Text of email from Ben Plumpton to members 27 March 2020
of you will have been working at home for a week or longer. These are
challenging times, and you might feel you are struggling with too much to do,
juggling different responsibilities, health issues, practical problems or
mental health. Many of us are caring for children or other family members, and
that needs to be the priority. Try not to let work get you down, do what you
can, and be kind to yourself. I hope
that we as union members can support each other with some of this, and that our
solidarity can help us to feel less alone and less worried. If there is anything you think the union could help with
please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Welcoming the start of constructive progress on
Wednesday 25 March we had a more productive meeting with university HR managers
which indicated that the university senior management is starting to listen to
some of the serious issues staff have been raising through UCU, Unison and
Unite unions and through their managers.
is a lot still where the decisions are yet to be made, which is understandable
given the fast-moving situation, but we have moved on from the ridiculous
situation last week where the senior management was refusing to stop teaching
face to face, suggesting our reps were motivated by emotion not science, and
saying they were too busy to consult trade unions on decisions. We now
seem to have a shared aim of trying to get things sorted out as well as
hope things will continue to improve as senior management recognise the hard
work and good will staff are demonstrating in working hard to support students
and the university, despite the absolute refusal to spread or waive the strike
deductions as other more progressive universities have done.
Important: The university’s coronavirus page, and
FAQs page on that site, are updated frequently. Some of this email could be
out of date by the time you read it, so please check the site if you have
specific issues or queries.
Workload and work-life balance
the mistake of insisting people move straight to online teaching and work with
no break for people to learn new systems and prepare their materials for the
new format, and some initial bad messaging, the “Staff
FAQs” page has been updated to include, under the section about school
closures: “We know that for those of you with children or other caring
responsibilities this is a daily balancing act and you’re unlikely to be able
to work exactly as you would from campus” and “What is key is that you work as
best you can in your individual circumstances and that your line manager
supports you to do your best, allowing for the fact that we’re all unlikely to
be able to work exactly as we would from campus.”
senior management have been clear with us that this should not be interpreted
to mean staff with children are expected to fit in our normal workload in the
evening when we’ve finished the home schooling and childcare. It should be
interpreted to mean we’re unlikely to be able to do the same amount of work as
we would on campus. We recommend members have those discussions with their line
managers, heads of schools or services on the basis that the university’s
expectation is we will do what work we can in the circumstances.
expect the same consideration for staff with other caring responsibilities, and
also that managers should take into account practical issues affecting work
such as bad internet connections, longer preparation time because of the new
format, or needing to take regular long breaks because of not having proper
office equipment or setup.
our understanding from HR that the university senior management approves this
sort of practical, pragmatic approach to the current situation. So if your line
manager or head of school or service is not taking that approach, please
contact email@example.com so that we can
talk you through the options of what to do next. It’s likely that
we’ll need to contact HR, but we can work out with you whether it’s best to do
this anonymously (for example, if a manager appears to be treating a whole team
unfairly) or whether it is something that is just affecting you.
are hearing reports of school and service leadership showing real compassion
and flexibility and working very hard themselves to support staff and students,
and we thank them.
AAMs, SRDS and other non-essential meetings
have asked for non-essential meetings such as AAMs and SRDS to be postponed for
the time being. We’re waiting for a response from senior management.
Mental health support
university has told us they’ve put additional resource into staff counselling,
which is very welcome. The best way to arrange an appointment is to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
service also has a page of online resources with Covid-19 situation in mind at wsh.leeds.ac.uk/info/134/staff_counselling_and_psychological_support
alternative, UCU members can contact Education Support
day or night to talk, for advice, and to arrange telephone counselling
If you become ill
no longer need to provide a doctor’s note (‘fit note’) but you should fill in a
return to work form when you are well enough to work again. See https://coronavirus.leeds.ac.uk/staff-advice/staff-frequently-asked-questions/#ill_with_symptoms
staff are working incredibly hard to support the move to home working, and we
are most grateful. They are arranging to get as many laptops and PCs as they
can to staff who need one and don’t have one at home. These are being
prioritised to begin with according to whether people are essential to keep the
students living on campus safe, payroll running, and other essential roles. If
you don’t have suitable equipment you need to speak to your line manager or
head of school or service in the first instance. (You can’t be expected to do
the work if you don’t have the equipment.)
trade unions asked for the university to allow staff to volunteer for the NHS
or in the community. We’re pleased to say that this is now agreed, see https://coronavirus.leeds.ac.uk/volunteering/
(you will need the agreement of your Head of School or Service).
across the HE sector is grinding to a halt, so making anyone redundant now is
very likely putting them into poverty. We have asked if all fixed-term
contracts can be continued until recruitment resumes in the sector.
asked UKRI to alter deadlines and relax reporting rules, and amend funding,
in order to support fixed term and early career staff. We understand many HE
institutions including Leeds are also contacting UKRI about this.
