UCU has not received a reply to our request for an urgent meeting with senior management.

UCU’s two top priorities are:

  • The health and safety of our university community and of society as a whole.
  • The maintenance of academic and pedagogical standards.

Schools have announced that face-to-face teaching will be suspended from next Monday 23rd, and that this week is a ‘transition week’. This means another week of students coexisting with staff at close quarters in buildings with no special cleaning or hygiene arrangements before they all disperse to various parts of the country for Easter.

Not so much a transition week as a transmission week.

UCU advice issued yesterday still stands. The University is not in a position to guarantee the health and safety of students or staff. It is not exercising sufficient social responsibility to do all it can to minimise the spread of the virus. In these circumstances, staff have the legal right not to facilitate situations which perpetuate the risk of cross-infection. Not only do we have the right to remove ourselves from such situations under the Employment Rights Act 1996, we have a duty under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure the safety of others

Working from home

UCU is in favour of moving to safer working arrangements, including working from home. Online learning can provide a useful alternative for students in circumstances where it is unsafe for them to attend university in person.

Training sessions on Microsoft Teams will be laid on this week. Staff need to consider whether the arrangements for those sessions are safe in terms of the cleanliness of the room and equipment and the capacity of the spaces to allow for adequate social distancing. If not, you should not attend.

Technology such as Microsoft Teams may be helpful for holding staff meetings, but it is completely untested as a pedagogical tool and would require significant time for staff and students to exploit its potential for teaching purposes. It is inconceivable that we will be able to begin real-time online teaching next Monday.

Attempts to rush the introduction of this kind of online teaching risk exacerbating the inequalities among students and staff in relation to accommodation, access to equipment and connectivity, and personal and family circumstances. All these things will need to be fully addressed. Right now the priority must be doing everything we can to slow the spread of the virus.

We also need to be be aware of the implications of new practices arising from these exceptional circumstances for our working conditions.

When the UCU meets senior management this week, we will be seeking the following commitments:

  • That any changes in working practices are temporary and for the duration of the current crisis only;
  • No reduction in the earnings of hourly paid paid staff as a result of the ending of face-to-face teaching;
  • No detriment to be suffered by staff who self-isolate or who distance themselves  because they belong to an at-risk group;
  • That days of Covid-19-related absence do not contribute to individuals’ sickness record for the purpose of the Sickness Absence Policy;
  • That for those staff needing to be on campus, cleaning, sanitation and hygiene measures are stepped up to match pandemic best practice;
  • That measures enabling recommended social distancing are implemented including cancellation of open days;
  • That the necessary risk and equality impact assessments for working from home are undertaken;
  • That the personal constraints of staff are fully considered in the transfer to remote working and that appropriate measures are introduced for compensating staff for expenses incurred by working from home.

UCU Coordinating Committee

Monday 16 March 11am

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