In preparation for the ARU UCU Branch Annual General Meeting on Friday 12th March, the following report was prepared. It summarises actions that have been taken by the Branch since the start of 2020, and sets out key areas of concern for our Branch moving forward. The report can be read in full here.
Branch officers have been subjected to formal grievance procedures (running over the last two months), with claims of wrong-doing which are completely false, utterly vexatious and presented without a shred of evidence. This was a blatant attempt to victimise UCU representatives. Action and apologies are required. Read the full letter to our VC here.
The 2020-21 round of elections for UCU’s National Executive Committee (NEC) will open on Friday 29 January 2021 and close on Tuesday 2 March 2021.
The NEC is one of the most important decision-making bodies in the union and its members are elected by UCU members.
On January 11th 2021, at an all members general meeting (with nearly 60 members present), and with unanimous agreement, the ARU UCU Branch decided to support and recommend the election of Dr John Hogan to the NEC.
Dr Hogan’s Election Address can be read in full here.
UCU branches across the UK are fighting to defend jobs and conditions as the Covid-19 crisis continues to hit education sectors hard. Below are a few examples, including ways for you to show your support.
Examples from across the UK:
- University of East London UCU is fighting compulsory redundancies and unmanageable workloads and are currently balloting for industrial action. Please tweet your support #saveUEL @EastLondonUCU
- Northumbria University UCU is balloting for action to secure for a safe and fair workplace. Staff have been forced back to face-to-face teaching with inadequate safety measures on campus. Please tweet your support: @UCUNUbranch @EqualityUCUNor1.
- Northern Ireland further education college branches are in dispute over a below-inflation pay offer and attacks on conditions and trade union rights.
- Goldsmiths UCU are voting in a ballot for action over a restructure which will cut investment in staff and intensify workloads. Details here and you can tweet support to @GoldsmithsUCU
- University of Brighton UCU has voted for strike action to fight redundancies in IT support. Solidarity tweets appreciated: @BrightonUCU
- Heriot-Watt University UCU voted to strike over job cuts and their campaign has pressured the university into reaching a settlement that rules out the threat of compulsory redundancies.
- Birmingham City University UCU members are demanding a move to online teaching and are prepared to take industrial action as shown by an impressive 60% turnout in their consultative ballot.
- Universities of Birmingham and Warwick are also about to open ballots for action to move all non-essential working online.
- University of Roehampton UCU members are fighting job cuts and worsening conditions and are currently asking members to show support for action in an e-ballot consultation. Sign the petition and tweet your support: @VRoehampton and write to Jean-Noel Ezingeard the VC.
- University of Central Lancashire UCU is resisting compulsory redundancies, and has lodged a dispute and an e-ballot consulting members on industrial action opens next week. Please send messages of support to our rep Michael McKrell.
- Solent University UCU is seeking your support and solidarity after the university announced redundancies of up to 18.5% of its staff at risk of redundancy with dismissal letters planned to be sent just before Christmas. Tweet: @ucu_solent.
On Friday UCU entered the first phase of legal action against the Westminster government. The action is intended to force a review of its guidance on in-person work on university and college campuses. You can read more about it in the Observer.
On September 21 the Westminster government’s own Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) warned about the dangers of allowing significant in-person teaching to take place on campuses. SAGE recommended that teaching in universities should be moved online, with the exception of subjects that cannot be taught remotely. As university staff you deserve to know why the prime minister chose to ignore his own scientific advisors, as well as the other independent advisers along with staff and student unions who had been calling for teaching to move online since August. The legal action is intended to force the government to act now to protect students and staff and to make better decisions ahead of next term. Although for technical reasons the action has to be targeted at the Westminster government, it is intended to have positive knock-on effects for the devolved nations as well. Your representatives in those jurisdictions will be lobbying their governments to make sure that happens.
The reopening of campuses has come at a terrible cost, with tens of thousands of infections among the student population and increasing numbers of staff also testing positive. Outbreaks have been handled appallingly in a number of institutions, with students mistreated and deprived of food and other support. University outbreaks have contributed to local lockdowns that will damage local economies. Meanwhile, staff – for all their hard work over the summer to get ready for this term – have been left with unbearable workloads as they confront the challenges of blended learning and pick up the pieces of a failing UK wide strategy.
