Advice to members on Covid-19
Sunday 15 March 8:55am
Brighton UCU has today sent the letter below to the Vice Chancellor. It is copied below for members’ information and to contextualise the following union advice on what to do tomorrow. Please follow this advice. Not only is the issue of public health paramount, but there is a danger that our contractual terms and conditions will be eroded by management responses to the crisis.
Whether or not you receive notification by Monday morning that face-to-face teaching has been suspended by the University, you should not put yourselves and your students in a position which might exacerbate the spread of the virus. The Health and Safety at Work Act provides for employees to remove themselves from unsafe work situations. In this case, we have to think not simply of the safety of those attending any particular lecture, seminar, class or meeting, but of the potential spread of the virus to all the other people that each student and member of staff will have contact with.
UCU therefore advises that, if there has been no notice of cancellation from the University by then, you inform student groups in person on Monday, in as safe a way as possible, that your class is cancelled in the interests of public health. Likewise, teaching and professional services staff should refuse to attend any staff meetings unless satisfied that adequate arrangements have been put in place to minimise the risk of cross-infection.
You should then contact your UCU branch office or rep to let them know that you have done so https://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/ucu/contact-us/
Do not agree to undertake teaching and other duties at home that would normally require your presence on university premises. Such changes to our working practices represent contractual variations which would need to be negotiated with the recognised trade unions. Management cannot expect us to turn our homes into university workspaces. Do not give out private phone numbers or personal Skype addresses.
This is a rapidly developing situation which will require further union discussion and advice. Please keep an eye out for UCU communications and check the websites, both local and national, and contact a union rep or officer if you have any questions.
Brighton UCU Co-ordinating Committee
Local groups have self-organised to offer support in the context of this pandemic. One local Brighton group can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/491658741529273
A University of Brighton specific group can be found here https://www.facebook.com/groups/2429930160440323/
Please comment below if you are aware of others that would be useful to share with Brighton colleagues.
Record of communication between UCU Brighton and Vice Chancellor Debra Humphris
Sent: Sun 15/03/2020 08:47
To: Debra Humphris
Subject: Re: Covid19 pandemic
Dear Professor Humphris
Thanks you for your reply, but we feel there needs to be much more urgency in the University’s response. University staff cannot be expected to conduct business as usual for several days before discussing this at JNC.
We therefore request an urgent meeting between the trade unions and the University’s senior management on Monday morning to address this crisis. UCU nationally is calling for the closure of all universities and colleges as has already been implemented in other countries, including Ireland. At the very least, this means the cessation of face-to-face teaching and meetings. Educational institutions are ideal environments for the spread of the virus, with conditions which not only increase the risk of transmission between members of the educational community but also have the ability, because of students’ connection to other parts of the country, to encourage the spread of infection far wider.
We believe that the British government’s response to the pandemic has so far been complacent and inadequate and that it is an error for the University to follow Boris Johnson’s lead in shaping its response.
We remind you that as an employer, the University has a statutory duty of care to its employees to provide a safe working environment. We do not believe that the University is currently fulfilling that duty. We understand that no additional cleaning processes have been instigated since the start of the outbreak and no additional hygiene facilities have been provided. Relying on advising people to wash their hands is woefully inadequate in these circumstances.
But even if these actions were taken, it’s difficult to see how the social distancing which scientists and public health officials are advising could be maintained while University business continues. It is not possible to maintain the 1-2m distance between people in lectures, seminars, classes, libraries, corridors, canteens etc.
So the first thing is that in the interests of public health and staff and student safety the University must be shut down. We will need guarantees that no member of staff, irrespective of their job role or contract type, will suffer detriment as a result of any decisions taken in response to the crisis by the University. We need equivalent guarantees for staff who self-isolate.
The second issue concerns alternative working arrangements. We have received indications that some Schools are allowing staff to opt to work from home. It is not clear whether this is a university-wide policy, and it obviously cannot apply to all categories of staff. Such a vague and piecemeal approach is confusing and divisive for staff and students.
We note that there is currently no contractual provision for staff to be required to undertake work for the University from home. There can be no question of the University instructing staff to turn part of their home into a university work site. If the University were to seek to explore the possibility of home-working, the terms of such arrangements would need to be negotiated with the recognised trade unions.
These are just a few of the issues that need addressing urgently. We look forward to receiving details of a meeting convened to discuss them on Monday morning.
UCU coordinating committee
From: Debra Humphris
Sent: 14 March 2020 11:28
To: UCU co-com
Subject: Re: Covid19 pandemic
Dear UCU Committee
Thank you for your email, as you will appreciate there has been a step up in our pandemic planning in the past week. As you acknowledge these are unprecedented circumstances and we have put this on the agenda for JNC this week.
You should also have seen the message from Professor Lloyd yesterday, our decisions are informed by PHE and the CMO
In the meantime I have been actively working via UA and UUK to inform and lobby government about both the immediate and potentially the longer term consequences.
Professor Debra Humphris FRCP
University of Brighton
Date: Friday, 13 March 2020 at 14:52
To: Debra Humphris
Subject: Covid19 pandemic
Dear Professor Humphris,
Notwithstanding the absence of updating by the university management, the seriousness of the Covid19 pandemic is obvious. Universities including Durham, Manchester Metropolitan, London School of Economics and IDS at Sussex University, have all taken decisions to cease face to face activities.
It is unfortunate that Universities have been unwilling to resolve the current industrial dispute as this means that ongoing ASOS will make implementing any Covid related accommodation in working practices very difficult. This is in addition to the total erosion of goodwill that the University of Brighton has caused by failing to act to bring this dispute to an end.
As the recognised trade union representing teaching and teaching-related staff, we are keen to work with the University to make the best arrangements to support our students and staff. Any changes to education at University of Brighton must be informed by our expertise in teaching and learning. Significant changes to our working practices must of course be agreed by us, the local trade union.
The management of the University of Brighton must show leadership locally and nationally and bring this dispute to an end. We call on University of Brighton management to give their mandate to UCEA to offer a serious deal that is acceptable to UCU negotiators and thereby bring this dispute to an end.
We call on the University of Brighton management, to arrange a meeting with the Executive Board and all campus unions at the earliest opportunity to discuss this university’s approach to keeping ourselves, our students and our local community safe.
Brighton UCU Co-ordinating Committee