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Report from the Higher Education Special Sector Conference (30/09/20) 

Three delegates from Southampton UCU Executive committee attended the online Higher Education Special Sector Conference which took place on 30th September 2020. In this short blog we will report back to SUCU members on some of the main themes in the debates which took place and what we think the decisions made means for our members. 

The remit of the conference was to debate and direct the union’s response to the attack on jobs, pay and conditions resulting from the response of employers to the COVID-19 pandemic and included a draft sector-wide claim. We were able to get through all the business of conference, debating 16 motions and 7 amendments. You can see a breakdown of the motions and results here. 

The conference was broken into three sections: 

Section 1: Covid-19: health, safety, jobs, quality and funding of HE 

A total of eight motions (including the one late motion from the HEC) and a single amendment. All were carried, including the amendment to motion 2. Amendments emphasized the importance of safe workplaces, the lack of confidence in employers’ provision of the same, and pushed for campaigning in relation to these. Motion 4 was directed against the use of the ALAMA ‘COVID-age calculator’ because it individualized risk and could be used to justify passing the risks of COVID onto junior colleagues and those on precarious contracts. Your delegates abstained on this motion on the basis it recognised a genuine problem but wasn’t really aiming at the right issue. 

Motion 5 committed UCU to campaign for disabled members’ working conditions, including the protection of reasonable adjustments and disability equality training of managers. Motion 6 covered the workload implications of the shift to virtual learning environments, calling for updated guidance based on the recent The Automatic University report. Your delegates voted for both of these motions. 

Motion 7 noted the reliance of higher education providers on international student fees due to the sector’s funding model. Whilst the call to undo the latter is welcome, the motion was focused more on the international student side, including the claim that the courses on which they are enrolled tend “not [to] provide a quality learning experience for students”. This was again not the right target. On this basis, your delegates either abstained or voted against the motion. 

Section 2: Fight for jobs 

There were 5 motions in this section focussing on different areas of campaigning including detailed plans on how to fight job losses, reduce inequality and push against casualisationAll motions in this section carried, 2 with amendments.  

Motion 8 (carried) outlined demands for UK-wide redundancy policies in the sector. Part 2 of the motion called for a sector-wide agreement for redeployment between universities and colleges. Your delegates voted against the motion because of part 2 as they felt that this encouraged a perception of the sector as a fluid job market favouring mobile, young academics with few domestic commitments, potentially exacerbating existing inequalities. Conference committed UCU to campaign to end gross pay inequality by introducing a 1:6 pay ratio between the lowest paid and the highest paid, including VCs (Motion 9, as amended by University of Sheffield).  UCU will now call for paid GTA work to be included in national bargaining and campaign for better working conditions and employment rights for GTAs in line with permanent members of staff (motion 10, as amended by University of Sheffield). PGRs will be recognised as staff (Motion 11. See new UCU campaign on this). It is UCU policy to support FTC staff and establish nationwide campaign to secure fair and equal treatment for FTC staff, leading to permanency where legally entitledUCU will explore the possibilities for legal action against employers who refuse to abide by the Fixed Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 (Motion 12). 

Your delegates voted for all motions except motion 8.  

Section 3: Industrial action strategy 

There were four motions debated in this section of the conference, all directing the future of Industrial Action (IA) within HE disputes. Of the Four, two were carried and one carried with amendments 

As a result of the conference decisions, it is now UCU policy to include national employment standards a part of any new UCEA claims (motion 13). It has also been decided to continue using disaggregated ballots (motion 16) and to build a campaign of escalating industrial action this academic year (motion 13). However, Motion 15, which carried, makes it UCU policy to conduct a qualitative survey of members to determine support for different types of Industrial Action (IA) as well as the potential impacts of different actions on employers. It is policy to run this survey prior to balloting for further action and to use results of this survey to inform the strategy moving forward  

Your delegates either abstained or voted against the motions except for motion 15. 

The Higher Education Special Sector Committee, responsible for the general conduct of union business specific to the HE sector between HE conferences, is next due to meet on 26th February 2020. We will update members if this meeting is moved forward or we are invited to any further consultation on matters discussed at the HE conference. 

 

UCU concerns regarding blended teaching and Tier 1 status – correspondence with senior management 

Following the announcement from the UK Government over the weekend regarding the new lockdown guidance, UCU wrote to the University Executive Board requesting that they reconsider their plans for blended online and face to face teaching, and review the current Tier 1 status.  Please find below the original email and the response from Richard Middleton, the University’s Chief Operating Officer.

 

From: Chief-Operating-Officer
Sent: Tue 03/11/2020 08:07
Subject: UCU concerns regarding blended teaching and Tier 1 status

Dear colleagues in UCU

Thank you for the email you sent to UEB Members on Monday.  As you know, we are due to meet on Friday (with Unite and Unison representative also) and – as always – I am of course happy for us to discuss these issues in detail when we meet.

In advance of that conversation, I did want to make a number of points:

  • Last night Universities Minister Michelle Donelan wrote to Vice-Chancellors to say that the guidance the Government is finalising for Higher Education will make clear to universities, and to students: “We do not, however, want or expect to see a transition to full online learning during the new national restrictions – this could jeopardise the learning that students receive, as well as risk their mental health and wellbeing. We want you to make informed local decisions whilst ensuring all students have some form of face to face learning, where possible and safe to do so.” I attach a copy of the letter for your information, and her letter to all students.
  • The Minister also comments:  “I know just how hard HEPS have worked to put in place measures to ensure teaching and learning is provided in COVID-secure environments, and we have not seen evidence of increased transmission within these environments”.
  • I am aware of course that there is a national UCU campaign; I trust our discussion on Friday can focus on the local context of Southampton. One size, and one approach, does not suit all. In assessing the balance of online and in person teaching, we need to take account of our own local context and circumstances– this includes the current relatively low comparative rates of COVID cases at the University; the major programme of asymptomatic saliva testing we are offering to students and eligible staff, which is growing; the extensive investment we have made in creating COVID-secure campuses (praised by staff and students alike); and – in discussion with public health authorities – an overall assessment of the public health risks, including to the mental health of students, and staff, and the state of local outbreaks.
  • Of course some staff, and indeed some students, may share your viewpoint and I am fully aware that view is not shared by other staff, and other students. These are complex issues, with many viewpoints, and it is important we hear those voices so we can balance the needs and concerns of all our staff and students. The UEB takes its responsibilities extremely seriously, and we are currently reviewing the situation and the prevailing Tier level very regularly.
  • We are of course also acutely aware of the wider city context in which we operate, which you referred to. As the Vice-Chancellor has explained previously, that is why we are in near daily contact with the Director of Public Health for Southampton City Council and with Public Health England, and why we are in very regular contact with the local Health Protection Board, the Director of Public Health for Hampshire County Council, and Hampshire police. They will not hesitate to intervene if they are concerned about increased community risk, and we would not hesitate to take action. We also know from talking to local businesses that the return of students is seen as a welcome boost to the city’s economy, and we have ensured we are keeping in close contact with local residents’ groups, councillors and MPs.