Strike deductions and Strike Fund/Hardship Fund claims
payslips are now online, accessed either via Desktop Anywhere and then browse
to ESS at https://selfservice.mais.leeds.ac.uk/,
or directly by using the Self Service icon on https://access.leeds.ac.uk/ before
you go into Desktop Anywhere. If you get an error message, that’s because there
are still capacity issues – the best times to try are early morning or late
afternoon. As expected, for most staff the strike deductions have all come out
in March. If you were unable to report your strike action before 20 March,
then some of the deductions will come out in April. If you haven’t yet been
able to report (e.g. if you were on holiday or sick or had connection
problems), and if you can’t access ESS now, then email email@example.com and
a helpful person from HR will get back to you.
claim to the UCU Strike fund and our local Hardship Fund if you need to. Full
information at http://www.leedsucu.org.uk/hardship-applications-and-surgeries/,
including a claim form to download for our local Hardship Fund, plus a link to
the national Strike Fund claims web pages. If you didn’t claim for the
November/December strike action and now wish you had, you can still apply. Both
nationally and locally we will be processing applications as quickly as we can.
NB If you took strike action in November/December and also in February/March,
for the second period you can claim from day 1. If you have any queries after
checking the above web pages, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Home Office has announced that visas can be extended (to 31 May) for those
currently unable to return home at the end of their visa due to COVID-19. See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/visas-extended-for-those-currently-unable-to-return-home-due-to-covid-19
In light of the current advice on self-isolation and social distancing, the
Home Office is also waiving attendance requirements, so that sponsors such as
universities don’t need to report absences from students or employees sponsored
under Tier 2, Tier 4, or Tier 5, where those absences have been the result of
the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak.
understand that REF2021 has been put on hold until further notice. This means
the November submission deadline will no longer apply, although the REF staff
census date (31 July 2020) remains unchanged. See https://www.ref.ac.uk/publications/further-update-on-coronavirus-covid-19-and-ref-timetable/
Some practical tips
are a few of the ideas UCU committee have found useful about working from
home. Feel free to use, adapt or ignore!
- Keep your to-do list flexible. With increased reasons for anxiety, and friends and family in need of support, we can only do so much.
- It can be helpful to switch off work notifications outside of your working hours (eg emails, Teams – see how to do this for Teams), and perhaps to shut down your work device when you’re not working rather than leaving it on and ‘seeing’ work constantly.
- Don’t feel pressure to respond to emails at all hours because your manager or colleagues are working then. If your work pattern means you work at unusual hours, you can save emails as drafts and send them later, or if you are using Outlook software you can usually schedule an email to be sent at a later time.
- It’s extra important to take breaks if you haven’t got a proper office-style setup at home. Move regularly! It can be hard to make yourself stop (I am rubbish at this…) but it helps to avoid backache etc.
- A lot of online meetings (Teams, Zoom etc) can be a strain on the eyes. When you aren’t speaking, you can listen in with your microphone and camera off whilst focusing on something else (looking out of the window, a pet, knitting etc).
- You could use online groups from strike days (eg WhatsApp, Facebook) to keep in touch and support each other, or set up online tea breaks with friends.
you have a teaching role, or have been working flat out to get things ready for
everyone working off campus, I hope things calm down a bit soon. I know so many
of our members have been working incredibly hard – your committment to students
and colleagues has been fantastic. Official
advice from your union (!): it’s important to look after yourself as well as
everything else. It’s OK to slow down, and it’s OK to tune out when you need
you or a friend or relative is or has been unwell, I hope you or they make a
swift and full recovery.
wishes for the weekend and the weeks ahead,
University of Leeds UCU President