Information for UCU members on national talks and action over the employers’ responses to Covid-19, as well as updated details for contacting UCU head and regional offices, is at ucu.org.uk/coronavirus
Locally, the branch committee is in regular meetings with senior HR managers about the university’s response to Covid-19. The university regularly updates its guidance for staff as things develop and in response to some of the issues UCU reps raise on behalf of members. You can see the latest university guidance at coronavirus.leeds.ac.uk, particularly the pages from ‘staff advice’ and ‘FAQs’.
There are ongoing discussions between UCU and HR about the postponement of formal hearings and other casework. HR have drafted some principles on casework which they will be sharing with UCU reps for us to comment on. The broad principles they’re working on at the moment are:
To put capability cases on hold, because they believe it will be difficult to monitor improvements during the lockdown. UCU reps agree this is the right decision at this stage, because of the pressures most us are under with home circumstances or the emotional pressures of the crisis. We are concerned however about extensions of warning periods.
To assess conduct, grievance and dignity and mutual respect cases individually to decide whether to continue the case online, for example via Microsoft Teams. The collection of witness statements will continue, but UCU are concerned that formal disciplinary hearings conducted online may make it hard for a member to get their case across as clearly. Each case will be discussed with union reps, the views of the member will be taken into account (some may prefer to go ahead), and if the case is a result of a complaint from another staff member this will be taken into consideration too. We think most cases will be postponed.
To put appeals on hold (with the possible exception of appeals against dismissal, to be confirmed).
UCU reps asked for staff to be allowed to carry over more than the usual 5 days of annual leave into the next annual leave year if they would find it difficult to use their annual leave during the lockdown, to help us recover from this crisis period.
This has been refused and we are told we must still take our annual leave during the year to 30th September. If you had a holiday planned and you now want to cancel your leave because the holiday has been cancelled, and work from home instead, you should discuss this with your line manager in the usual way. If you are part of the ‘critical activity team’ needed on campus, it might be difficult for you to take time off and therefore it might be possible to carry more annual leave over to next year.
Significant recent announcements to students have had implications for staff but staff have been told at the same time as, or some time after, students were told. It has left staff unprepared to answer the questions of students about what the arrangements will be.
UCU reps have reminded senior management that, while these are difficult circumstances, it is still both practical and respectful to communicate with staff in advance of announcements to students where there will be a need for staff to prepare and plan so they can communicate specific local arrangements and answer the questions students have.
UCU branch officers advise you contact your line manager or head of school or service if you need any equipment to work from home. The IT team is sending some IT equipment out by courier, according to the priorities set by heads of school or service. The university won’t give general approval for everyone to buy what they need and claim it back, so we are advising members that if you feel you need some equipment, you should get prior agreement from your line manager or head of school or service that the cost will be reimbursed, before you buy it, so you don’t risk being out of pocket.
The home working arrangements are still being seen as “temporary”, which is why the university is saying not to complete the usual display screen equipment workstation assessment, but clearly we all need a decent set-up to work in which isn’t going to cause us health problems. Here’s the advice from the university’s Wellbeing, Health and Safety team. If you experience health problems from your home working setup, or believe you are likely to, then you should tell your line manager that you will have to restrict your working hours. This is particularly important if you have ‘reasonable adjustments’ at the workplace to enable you to work safely but don’t have the same in place at home.
We hope that line managers and heads of schools and services will respond positively to requests from staff so everyone can get on with the work they want to do without causing themselves harm.
We’ve also asked the university to contribute towards household bills for staff working from home. HMRC allow up to £26 unreceipted for this. Senior management says they’re not considering this at the moment because they don’t think it is cost-effective use of their money, but we will keep pressing for this.
University guidance about what can be achieved working from home has improved following trade union interventions but UCU reps are still concerned about how the current wording could be and is being interpreted by some line managers and heads of schools or services.
Senior HR managers have agreed with union reps that many staff will not be expected to perform their full normal duties while working from home. Some may be able to, but many staff will not be able to commit to their full hours or complete all their normal duties because they have childcare, caring or other responsibilities and/or may be finding the pandemic and lockdown personally difficult to cope with.
We understand from our discussions that people in those circumstances are not expected to do the same amount of work differently but that they will do what work they can. The university seems to be having some difficulty committing those expressed views into written advice for staff and managers. If you are feeling pressured to do more work than your circumstances allow and your line manager or head of school or service isn’t listening to you, contact email@example.com, or speak to the local HR manager first if you are confident to.