I look forward to our discussion on Friday.

Best wishes

Richard

Richard Middleton

Chief Operating Officer

From: ucu <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Sent: 02 November 2020 18:02
Subject: UCU concerns regarding blended teaching and Tier 1 status

Dear UEB members

After the UK Government’s new lockdown guidance of 1 November 2020 and the Vice-Chancellor’s email of today (02/11) setting out UEB’s response, we note that UEB has agreed to continue with the same ‘comprehensive blend of face-to-face and online teaching’ that the University has been offering since the start of term, and that the University plans to remain at ‘Tier 1’ in DfE terms.

Though these decision have been made pending further clarification from Government, we believe that there is enough information in the government guidance to make further changes for the health and safety of staff, students, and the local community.  In particular, we want to emphasize the following points:

  • It was made clear in the Governmental briefings that cases were also rising fastest in the South; cases are comparatively low in the region now, but this is no cause for complacency. Minimising transmission must be a central goal, particularly when we consider the wellbeing of our students both in lockdown and during the lead-up to Christmas.
  • It looks very damaging—in terms of reputation if nothing else—for the University to continue to compel staff and students to travel through communities to deliver or receive teaching that could be provided online (in cases where in-person teaching is non-essential). In the event that community outbreaks worsen around the University whilst other businesses and families are making great enormous sacrifices to limit transmission, we risk a backlash that could cause damage to our reputation and local relationships.
  • The Government advice, as we understand it, is that universities are to remain open, but that workers are strongly advised to work at home if at all possible and that “Universities… should consider moving to increased levels of online learning where possible.” Prima facia, these guidelines are best implemented by staff delivering teaching online wherever possible. In any event, it appears to be the responsible step both in terms of safety and pedagogy, given the fast-changing nature of events.
  • It is clear that it is the university’s and all of our civic duty to contribute to the effort to bring the R rate and growth rate down so that students and staff might be able to join friends and family during the holidays. We are in a position to do this by moving all teaching online unless in person is required for lab or practice-based teaching. We are also conscious of students’ term-time mental health and wellbeing, but we remain concerned about the wider situation that might mean any continuation of the f2f status quo will cause greater difficulty for students’ and staffs’ mental and physical health in the long run.

As ever, we appreciate that UEB have stated its intention to work closely with campus trade unions. We are very keen to discuss these steps mutually, so that we can offer a staff perspective on how we can jointly navigate this difficult challenge in a way that safeguards students, staff and the goals of the University.

We look forward to hearing back from you.

Southampton UCU

UCU, UNITE and Unison survey – how safe do you feel on campus?

This is a summary of the findings from the UCU, UNITE and Unison survey we conducted at the beginning of October. We received 253 responses, mostly from Education, Research and Enterprise staff (87.7%) with permanent contracts (90%). We received responses from 29 Management Specialist, Administration staff, but very few from Technical and Experimental (1 member) and Community and Operational (2 members). 83.2% of respondents were full-time and 16.8% were part-time. Although we received 19 responses from FTC staff, we did not get a good response from hourly paid and zero hours staff (4 in total). This is one of the reasons why we have designed another survey specifically for PGRs and hourly paid staff. We need to find ways of capturing their views as well as those in more secure employment because the challenges precarious workers face are quite different and often slip under the radar, especially when the landscape is changing so much and so quickly.

Due to the poor response rate we cannot take these results as representative of union members’ experiences on campus. There were also limitations in the design of the survey. A lot of respondents did not have to teach in-person and some had not yet returned to campus, so their views weren’t based on direct experience. If a question had been added to separate those who were actually on campus from those who were able to remain at home, we might have got more precise and targeted answers. The survey was possibly sent too early as teaching had only just started. It might have been better to wait until later in the semester in order to gain a more comprehensive picture.

Below is a summary of the responses to the survey along with some brief analysis. Where applicable, percentages have been rounded up or down. The precise numbers can be seen in the corresponding tables:

Q5 The risk mitigation measures relevant to your job are clear

68% responded positively to this question, although a significant minority (16%) did not feel that the risk mitigation measures were clear. Importantly, a further 16% were undecided which suggests that they were might not have been clear what the risk mitigations were or how they related to their job. Given that most respondents were ERE and permanent, it is possible that they were not required on campus a lot, if at all. This could affect their ability to answer this question decisively.

Q6 Management have provided clear communication about COVID precautions

Overall, staff seem satisfied with the communication from management (63%). However, 18% disagree that management have provided clear communication and a further 18% were undecided.

Q7 You have been informed in good time of the impact of COVID-related precautions on your work

The split between positive and negative responses is a bit more even here. 55% of respondents felt that they have been informed in good time of the impact of Covid-related precautions on their work. However, a significant minority (25%) did not agree and a further 20% were undecided. Again, this could be due to the lack of understanding by staff about what the impact of these measures might be rather than a positive comment on communication. It may be because many of the staff who responded had only just come back to campus or they were not required to be there in the near future.

Q8 The COVID arrangements related to my job role are adequate to reduce risk of transmission to students to an acceptable level

53% felt that the arrangements put in place were adequate to reduce transmission to students. However, 25% of respondents disagreed. This might be related to the job families of the respondents whose jobs only require them to meet students in teaching spaces. Staff may feel that the risk to students in the classroom is minimal but might feel differently about the risk to themselves in that space.

Q9 The COVID arrangements related to my job role are adequate to reduce risk of transmission from students to me

Indeed, the higher proportion of negative responses to this question (33%) suggests that staff are more concerned about the risk of transmission to them from students than they are between students. Nevertheless, a significant proportion of respondents (47%) believe that the covid arrangements are adequate to reduce the risk of transmission between students and staff. The percentage of respondents who neither agree nor disagree is quite high again and it is possible that this is due to the lack of campus activity being carried out by respondents meaning that they cannot comment on the level of risk.

Q10 The COVID arrangements for students across the University adequately reduce risk to other students

It is clear that staff are less certain that the arrangements for students are adequate to reduce the risk of transmission between students. Only 23% believe that these arrangements are adequate, while 47% feel that they are not.

Q11 The COVID arrangements for students across the University adequately reduce risk to neighbouring communities

Only 18.5% of respondents are confident that the covid arrangements for students implemented at the University reduce the risk to neighbouring communities. This is quite significant because it suggests that staff are concerned about the impact students returning to campus might have on the local community. 35% were unsure, however, which suggests that they do not feel they have enough information about this to make a judgement. At the time of this survey, numbers in Southampton were very low so the high level of uncertainty might be because staff are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach. Significantly, 45% of respondents are clearly concerned about the impact of students returning to campus might have on the local infection levels.