We cannot let our governments make the same mistakes again. Our pre-action protocol letter to the Department for Education challenges the government’s decisions and sets out how ministers’ and universities’ poor handling of the pandemic stems from their unwillingness to fix the broken funding system that incentivises institutions to compete with one another for tuition fee revenue.
In an article in the Observer I explain further how the government’s failure to guarantee funding for the sector has exacerbated this crisis. I argue that we need immediate support to allow universities to put safety first, and we need a fairer, more stable and safer long-term alternative to the tuition fee system. Your hard work in branches has already forced a number of employers to reduce your exposure to Covid-19 by moving more work online. Meanwhile UCU staff have been working to support you, lobby politicians, coordinate support from other organisations and generate as much press coverage as possible of what is happening. This legal action offers us a new route that could force a change of plan across the board.
Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary
ARU is referring some employees, who have identified themselves or members of their family as being at very high/high risk or have expressed health and safety concerns at returning to campus, to its Occupational Health Service (OHS). UCU offers the following advice to members who may face such a referral.
- An employee does NOT have to agree to undergo an OHS assessment. However, in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak, such an assessment may be seen as a ‘reasonable step’ taken by the University towards fulfilling its
duty to ensure the health and safety of its employees at work. Employees are required to cooperate with such health and safety provisions. Members may find themselves in a difficult position if they decline a ‘reasonable’ request to undergo an OHS assessment. Whether the request is a ‘reasonable’ one may depend on individual circumstances, but there would have to be some connection between the need for an OHS assessment and the employee’s physical or mental ability to perform his/her job. An OHS assessment may, in many cases, be advantageous to the employee.
- The University does not appear to have a general OH policy, so it is not clear what the rules are about when or in what circumstances OHS assessments can be carried out or what they can be used for. In the absence of such a policy, the general principle that will apply is that the focus of any OHS assessment must be on a) how the employee does his/her job; b) how doing that job in that way may affect the employee’s health; and c) what steps can be taken to eliminate, or failing that, minimise the effects on the employee’s health.
- An OHS assessment does not normally carry with it a right to be accompanied by a family member, friend, colleague, or Trade Union representative. If, however, you are concerned about the assessment and would like to be
accompanied by someone, you should make this known to the OHS. It is unlikely that a reasonable request to be accompanied would be refused, especially if this may alleviate any anxiety felt about the assessment.
- The aim of an OHS assessment is to look at what the employee needs to address any problems that could cause any, or any continuing, health or absence issues. It is NOT to assess whether the employee is ‘fit’ or ‘healthy’ enough to return to campus teaching or to assess the level of ‘risk’ they have of vulnerability to COVID-19. OHS are not epidemiologists or virologists, nor do they possess any other qualifications to make such assessments.
- When undergoing an OHS assessment, employees are under no obligation to disclose health or medical conditions, unless s/he chooses to do so. If an individual’s condition may be considered a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 [a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and
long term negative effect on the ability to do normal day to day activities], it may be advisable to disclose this, as the University is under a duty to make reasonable adjustments only for those disabilities of which it is, or ought to
- Employees are under no obligation to disclose any treatment history.
- OH advisers may ask employees undergoing assessment about concerns they have about returning to work. Employees only need to discuss this to the extent that it is relevant to ascertaining the steps the University should take to alleviate the employee’s concerns. However, when discussing your concerns about returning to work, you should look at the ‘bigger picture’ of what is involved in returning to campus, such as your travel arrangements and where you are expected to go during breaks between teaching sessions, rather than just physical presence in a classroom.
- Try to be as specific as possible about what your concerns are and avoid suggestions that it is ‘just a feeling’ or similar vague phrases. The purpose of any discussion with OHS is NOT to ascertain whether your concerns are
genuine or are based on reasonably held beliefs.
