. We felt that this breached the privacy of guests staying at the complex, as we did not feel comfortable performing such duties while rooms may have been occupied. We weren’t advised on proper protocol to follow if guests were present; it was simply indicated that linens needed to be changed regardless of occupation.
Students also reported being worried about the lack of training they had for handling the chemicals used for cleaning in Trinity Halls. Although some students were given very brief informal guidance, many claim they were given none. One student described how they “never got any training for my role, like I was just thrown in and had to figure it out”. This led to some students mishandling the chemicals. A different student alleged that there were “so many incidents where people had to basically sit down and stop because they were faint, had headaches and just felt so ill”.
Some students who are asthmatic had to restart medication during their time working in Trinity Hall as their symptoms became worse. Another student I spoke to “developed a really bad cough” since they started the job. One student reported that another student didn’t know to dilute the cleaning chemicals for the first week and was unknowingly using an unsafe concentration. Although masks were an option, students had to ask for them and “[were] not really encouraged to use them”. In addition, some students reported that the masks “don’t help at all”.
Six weeks in, after a particularly dysfunctional day, there was a meeting where students were asked if they had any feedback. It was a long meeting. Some students did feel more comfortable sharing how they felt, but not everyone agreed that they could trust this meeting as a way of addressing the issues they faced. Given how the previous six weeks had gone it is unsurprising that some students didn’t trust this meeting as a way to raise concerns.
For me, I felt like there were two things of note. Firstly, it was discussed during the meeting that students still clearly didn’t feel comfortable coming forward with their complaints. Hence, a meeting with all the student staff present was perhaps not the most suitable for people to come forward.
Secondly, before this meeting, students in more senior roles were told by students working in housekeeping roles that many people felt uncomfortable coming forward. This was not passed onto upper management – the complaint was deemed not specific enough. Accordingly, it is not surprising that students would feel uncomfortable coming forward with complaints after they had been ignored by their peers.
My personal fear was that even if management listened this year – which I and others thought unlikely – there was nothing stopping them from ignoring students again next year and for the structural issues within Trinity Hall outlined in this piece to persist. This fear was also informed by a student I spoke to who worked in Trinity Halls in 2019. They described a similar working environment to the one I was experiencing. In particular, they discussed how students’ pay was delayed by a month, which was an issue again this year.
Admittedly, if I was an outsider, I would be sceptical of any Trinity student’s critique of a minimum wage job. My theory is that an outsider would firstly question – and I admit this comes from a somewhat outdated stereotype – whether I just was not used to a minimum wage job. It is true, a lot of minimum wage jobs do treat their employees horribly. It is also true that some Trinity students may never have to experience that. However, just because mistreatment is common doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.
It is important that these criticisms are brought to the light because College bears at least some responsibility for this. Either, they have been extremely negligent and let Trinity Hall management go unchecked. Or, they do know the environment is harmful to students employed there and have allowed it to continue.