Q12 I expect the COVID arrangements related to my job role to be fully adhered to by staff

Staff were very confident that colleagues would adhere to the covid arrangements on campus; 73% agreed with this statement. Again, a significant proportion (16%) were not sure, which suggests that they had not yet seen enough evidence to make an informed judgement.

Q13 I expect the COVID arrangements related to my job role to be fully adhered to by students

46% of respondents were confident that students would adhere to the arrangements, while 27% were not. Again, a significant proportion (27%) did not feel able to make a judgement about this, maybe because of lack of evidence.

Q14 I feel safe to carry out my job on campus

38% of staff feel safe on campus but it is deeply concerning that 40% do not. A further 21% of respondents did not feel able to say conclusively. These responses suggest that even if staff are quite happy with the measures put in place and the communication around them, they still do not feel safe carrying out their jobs on campus. There is clearly more to be done to make staff feel confident on campus during the pandemic.

Q15 Please provide any additional concerns or other information which it would be useful to include

There were 98 answers received to this the open-ended question. The responses are summarised below and some quotations are used to highlight pertinent points.

Some respondents were positive about the University’s management of the pandemic and the risk mitigation measures they have put in place. There were positive comments highlighting the ‘flexibility’ of line managers, praise for the testing scheme and communication from management. Some staff said that the University was doing well, ‘better than some’. There was acknowledgement that the pandemic is an ‘unprecedented situation’ and it is a ‘tough time to lead’ and on that basis, the University is ‘doing what it can’, has ‘made all reasonable efforts’ and ‘the measures that the University have taken are noticeable’.

As noted in the introduction, there were plenty of responses from staff who have not returned to campus and this is a limitation in the design of the survey. Of those who were undecided or more nuanced in their responses this was mainly due to lack of direct experience. Many respondents were delivering online teaching only or were exempt from returning to campus for health reasons. Two people pointed out that coming to campus was important for their mental health. A few respondents pointed out that students ‘deserved’ a face to face experience and one commented that it was ‘defeatist’ to simply not try. One respondent said ‘I personally recognise the considerable physical/mental health risks posed by students not having any meaningful in person activities to engage in. On that basis I am willing to engage in in-person teaching’. Again, this respondent had not yet begun teaching in-person and they stressed that their comments were ‘in theory’. There was also some misunderstanding presented in the comments. One respondent said ‘I particularly commend the university for moving all possible lecturing online and to limit face to face teaching to courses that cannot be taught solely online’. This is not, in fact, the University line, although it is what SUCU has been pushing for. The University wants to provide some in-person teaching to all students and whether that teaching is pedagogically the best option is of less importance than the ‘social’ benefits.

Some of the comments were quite mixed. One member likened the University response to a ‘car cash in slow motion’ but then went on to say that they taught clinical skills and the measures that had been put in place for that (after concerns had been raised) were adequate. The staff member has access to PPE and is using it, although they are responsible for stocking up the teaching rooms, which is ‘frustrating and time consuming’.

Some staff expressed their anger at the workload: ‘the workloads are punishing. They increased this year by at least 20-30% and in addition, everything takes longer to set up because of online recordings, marking, delivery’. Some highlighted the stress they were under caused by the pressure to teach on campus despite their reservations. One respondent said that ‘the approach the University has taken in relation to staff teaching in-person is a disgrace’ and that they felt ‘forced’ to teach across the week even though they feel ‘unsafe’. Some staff feel that ‘reducing face-to-face teaching to where it is *required* — e.g. laboratory or clinical work — would be a safer and more sustainable approach’ than insisting on some face to face for all students. Another staff member said they ‘feel very stressed, let down, and frankly do not understand what UoS is waiting for to move everything online’. One respondent was angry that most face to face teaching was being done by PGRs while permanent staff stay at home. This clearly raises equality issues which need addressing and will be part of the next survey we carry out. Some people felt that the University was prioritising money over safety, ‘The University puts us in the front line simply to justify asking students to return to campus, and therefore charging full fees. This is unacceptable’. There was some doubt expressed that students actually wanted to come back to campus because the process of canvassing students’ views had been opaque.

Other criticisms centred on poor ventilation in the teaching rooms, lack of adherence from staff and students to risk mitigation measures such as hand washing and wearing masks, lack of access to anti-bacterial products and hand sanitiser, and some staff were concerned about the added risk of travelling to work by public transport: ‘staff and students may be required to use public transport to come to campus. Public transport is NOT covid safe’, ‘The uni may feel the campus is covid secure but it’s too late by the time I’ve got there via train and bus’. Some staff felt strongly that this element of risk was not being considered fully enough.

One zero-hour contract worker said that they had not been given enough information to make an informed decision about returning to work. This is obviously very concerning for this colleague, who is being asked about shifts but does not know if they will be safe on campus.

Conclusion:

This is a small sample and cannot be taken to be representative of staff across the University. There is by no means universal satisfaction in the way the University has handled the situation, nor are staff feeling safe on campus on the whole. Nevertheless, many staff feel that management have done their best in difficult circumstances and have put in place reasonable measures to mitigate the risks of Covid-19.  There are numerous criticisms of the University’s decision to insist on in-person teaching and concerns about the increased risk posed to staff who deliver that teaching. It is clear from the findings that staff who are given flexibility to make their own decisions about whether to teach online or in-person are happier than those who feel ‘forced’ back to campus.

SUCU believe strongly that senior management should stop insisting on in-person teaching for all students regardless of pedagogical value and instead allow module leaders, HODs and DOPs to decide what is best for their students. This is happening in some Schools across the University and not in others. Where staff feel fully consulted and supported by local managers, their responses are more positive towards the Covid-19 risk mitigation measures put in place by the University. As we have done since March, SUCU will continue to work constructively with management to address these issues and represent the views of staff during this pandemic.

03/11/20

Correspondence with senior management following the EJJNC

Following the email sent to the COO on the 30th September from the 3 campus unions, we received the following response on the 5th October and have since responded with our comments (highlighted in blue):

 

Dear Lucy, Adam, Naomi, Alastair and Gwen

Thank you for your email.   I have been very busy during this first week of the new teaching year and regret that my reply is delayed.

Following discussion with you at one of our weekly meetings and in the correspondence to arrange the EJJNC on Tuesday, and its agenda, I believe our mutual intention had been to address the many topics you had previously raised in emails and letters at that meeting.  That was the reason I had deferred replying to those emails.  We have established regular dialogue at our weekly meetings and we all agreed that the additional time at an extra JJNC would be the best place to raise and discuss issues and concerns.

We also expected that the meeting would be organised in that way and hoped that you would specifically address the concerns that we raised. We believe that we had been quite clear what these issues were in our emails so did not feel it necessary to alter the agenda to itemise these. We felt that too much time was devoted to listening to the University’s position, which by now we know well, and going over old ground, and not enough time was given to listening to UCU’s specific concerns over H&S and in-person teaching. 

Clearly from your email you think that did not comprehensively happen in practice.  I propose therefore to prepare a comprehensive reply to the points you have raised and ensure you have that before our next weekly meeting on Wednesday 7th October.  That would be much appreciated.

