Members of the branch agreed the following motions at the emergency general meeting 1 October 2020.
Leeds University UCU instructs the Leeds University UCU branch committee to register a dispute with Leeds University management if they insist on proceeding with coercion of staff into face to face activity, which is widely acknowledged to be unsafe. This branch considers this to be in breach of the university policy on Dignity and Mutual Respect.
This union recognises:
- Good practice on Health and Safety in numerous areas by University management.
- Continuing difficulties and deficiencies in other areas, which must be resolved urgently in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This union notes:
- The refusal of managers in LUBS to disclose the findings of test surveys carried out on ventilation systems in School premises – including teaching rooms – to UCU Safety Reps.
- The lack of a clear undertaking from senior University managers, in response to requests at the “Working Together” (“Town Hall”) meeting on 29 September, 2020, to ensure that such reports would be shared with UCU Safety Reps across the University.
- The duty placed upon employers by HSE Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations (1977) and relevant Code of Practice, to:
- allow Safety Reps “to inspect and take copies of any document relevant to the workplace or to the employees the safety representatives represent” (Reg 7), and to:
- “make available to safety representatives the information, within the employer’s knowledge, necessary to enable them to fulfil their functions” (Reg 7), including:
- “technical information about health and safety hazards and precautions needed to eliminate or minimise them, regarding machinery, plant, equipment, processes” (COP 7b), and:
- “any other information specifically related to matters affecting the health and safety at work of their employees, including the results of any measurements taken by the employer or people acting on their behalf in the course of checking the effectiveness of their health and safety arrangements” (COP 7d).
This union believes:
- That the University of Leeds is currently in breach of statutory requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974).
This union resolves:
- To formally request the prompt disclosure of all relevant ventilation reports to UCU Safety Reps.
- To set a reasonable timetable for said disclosure.
- To formally report to the HSE any failure by the University to disclose these reports in a reasonable and timely way.
- To register a dispute with Leeds University management in the event of any failure by the University to disclose these reports in a reasonable and timely way.
Title: Care responsibilities in the context of COVID -19: flexible working and contingency plans
This branch notes:
- That COVID-19 is having a different impact on staff according to whether they have caring responsibilities for children and elderly relatives, and will potentially be more pronounced where the person cared for has additional care needs. For example, if a child of a University employee is required to quarantine because household members show COVID -19 symptoms then staff with caring responsibilities will be affected even if they themselves are not unwell. If it is not possible to undertake the test due to the limited testing capacity in the UK, the parent/carer employee(s) are also required to quarantine.
- That when schools close due to local outbreaks of COVID-19, there is no public childcare available and parents will be responsible for home-schooling and care of pre-schoolers. Not all employees with care responsibilities have family networks to support childcare if children are home from school due to confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
- That due to the increased surveillance and necessary caution regarding spreading of COVID-19 in the UK and areas with additional lockdown measures children are more likely to need to be kept home from school than during non-pandemic times and this may occur multiple times. This may be due to their own symptoms or due to outbreaks in their class or school.
- That the University management has included in all staff official communication messages of empathy about the specific challenges related to child and elderly care for staff, recognising that this may impact on the ability of the employee to work according to the contracted hours. However, no leave or equality policy has been changed as a result.
- That a “Return to campus survey” has been carried out to identify specific circumstances and challenges that different members of staff may experience on the basis of their protected characteristics, but that the survey’s section on childcare made a problematic assumption about partners (or other family members) being available to cover the extra care work required in case of illness.
- That current workload models do not account for this specific and exceptional context in terms of staffing, e.g. to replace members on sick leave and contingency plans. The current risk is that other colleagues with no care responsibilities may see their workload increase.
- That a clear staffing and contingency plan would reduce the stress and anxiety currently present among staff, especially female staff with caring responsibilities, that is due to the uncertainty and variability in how individual managers will treat this situation.
- That the university cannot deal with this situation on a case-by-case basis, but there must be a policy, with case-by-case considerations where that policy specifically does not work.
- that multi-generational households in BAME communities face specific challenges during the COVID pandemic where individuals have care responsibilities for both elderly parents and children
This branch resolves:
- To negotiate with management a new policy for staff with care responsibilities that considers the new challenges brought by COVID-19, especially due to increased likelihood of school and nursery closures and increased need for sick leave. This policy must address practical difficulties of juggling work around childcare in a concrete way.
- That reassurance should be given to workers with care responsibilities to reflect this new exceptional, time-limited situation, especially in the coming winter months.
- The policy should go beyond recognising the generic need for ‘flexibility’ which is already built into academic roles, and that flexible working arrangements cannot simply mean that staff will ‘catch up’ with work at unsociable hours (e.g. the evening or weekend) as a new standard but that objective reduction in working hours must be considered.
- That our UCU representatives should negotiate with management to include the following elements in the future policy on care issues:
- Specific acknowledgement that no detriment will result for staff who are unable to fulfil their contracted hours when the household and children are isolating but have been directed not to get a test (this is aligned to Athena Swan), all staff should be able to re-arrange their working hours or access leave in this circumstance.
- In the best-case that the university supports private avenues of testing for all staff and their family members if they wish to minimise staff stress and facilitate return to normal working. As a minimum the policy should include specific acknowledgement for all staff (regardless of their caring responsibilities) that finding and attending a COVID-19 test is time consuming. This is because local availability is often limited and the availability of tests is unpredictable meaning that a person who needs a test will need to keep checking the website intermittently over a day or two. The rules on taking a test prevent other household members from being tested until they show symptoms. So a parent may need to organise a test for a child and then later for themselves as symptoms develop. Multiple testing within one household is very time consuming.
- Consideration will be made of this disruptive time to productivity similar to how career breaks and part-time work result in pro-rata adjustment to expected productivity/outputs through, for example, specific allowance for special pandemic-related carers leave over and above the statutory allowance.
- The policy should stipulate that ‘flexible working’ to accommodate caring responsibilities should not be accessed to the extent that it prevents the person from being able to have a reasonable amount of rest time within a typical week.
- ‘Flexible working’ to accommodate caring responsibilities should explicitly exclude the assumption that the person can still be reasonably expected to work contracted hours if the only way this could be achieved is by including weekend work. This should be discouraged because it is not sustainable and will result in decreased long-term productivity due to burn-out.