- The discussion with OHS should be about the individual employee’s own health and safety and concerns they have for their own health and that of their families. You should avoid being drawn into discussion about the adequacy of any general measures the University may have put in place in response to the COVID-19 outbreak – the point of the exercise is to establish what the University can do to ensure YOUR safety.
- If the OH adviser asks for further information from your doctor, this can only be sought with your consent, it can only be required to judge the extent to which an employee is medically fit to do their job (i.e. teach generally, not teach in a specific way), and the employee has the right to see the doctor’s report before it is sent to the OH adviser. Consent can be withdrawn before the doctor’s report is disclosed.
- The final report by the OH adviser can only be disclosed to the University with your consent.
- If an employee is unhappy with the way the OHS report is used after disclosure, this may form the basis of a grievance through the normal University grievance procedure.
If you are asked to undergo an OHS assessment, and you do have concerns about the process and practice of such an assessment, please contact your UCU Faculty Rep or Dr John Hogan (Branch chair)/Dr Andy Noble (casework coordinator).
On 18th October, it was brought to our attention that an Associate Lecturer at ARU (and member of UCU) who had been conducting face to face teaching had caught Covid. The Branch swiftly responded by writing to our Vice Chancellor expressing the following concerns.
Management of outbreaks:
We are concerned that, further to the reporting of infection, the advice presented to staff is they should carry on, “business as usual”, and that students should be told that the risk of having been infected is low, because
of 2m social distancing and as our colleague wore a visor when they last met.
No one knows how our colleague came to be infected and who it was who transmitted the virus to them. Surely, the University should seek to isolate all members of our community who have come into contact with our colleague, then isolate and test at the soonest possible moment.
Associate lecturers and Covid:
We are concerned that Associate Lecturers and people on precarious contracts feel less secure and confident in resisting the pressure to deliver face to face teaching and consequently it is such staff who are left most at risk. Furthermore, we are of the view that anyone on an Associate Lecturer contract should enjoy the same sickness benefits and protection from detriment enjoyed by their colleagues on permanent contracts. Indeed, it is a legal requirement under the provisions of the Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000.
On 15th October, John Hogan, Chair of ARU’s UCU branch wrote to the Vice Chancellor to express concerns about the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. The letter has been summarised below.
It has been announced by the UK Government today that both Essex and London have now been placed in the Local Covid Alert Level: High (Tier 2) (See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54551596).
UCU notes the University has repeatedly stated that government guidelines are the standard by which we should approach the management of risk. Consequently, we call upon senior management to move more of our teaching and campus-based work online, in line with Government guidance.
UCU urges the University to take this course of action, especially for our Chelmsford and London operations, so that we can best manage the increased risks to staff, students and the wider community.
Dr John Hogan
Chair, University and College Union, Anglia Ruskin University branch
On October 6th our UCU reps met with members of Senior Management, Paul Baxter, and the Head of HR to voice concerns over the timescales for marking at the end of trimesters. UCU reps conveyed concerns that members are marking over Christmas with very tight deadlines to complete work, and this causes considerable stress and makes it very difficult to take sufficient leave . Given that the latest submission date for student work is on December 18th and the marksheet deadline will be in the week commencing January 18th, there will be cases where staff have only 10 working days to complete marking and internal moderation. Inevitably many staff are working over Christmas to ensure they can meet deadlines.
Senior Management agreed that staff should be able to take a complete break from all work over Christmas, while the university is closed (21st December to 1st January). UCU reps asked whether there was any possibility of shifting the marksheet deadline to allow for more marking time but Paul Baxter said it is extremely difficult to shift deadlines because of the knock-on effects this would have, and the time needed by administrative staff for creation of MAP paperwork. He will nevertheless look into this, in particular to see whether it is possible to hold MAPs for different disciplines over a shorter overall period, thereby enabling the marksheet deadline to shift a little later. Senior Management also suggested that they could contact all Heads of School to request they review marking allocations and redistribute work across staff and/or across trimesters if necessary, to ensure that no individuals are burdened with an unreasonably heavy marking load over a short period of time. When we receive any updates on these actions we will pass these on