Our weekly meetings have been an unprecedented opportunity for issues relating to the establishment of a COVID-secure campus to be raised, to be recorded and for answers to be given.  I believe that we all participated in those meetings in the spirit of mutual determination to provide a secure environment in which to work, to research and to educate our students.  I am very grateful for the contributions union representatives made to development of the protocols and guidance for re-opening the campus after lockdown.  Those have been the foundation of a successful re-opening of University activity on campus and have been rigorously followed in every building opened.

We have always said that we appreciate the opportunity for discussion in the weekly meetings and thank you for the time you have taken to attend. However, we do not believe that the unions have been comprehensively included in the ‘development of the protocols and guidance for re-opening the campus after lockdown’. For example, UCU did not contribute to decision-making around the return to in-person teaching. We were allowed access to the operational ‘curriculum planning’ group but not the decision-making Active Campus group.

There are a number of important communications we did not sight of in advance of their publication, including the guidance for in-person teaching sent out by Alex Neill and the “good practice for socially distanced teaching” guidance. The latter contradicted some of the guidance in earlier correspondence (part of which has subsequently had to be corrected by Cathy Day). We also dispute that protocols have been ‘rigorously followed in every building opened’; we hear from our members and our sister unions that contractors are not socially distancing, have not received information about ‘Covid-secure’ protocols and that one-way systems are not being used. Rooms booked for teaching have been found locked at the start of class, preventing students and staff from entering and thus encouraging people to congregate in large groups. Masks are not always being worn and cleaning equipment, such as bins, are not always provided. Our members have found sanitizer stations turned off. The 25-student upper limit on classes has already been waived for some booked teaching, creating the dangerous possibility of ‘superspreader’ events and undermining the risk mitigation strategies we rely on.

You will be aware of the Government’s clearly expressed expectation that universities will be open, will be teaching their students in a blended way (including in-person) and that they will take care of students to ensure their well-being.  This is consistent with the University’s commitment to provide the best education we can in current circumstances.  This approach has been evidently supported by students who want to come to our University to learn, to experience new opportunities and to develop their potential.

The government line is constantly changing and their own advisors on SAGE warned that students coming back to halls would aid transmission. The government line on face-to-face teaching has always allowed for interpretation by individual institutions. In his recent address to parliament, Gavin Williamson said that face-to-face teaching should happen where it is difficult to replicate learning online, for example, for some clinical and practical subjects. UCU agrees with this. It has never been our line no in-person teaching should occur at all, nor that online is always preferable; it is simply that it is safest for all if in-person teaching is restricted to what is strictly necessary. We do not agree that face-to-face teaching under the current constraints is always the best possible education, because it is less flexible than the online alternatives (e.g. in terms of group work). Our staff are being pressured to provide in-person teaching even when they believe that the online equivalent would be pedagogically equivalent or better. 

Students can still enjoy new experiences and develop their potential but we must be realistic and honest about what can be provided during the current crisis. We note with concern that students are presented as wanting the on-campus experience. This is based on the model of ‘the student’ as young, able-bodied and without caring responsibilities. The voices and viewpoints of disabled, clinically vulnerable and mature students are missing from this picture of ‘business as usual’, though our members are hearing the voices of these students. 

Moreover, the government’s expectations were based on a national-level approach to the pandemic that would include both a functioning test and trace system and a case rate either falling or at least controlled. We draw your attention to the test and trace fiasco that played out over the weekend; across the country the number of positive cases has been dramatically understated, and over 15,000 contacts have not been traced due to an error in using Excel for data storage. The risk of many thousands more infections as a result of this mishandling is significant and we suggest that merely meeting the earlier expectations set by the Government is inadequate to ensure good public health outcomes.

Those plans that you have contributed to are robust and stand comparison with other universities across the UK.  In several ways we exceed the mitigations of other universities, not least with our unique surveillance testing for all students and for staff working regularly on campus.  The testing programme will identify even asymptomatic infected people before they have opportunities to transmit infection widely.  That will give confidence that those on campus are most likely to be staff and students who have recently tested negative for coronavirus.

The last sentence does not quite follow—and there is some uncomfortable vagueness in the term ‘recently’. We were told in recent communication that the coverage of students was far from universal, and take-up by staff falls behind that of students. We are being asked to bring our saliva samples to campus on the first day we are scheduled to teach, which means there is a serious danger that we bring infection to campus, pass it on, and then receive our positive result too late. If arrangements are similar for students, this will mean any given student could spread the virus widely before they are located and asked to self-isolate. We have also heard reports that staff due to teach in-person have received kits but not the first “take a test” instruction. Students have also informed staff that they have received nothing in the last week so there are already numerous students mixing with no testing in progress.

As of Friday morning there were less than a dozen staff and students with known positive COVID-19 tests.  That does not warrant a move from our tier-1 to a more restricted amount of in-person teaching.  The teaching rooms are designed to reduce the risk of transmission – as you know there are Perspex screens for teachers to stand behind, strict spacing, anti-viral wipes, cleaning between each teaching session, a requirement to wear face-covering indoors, one-way systems and timetabling to avoid cross-overs between classes.

We believe that this does not reflect the realities of the national infection rate, nor the lessons we could learn from other universities. While Southampton’s planning compares well to some other universities, it is not leading the way. Solent and Bournemouth took the courageous decision to move the vast majority of their teaching online in order to protect staff and students. Some students are still in student accommodation but they were able to make the choice to stay at home if they wanted to and were able. The requirement to wear face-covering indoors is undermined by the fact that staff and students are allowed to take them off when distanced of more than 2m. This does not take into account airborne transmission. A recent report shows that the CDC in the USA is now taking the risks of aerosol transmission far more seriously: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/10/05/920446534/cdc-acknowledges-coronavirus-can-spread-via-airborne-transmission?t=1601988013329 Face-covering indoors should be compulsory at all times. This lack of clarity has already resulted in several cases where staff or students took their masks off during in-person classes.

In order for us to assess the validity of the University’s claims regarding COVID-positive numbers we need substantially more information. We need to know: how many students have been recently tested (out of the eligible population); how many have tested negative and how many positive, and the same for all staff working on campus. Again, Southampton management is not here following best practice in the sector, and could and should provide a publicly-accessible COVID cases dashboard of the kind developed by Sheffield University and as recommended by UCU nationally.

Moreover, the University’s approach assumes that moving from ‘tier 1’ to a higher tier should a wholly reactive measure based on the prevalence of cases within the University, rather than a pro-active measure taking into account the prevalence of cases within the wider community, and thus the capacity of that community’s health infrastructure to cope with a surge in cases and hospital admissions. We believe that the move to a higher tier should be a pro-active. In an environment where cases are rising exponentially, the University’s responsibility to its students, staff, and community is to do what it can to suppress and prevent further infections, not simply to react to outbreaks after they happen. This is particularly important because, even with the University’s testing regime, by the time an outbreak is identified affected students and staff will have potentially already infected many other members of the community via buses, cafes, bars etc.

The reduced teaching timetable and limited, booked, spaces in the libraries reduce the number of students coming to campus and only those staff who need to work on campus are expected to be there.  Staff who can work at home and do not need to be on campus (eg for teaching) will continue to work from home.  I have confidence in the ability of our students to understand our guidance and requirements and to behave in ways that keep themselves and others safe.  Partly I have that confidence because I have seen them sticking with smaller groups and wearing face-coverings when needed.

This does not reflect what we are hearing from our colleagues working in halls, or indeed from the local community with respect to students living in private housing. A substantial number of students are not adhering to the ‘rule of 6’. We do not blame the students for this—they are being told they need to be here to study, and they are being asked to restrict their movements more than the rest of the adult population in order to stay safe. Students still need to work, to socialise and move around the country to visit their families—not least for the sake of their mental health. Those students who have chosen to come to halls are likely to be highly mobile with few obvious health concerns. The lifestyles they lead and their living conditions are not conducive to social distancing. With regards to staff, we are still extremely alarmed that insufficient attention has been paid to the commuting needs of staff in back-to-campus planning. It is also not true that staff are being allowed to continue to work from home – they are being told they must attend PAT meetings F2F, inductions F2F and other pedagogically non-essential interactions with students in-person. If they have commuted to work, they will not be able to go home between sessions and there are limited spaces for them to work on campus.

The University has developed its outbreak response plan in discussion and partnership with the City and County public health officials.  We have clear plans for what to do when someone reports they are infected and comprehensive support arrangements are in place for students who are in self-isolation – with their health and mental well-being our priority.

The latest guidance to students states that flatmates and friends should help students who are isolating with food. This is too great a burden to put on students who hardly know each other, notwithstanding the fact that flatmates may also be isolating. There are limited delivery slots for supermarkets and if there is an outbreak, pressure will be put on these services. We want reassurances that students will be looked after by the University (not their friends) in the event of an outbreak.

Moreover, it remains clear from early outbreaks, as well as from recent ones at universities and even from the Rose Garden of the White House last week that the really problematic period for infection spread is before people realise they have been infected.

You have raised concerns about staff who are especially vulnerable to the risks consequent on COVID-19 infection.  The risk assessment for individuals used by the University enables anyone with concerns to identify those risks in discussion with their line manager, so that their line manager can make appropriate arrangements.  Those arrangements can include working from home and in my conversations with line managers since Tuesday I have heard examples in which that has been readily agreed.  Following the EJJNC on Tuesday I followed up on the commitment I made at the meeting to ensure that line managers would be familiar with this risk assessment process and how to respond to their staff members’ concerns.  This work is in hand and I can report progress when we next meet.

While some risk assessments for staff permitting them to work at home have been readily agreed, others have not, and indeed we are aware of cases where working from home arrangements have still not been agreed for vulnerable staff, or staff living with vulnerable individuals, even though their on-campus work is scheduled to begin this week. We believe that in the current environment, which is fraught with risk simply because of the national context, all staff who can work from home and wish to work from home should be able to do so, in line with the government guidance for the rest of the population. We also note that the RAs do not directly consider the impact of an activity on anyone but the staff member who is the subject of the RA. There is no space to assess the impact on family members or cohabitants of that staff member; their vulnerability to Covid-19 does not therefore get taken into account even as such a staff member is required to return to the workplace. This will put considerable strain on their mental wellbeing, due to the very real chance of spreading Covid-19 infection to such family members. Asking staff to put their family at risk to undertake activities that could be more easily be undertaken remotely is simply unacceptable and shows a deep unseriousness about staff well-being. We would be grateful if you could provide us with a copy of the Equality Impact Assessment pertaining to the University’s decision reopen campus and recommence in-person teaching in the middle of this pandemic.

I look forward to meeting you at our next weekly discussion.

Best wishes

Richard

 

 

COVID-19: Health and Safety Correspondence with University Management following EJJNC (29/9/20)

Following the EJJNC on Tuesday (29th September), TU representatives from Unite and Unison wrote to the senior management team setting out clearly what they would like the University to do. You can read our email below:

Dear Richard, Mark and Alex,

We write on behalf of the three campus trades unions to express our frustration at the outcome of the EJJNC we attended today (29/09/20). This meeting was intended to resolve outstanding issues with the University’s back to campus plans. Key issues, particularly current and pressing health and safety concerns in both university accommodation and on campus were not addressed satisfactorily.These were detailed in the email written by health and safety reps of all three unions and sent on the 7th September. These questions were not answered at EJJNC. 

We reiterate that we are not happy with the back to campus plans as they currently stand and ask for the University to consider revising the current status of the University from Tier 1 to Tier 3 in light of the fact that the national threat level has been raised to Level 4. The majority of students would then study online,with in-person teaching activities restricted to those practical or clinical courses for which they are pedagogically necessary. This allows the University to limit the numberof people on campus, allows staff and students on campus to work more safely and ensures a much higher level of safety for all members of the University community and our neighbours. It also enables us to continue to support students who must remain on campus for other reasons (care leavers, disadvantaged students, students with families, for example) and to keep them safe. Our priority must be to reduce the footfall on campus to the lowest level possible for the sake of those who cannot avoid it as well as those who canOur views are based on the national infection rate, which is increasing, and the experiences of other universities, which have seen a spike in cases, potentially endangering the health of staff, students and members of local communities. These universities have been forced to confine students to halls; the impact on their physical and mental health and wellbeing must not be underestimated.

In addition, we are asking that where staff can work from home, they should continue to do so. Where staff need to be at home and cannot work from home, they should continue to be paid.We are disappointed that the University has refused requests from some clinically vulnerable staff and staff living with clinically vulnerable people to work from home, and note that in some cases it appears to have failed to undertake risk assessments prior to the return to the workplace of vulnerable staff members. This is unacceptable.

The three campus trades unions urge University management to listen to our concerns and urgently review their decision to bring all students back to campus regardless of pedagogical necessityGiven the urgency of the situation, we would appreciate your response by 17:00 1st October

Lucy Watson (UCU)

Adam George Dunn (UCU)

Naomi Gravett (Unite)

Alastair Dilworth (Unite)

Gwendoline Barrett-Gordon (Unison)

As of 3pm on Friday 2nd October, the senior management team have not responded. It is SUCU’s intention to contact local councillors and our elected representatives for support.

Position statement: COVID-19 Safe return to Campus

We write in our capacity as your branch executive committee to state that we do not feel that Southampton University has yet demonstrated a plan which is clear and comprehensive enough to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission on campus to a safe level. Since students mingle freely with the wider community on buses, in cafes, bars, shops and other public spaces, and since they often travel home at weekends, any increase in infections in University settings will quickly spread among the wider community.

We believe that the safest way to reopen our campuses is to follow the guidance of the Independent SAGE report and recommend that all teaching should be online by default, unless it can be demonstrated that in-person teaching is pedagogically essential. Our view is informed by the Independent SAGE report on universities (20 August), the BMJ editorial ‘Re-opening universities is high risk’ (1 September) and the SAGE paper on SARS-CoV-2 transmission in higher education (4 September) and recent research, discussed in WonkHE. from Bristol University. We also note Warwick UCU’s call to move teaching online (18 August), UCU’s national call on reopening campuses (29 August), the UCU event on reopening universities and colleges (1 September), UCU Fund the Future and internal statements we have seen from other unions. We have also taken account of moves towards all-online teaching provision next term at other universities, including St Andrews, QMUL, UCL and Birkbeck.

Following expert advice, UCU identified 5 tests that must be met to make a return to campus safe for staff and students. Our appraisal of Southampton’s status vis-a-vis these tests follows:

Test 1: Sustained reduction in numbers of Covid-19 cases and infection rates

Not met: Government statistics suggest that cases of Covid-19 in the UK are rising at a substantial rate, particularly amongst those aged 17-20. We appreciate the University has limited power to affect this national picture, but these facts affect the risk and our ability to mitigate it nonetheless. We are extremely concerned that bringing students back prematurely poses a significant risk not only to staff, but to these students, their families (some students commute and some frequently travel home) and the wider community in Southampton.

Test 2: Coherent planning for social distancing

Not met: The university has put in place various control measures to encourage social distancing such as community messaging, signage, one-way systems, additional communal spaces. However, these steps do not adequately reduce risk to a safe level.  There remains no way to make in-person teaching within a shared breathing space safe. We do not yet know what degree of adherence students will demonstrate to these guidelines, nor what the University will do in the event of non-compliance. Furthermore, it is inevitable that students will mix when they are off campus, meaning transmission on campus – particularly via asymptomatic students – is extremely likely. In particular, we cannot see a coherent rationale for the University’s refusal to make mask-wearing compulsory on campus (with the standard medical exemptions)

Test 3: Comprehensive testing and contact tracing

Partially met: We welcome the recent announcement about the use of saliva testing for staff and students and are proud to have colleagues who have worked to produce this testing method. We note, however, that this project does not follow the BMJ recommendations that testing should be mandatory. We understand that the university has limited scope to enforce this, but while testing remains voluntary, we are concerned about the level of uptake. Many uncertainties remain.  We believe that test results will be received via text message, but we do not yet know what steps will be taken once positive tests are returned to trace those who have been in contact with the testee. What plans are in place to support students and staff who need to self-isolate and how quickly these arrangements can be made? Until these questions are answered, it is our view that testing and tracing cannot be said to be ‘comprehensive’.

Test 4: University- wide strategies for safe returns and continuing health and safety

Partially met: In a recent letter written by Health and Safety representatives from UCU, Unison and Unite, which we published on our blog, significant concerns were raised around consultation. We remain concerned that expert advice from unions is not being sought or taken into account sufficiently in the university’s planning and that there are significant gaps in terms of planning for the future. For example, what are the university’s plans in the event of an outbreak? What action will be taken in case of an outbreak in student halls? What will be the trigger for a return to online teaching in all or part of the University? What steps are being taken to prevent a potential on-campus outbreak from becoming an all-Southampton outbreak, amplified through shared public transport systems and facilities such as cafés, bars and shops? Is air-borne contamination being taken into consideration and how is it mitigated?

Test 5: Protection for those most vulnerable to COVID-19

Not met: The UCU’s national position is that “Staff who are themselves more vulnerable to Covid-19, and staff who live with people at heightened risk, must not be required to work on campus.” Throughout the summer, Southampton UCU has raised concerns with senior management about clinically extremely vulnerable staff, vulnerable staff and staff who are living with or caring for vulnerable people. These discussions are ongoing. Senior management continue to reassure us that the health and wellbeing of staff and students is their main priority, but we have received reports  of vulnerable staff and staff living with vulnerable people whose requests to work from home have been declined or are still to be decided. We have advised members in this position to ask the University to reconsider or respond to their requests; unless and until we hear that all such requests have been granted, we cannot state that Test 5 has been met. Further, we reiterate that we cannot support the University’s current policy of requiring vulnerable staff who feel unable to return to campus to take unpaid leave in cases where the University has decided that they cannot work from home. We call on the University to grant staff in this position paid disability leave.  We are also concerned that the University has declined flexible working agreements for parents/carers who have faced considerable challenges finding childcare during the pandemic.

In addition to the five tests not being met in full, we have registered serious concerns regarding the safe return to on-campus working.  These are addressed in the joint trade union health and safety letter which was sent to the Chief Operating Officer on Monday 7th September and is published on the SUCU blog. We are happy to work with senior management to seek solutions to these issues, but time is now extremely tight, and unless sufficient progress is made in reducing the risks on campus, we do not feel able to recommend these plans to our members.

Southampton UCU Executive Committee

 

 

EGM motion – Return to campus and in-person teaching plans 

The motion below was passed by a quorate Extraordinary General Meeting of UCU members held on 15 September 2020

Motion 3Return to campus and in-person teaching plans 

Southampton UCU do not believe that the University’s return to campus plans in their current form are clear and comprehensive enough to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission on campus to a safe level.  

This branch notes: 

  • The University’s position that all students must receive some in-person teaching. 
  • The recent British Medical Journal and Independent SAGE reports highlighting the high risk of in-person teaching. 
  • The University is not yet committed to making use of all the control methods set out in the Government guidance of 10 September [link], such as the segmentation of students and ventilation requirements. 
  • UCU’s 5 tests for safe returns to on-campus working in HE.  
  • That cases of Covid-19 in the UK are rising at a substantial rate, particularly amongst those aged 17-20. 
  • That students will mix when they are off campus. They have jobs, use public transport and may live in HMOs. Their circumstances increase the likelihood of transmission on campus, particularly if they are asymptomatic. 
  • The joint letter from Unite, Unison and UCU Health and Safety reps (7/09/20) noting that we have been excluded from the high-level decision-making forums such as Active Campus and stating that they have not been adequately consulted on Health and Safety issues, particularly in relation to in-person teaching. 

This branch believes: 

  • Bringing students back prematurely poses a significant risk to staff, students, their families and the wider Southampton community. 
  • That control measures put in place by the university are insufficient, particularly as we do not know what degree of adherence students will demonstrate, nor what the University will do in the event of non-compliance.  
  •  That there is no way to make in-person teaching completely safe within a shared breathing space. Moreover, for many courses there is limited direct educational value in the style of teaching necessitated by maintaining social distancing and wearing masks.  
  • That clinically extremely vulnerable staff and those caring for vulnerable people have not received adequate advice, reassurance and protections, despite the University stating that the health and safety of staff and students is its main priority. Furthermore, poor communication around the return to campus plans have added to workloads and increased stress and mental health problems.   

This branch calls on management to: 

  • Ensure that all staff members with health vulnerabilities (or household members with vulnerabilities) are permitted to teach and work remotely for the duration of the pandemic without detriment. 
  • Agree that no staff member should be compelled to return to campus until the 5 tests set by UCU’s expert panel are met 
  • As advised by the Independent SAGE report, online teaching must be the default until these 5 tests are met. 
  • Make the wearing of masks on campus mandatory in all enclosed spaces (with standard health exemptions). 
  • Take all steps available within the law to ensure a comprehensive  testing regime that covers all staff and students (with standard health exemptions) following the BMJ’s recommendations of 01/09/2020 https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3365 
  • Publish its procedure and timeline for collecting and reporting confirmed cases amongst staff and students, including contact tracing for positive cases 
  • Publish its contingency plans listing what trigger points for University and community transmission the University has identified, and what responses these will activate on campus. Restate and uphold its commitment to fully consult trade union Health and Safety representatives on all its Covid-19 contingency planning. 

This branch resolves to:  

  • Publish resources to inform members’ decision-making regarding the safety of return to campus.  
  • Support members if they use their rights under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. 
  • Launch a campaign, in collaboration with other TUs and local authorities to ensure the health and safety of our community is prioritised over financial interests. 
  • Refuse to endorse the return to campus plans until these issues are addressed.  

Proposer: Lucy Watson 

Seconder: Claire Le Foll 

Motion passed

 

 

 

COVID-19: Health and Safety correspondence with University management

This week Health and Safety officers from UCU, Unison and Unite wrote to the COO informing him of their concerns around the return to campus plans. Your exec have also written to the COO asking senior management to address these and other unresolved issues urgently. You can read the correspondence below. We will update members on developments when we can.

 

 

 

SUCU Requests for information: Active Campus and University Finances

Over the past month SUCU has been asking for trade union representation on the high-level decision-making group ‘Active Campus’. The knowledge and expertise of TU H&S reps are invaluable and can help direct senior leaders in their discussions about how to open up our campuses safely. Our H&S officer, Adam Dunn, wrote to the Chief Operating Officer on 21st July to request, once again, for representation:

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SUCU received the following response from Richard Middleton on the 23rd July: 

“Dear Adam

Thank you for your letter of 21 July seeking representation of a UCU Health and Safety representative on the Active Campus Group, and in turn seeking representatives from the other trades unions.

This is a group of Executive Directors in Professional Services – my direct reports – meeting as a group of senior managers to make plans for the operation of the campus from September onwards, ensuring that we meet our obligations to students and fulfilling our managerial roles.   In doing so we are naturally utilising the experience of University staff working in Professional Services.  It is not a group to which I would invite trade union representation.

As you will know, I and the HR team and Health and Safety Director have been meeting regularly, mostly weekly, with representatives of all the campus trades unions for several months and I have committed to keeping those regular meetings informed of how plans for the Autumn term are developing.  I believe that regular discussion has been working well and is consistent with our mutual commitments to improving relationships.

Trades union representatives participated in the development of guidance and protocols for returning to work during May and June.  Those groups were very successful and I am grateful for the trades union contributions and the positive spirit with which that work was undertaken.  It was a good example of our cooperation.

The University consults with trades unions consistently on health and safety and of course most comprehensively at the Health and Safety Consultative Committee.  I am confident also that there are good daily working relationships between University staff, especially those working in health and safety, and the trades union health and safety representatives.

With best wishes,

Richard”

In a recent meeting, the COO agreed to share with SUCU officers a precis of the discussions which are taking place on Active Campus. While this development is welcome, we do not feel that this is equivalent to having TU reps actually present for these discussions.

SUCU has also been asking for more detailed financial information to be shared with the executive committee in order that we can be fully informed about the University’s financial situation. We are asking to see concrete evidence that there is a case for the ‘cost savings’ measures the Vice Chancellor has informed us might be required. On the 21st July we emailed the Chief Operating Officer again about this:

Dear Richard,

We are holding an EGM tomorrow to discuss UCU’s national Fund the Future campaign and we will be discussing the VC’s recent email. I am writing to follow-up on a request made at JJNC 25th June to provide full financial disclosure so that unions have a complete understanding of the parameters of the university’s financial decision-making. The actions state that this was fulfilled on the 8th July but in the finances meetings we have attended since then we have pressed for more detail. Specifically, SUCU would like data on the following:

  • The full overall budget for 2020/21 and predicted scenarios (not just the summary that has been submitted to Council for approval)
  • A breakdown of the projected loss to income, making it clear how much of this drop in income is offset by originals plans to run a surplus.
  • Full figures on the cash reserves the University has which may be able to absorb any projected losses.
  • Full figures on any liquid assets the University has which could be turned to into cash if needed.
  • What percentage of offsetting measures are being levied against staff costs, and have the University fully considered making cuts elsewhere?
  • What budget for capital expenditure is planned for 2020/21? Is this work essential?

We would also like answers to the following questions:  

  • Are management worried about breaching agreements made with lenders about how to run the institution? Do we have any covenants that stipulate that the institution should meet a certain level of business performance each year?
  • Has management considered how the proposed cuts will affect the ability of our institution to bounce back in future years? Have management modelled any changes to future income?
  • Has management researched the government business loans scheme to see whether the university if eligible for this support? 

More detailed information is essential if we are to contribute fully to discussions around cost-savings. We urge you to share this crucial financial information with us as soon as possible.

Many thanks,

Lucy Watson (SUCU President)”

On 23rd July, we received this reply:

“Dear Lucy

Thank you for your email.  I regret that I was not able to reply within the day of your request, but of course I want to respond before we meet this afternoon for our regular discussion.  I will address each of your questions in turn

1.       Full overall budget for 2020/21.  There isn’t yet a full budget for 2020/21 because of the uncertainty about our income for 2020/21. We expect to take a final budget to Council in November.  This will likely still retain a level of uncertainty because of the January international PGT intake.  We don’t have “predicted scenarios” – we model scenarios following the same sort of approach at IFS and London economics. The VC’s email of 1 July gave the headlines of this scenario work.

2.       Breakdown of projected loss to income.  The baseline budget is an internal planning document worked up according to our strategic plan which is to deliver a surplus each year to generate cash for investment.  In the VC’s email he referred to a drop of £70m in income, in a moderate to severe scenario.  We think it is prudent to prepare plans consistent with that figure; but, as I say in the first point, we also expect that to change as we gain more information about actual enrolments.

3.       Full figures of cash reserves – are available in 2018/19 financial statements, which are published and those have not changed materially.  The extent to which these “may be able to absorb any losses” depends on their intended use – capital investment remains a strategic priority.

4.       Liquid assets – this information is also available in the financial statements, represented by cash and investments.

5.       Offsetting measures levied against staff costs – We are looking at offsetting potential losses against non-staff and staff costs as well as cash.  Until we understand the actual impacts of student recruitment and the length of the challenge we have not yet got firm plans yet on any specific percentage in each of those areas.  We are as you know maintaining very strict controls on non-pay spend and are holding down recruitment and replacement of staff.  As we have shared with you, we hope to achieve further reductions in staff spend through voluntary measures if at all possible. 

6.       We also have not currently set a budget for capital for next year, again we are awaiting November.  Nevertheless planning for capital investments, especially in the estate, continues, consistent with the University’s strategy.

As the VC said in his email:

“This loss of income would need to be mitigated in three ways: through significant reductions in our planned operating expenditure by maintaining the same level of rigorous control and scrutiny as we have done since March, including scaling back our planned capital expenditure; through reducing our staff costs – our single largest investment; and through careful use of our cash reserves. Our intention will be to use a balance of all three in order to maintain our prospects for recovery, which is likely to take more than a single year.

“I know there is a considerable appetite for information and detail. I want to be open with you about what we are doing, and why. The levels of uncertainty are immense, and I know that is frustrating for all of us. However I am confident that our approach is sensible, and that we will ensure we regularly test our assumptions against what turns out to be reality and adapt our planning accordingly, and that we will neither take action before we need to, nor leave it too late to take action.”

In response to your final three bulleted questions:

We do have covenants on borrowing which we are monitoring and modelling.  We are looking at longer term impacts and the VC email makes clear the high-level principles we are using to govern our decision making. We are exploring actively all the options Government is making available and assessing their benefit to our long-term sustainability.  

Best wishes

Richard”

SUCU will continue to press for more information on the current and projected financial situation at the University so that we can better represent all staff in our discussions with senior management.

 

Motions passed at Extraordinary General Meeting 22nd July 2020

The branch held a well-attended Extraordinary General Meeting on Wednesday 22nd July at which the following motions were passed.

Local Branch Motion 1: Safety of colleagues, students, and visitors during the COVID-19 outbreak

This meeting notes the results of the openSAFELY study recently published in Nature:       https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2521-4_reference.pdf which convincingly show that the hazard associated with being aged over 50 outweighs almost all other risk factors; those of us over aged over 60 are at far greater risk than any other identified at-risk group.

We also note the current US CDC advice that, for example, people in their 50s are at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 40s.  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/older-adults.html

We contrast this science  with current UK government advice which associates no age-related risk factor to being clinically extremely vulnerable and only places those over 70 in the clinically vulnerable group:
      https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing-after-4-july

The meeting also notes that the university does not currently require the wearing of face coverings for the protection of colleagues, but will do so when the students return for AY 20–21:       https://www.southampton.ac.uk/~assets/doc/Safe%20at%20Southampton.pdf  Inappropriately, for such an essential piece of safety equipment, no standard for “face coverings” is specified by the university. The  correct standard is BS EN 14683 type I. These, as the standard says, are used “to reduce the risk of the spread of infections particularly in epidemic or pandemic situations”; they can “be effective in reducing the emission of infective agents from the nose and mouth of an asymptomatic carrier or a patient with clinical symptoms”. The same paper also shows that non-white ethnicity is another risk factor which must be taken into account by H&S planning.

In these circumstances it is essential that the university introduces safety measures guided by the science; this has now moved far ahead of the UK government.

This meeting instructs the UCU branch safety officer, executive committee, and negotiators to seek:

  1. That the university’s planning ensures that at-risk colleagues visitors and students, including everybody aged over fifty, are properly protected from COVID-19. Formal age-related risk assessments must be prepared and agreed with Trade Unions before anybody over fifty is required to attend the workplace.
  2. That all persons using indoor university spaces with multiple occupation (even if not simultaneous) be required to wear face coverings to BS EN 14683 type I or better, at all times (notwithstanding any disabilities or illnesses that may prevent mask wearing). Sufficient quantities of such masks must be made available to all staff, students and visitors to allow single-use wear.

Proposer: Denis Nicole                                                  Seconder: Roger Ingham

MOTION PASSED

Local Branch Motion 2: Protecting casualised workers

Casualised workers make up approximately 70% of researchers nationally in HE, and between 25-30% of the teaching staff in many Universities. Women and BAME colleagues are disproportionately more likely to be employed on a casual contract. Like everybody, casualised University workers are struggling with the global crisis brought on by COVID-19, and are particularly likely to see their contracts terminated, or their hourly paid work vanish. While this crisis continues, casualised staff members across the university—often the lowest paid on campus—must not be forgotten, and should receive guaranteed income along with permanent staff.

This branch recognises that:

  • Departments will need increased capacity as a result of the crisis, given potential illness of colleagues and the switch to remote working, making the work done by casualised staff even more essential.
  • The threatened loss of casualised staff would exacerbate existing workload issues for all staff, including permanent staff, which would also impact on their research capacity and career progression.
  • That the crisis has exacerbated conditions in an already troubled job market, resulting in the potential for ‘CV gaps’ to irrevocably damage the career prospects of current and recent PhD graduates.

We retain a preference for permanent, possibly fractionalised, contracts, and against fixed term and casual employment. While we strive towards these goals, we must protect existing casualised and fixed-term colleagues.

This branch calls on the University’s management to:

  • Transparently (i) disclose financial models upon which decisions about contract non-renewal are predicated, and (ii) ensure all other cost savings are properly explored before considering cuts to staff, including fixed-term and casualised staff.
  • Support the principle of extending the contracts of all fixed term staff for a minimum of two years and guarantee clarity for hourly-paid contracted hours
  • Guarantee that any proposed redundancies or cuts in casualised staff will not result in an increase in the already unmanageable workloads of permanent members of staff.
  • Protect access to paid teaching and demonstrating work for postgraduate students, ensuring that they receive adequate training and work experience.

This branch calls on members to:

Proposer: Lucy Watson                                                 Seconder: Eleanor Wilkinson

MOTION PASSED

Local Branch Motion 3:   Authorisation of a Branch Donation to the National UCU Fighting fund

This Branch notes the email received by Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary, on 3 July 2020 to ask for a Branch donation to help replenish the national fighting fund, and reduce the need to apply the levy to lower-paid UCU members in Further and Higher Education across the sector. As the General Secretary has emphasised, replenishing the fighting fund is important to honour Strike Pay commitments to members who took part in industrial action in support of the Four Fights and USS industrial disputes in February and March.

While the Branch is shocked that HEC chose to offer strike pay that UCU could not afford without a secret levy, whis must never happen again, n order to help reduce the burden of the levy on lower-paid members both at this Branch and across the sector this Branch proposes:

  • To change the rules of the local Hardship Fund to permit the fund to reimburse the levy charge to members earning below £30,000.
  • To make a one-off donation of £4,500 to the UCU national fighting fund from General Branch Funds.

Proposer: Marianne O’Doherty                                                                 Seconder: Lucy Watson

MOTION PASSED