UCU is involved in Leeds Coalition for the Climate, and today’s meeting (5pm Wednesday 3 February) should be really interesting. Come along! https://www.facebook.com/events/1068711736958104
On 18 January over 100 library staff at University of Leeds wrote to the vice chancellor about the decision to keep library study spaces open when the risk from covid-19 is so high. Following a weekend which has seen thousands more students return to Leeds, they have still not had a reply, other than: “Thank you for your email.”
Email to the vice chancellor
Subject: Concerns about keeping study space open in the Libraries
Dear Professor Buitendijk,
The two unions representing Library staff, UCU and Unison, have jointly written a letter to you setting out our concerns about the use of the Libraries as study space during this national lockdown. We believe Library staff are being put at risk by the decision to keep study spaces in the Libraries open, when there are opportunities to provide safer un-staffed study spaces elsewhere on campus or in halls of residence. The decision to keep the Library study spaces open is putting enormous pressure on Library staff and is taking its toll on staff mental health and wellbeing, due to the stress and worry about being infected with the virus while at work.
Over 110 Library staff members have signed this letter, plus 50 other former Library staff and our colleagues from other services and departments.
We ask you to acknowledge our concerns, and to take action to reduce the risk by closing the study spaces in the Library immediately and providing safer spaces elsewhere for students.
You can read the letter at this link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1k5mg5Z1JI2HrF9JuVJQQU6ra-j1-ViUiGEVQ4zQZf74/edit?usp=sharing
UCU Library Rep
Dear Professor Buitendijk
We are writing to ask you to seriously reconsider keeping the Libraries open for study space during this national lockdown.
We know that this is the most dangerous point of the entire pandemic; we know as well that the new variant of the virus spreads more easily between people; and we know that spending prolonged amounts of time indoors with large numbers of people increases your likelihood of infection. Therefore, spending a full morning, afternoon or even a full day inside a library, in a shared space with potentially hundreds of other people, is a risky activity and should be avoided as much as possible. Library staff are being asked to work in these spaces and interact with students on a regular basis, which puts everyone at risk. They aren’t allowed to ask for evidence that a library user has had a recent negative test and they don’t have the power to ask someone to leave the library if they’re not complying with the rules around mask-wearing or distancing. These issues undermine the idea that the library is a “Covid-secure” environment.
The situation as it stands is extremely stressful and upsetting for many members of Library staff. Library staff are being asked to go into a risky situation and put their own health and that of their families and household members at risk. It must be remembered that staff who go to work on campus have to travel there and back, and while some will be able to make use of transport modes such as a car, a bike or walking, some are simply unable to do this and need to travel using trains and/or buses, putting themselves at further risk of exposure. Many of these staff, or their household members, also have personal characteristics that mean they are more at risk of serious illness if they were to be infected.
Although we have raised these concerns several times, the University has not listened or acted. Library front-line workers feel abandoned and dismissed, at a time when support and compassion are so important. There is real concern that by keeping study spaces open, the University is tacitly encouraging some students to leave their homes for non-essential reasons, to mix in shared spaces in great numbers, and to potentially spread the virus to others. We are all worried about the consequences of taking too many risks in this situation – there’s a very real chance that staff, or their household members, could become seriously ill or worse.
To put it plainly, we are concerned that the University is prioritising student access to study space over staff health and welfare. While we acknowledge that not all students will be able to study at home, we believe it should be possible to provide unstaffed study space on campus, which does not require staff to interact with students or to spend prolonged amounts of time in the same space as them, for example in Parkinson Court or in IT clusters.
We acknowledge that Government guidance says that HE institutions should consider keeping study spaces open but we urge the University to take into account the facts: the risk to everyone’s health and safety has never been higher. We ask you to go further than the Government’s advice, and to close the Library study spaces to keep staff safe. Doing so would demonstrate the University’s care and support for the mental and physical health of the people who are at most risk of exposure to the virus.
With sincere best wishes,
Signatures from Library staff
With great sadness I’m writing to inform you of the awful news that Jeremy Toner has died of cancer after a short illness. Jeremy was our first openly-gay local president, then our treasurer; he was one of the activists who transformed Leeds AUT/UCU into a branch that actively fought back against managerialism, marketisation, casualisation and injustice. Above all, Jeremy was a truly kind and considerate person, loved and respected by many and he will be greatly missed.
UCU University of Leeds Branch
We have opened this post for comments in case you wish to leave a message or memory. (There will be a delay before your comment appears.)
Donations in Lieu of flowers to St Gemma’s www.st-gemma.co.uk/in-memory-donation
Recording of Jeremy’s funeral service on 11th February (audio and photograph montage, approx 30 minutes) at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfOHd6PIcQbtHBmIJZEw0Fw
UCU has formally lodged a dispute with University of Leeds over potential redundancies in the Faculty of Biological Sciences and the School of Medicine.
Full text of the dispute letter:
Declaration of dispute
Professor Simone Buitendijk
The University of Leeds
15th January 2021
Dear Professor Buitendijk
Re: Declaration of dispute – Risk of Potential Redundancies in the School of Medicine & Faculty of Biological Sciences
I wrote to you on 7th January registering a failure to agree on the following issue(s):
- Failure to rule out the need for compulsory redundancies.
- Failure to provide full financial transparency and disclosure regarding the need for financial cuts in the School of Medicine and Faculty of Biological Sciences and opportunities to consult about alternative strategies that could protect jobs.
- Failure to provide information about roles/areas that may be in scope of redundancy and the proposals that are being considered for the future work and operation of the two areas.
In order to resolve this failure to Agree, UCU are requesting the following immediate action:
- That the University commits to no compulsory redundancies
- That after the outcomes of the current VLS exercise are communicated no further action is taken by the University during the pandemic thereby allowing for full meaningful and transparent consultation on the finances within the two areas in scope and the University more generally.
- That there is full consultation and negotiation regarding any proposed changes to the two areas in scope.
In that letter I referenced the OCG meeting scheduled for Monday 11th January requesting my attendance and asked that the necessary assurances be provided either before or at the meeting to prevent further escalation. I was not formally invited to the meeting by the University, though of course as you may know, I did attend following receipt of an invitation from UCU local officers. My attendance at the meeting caused quite a commotion with the University side resulting in 15 minutes of unnecessary discussion at the beginning of the meeting. I hope this will not occur in future, given that the Terms of Reference of the Organisational Change Group clearly state that union Regional Officials may attend for items of significance.
The change process underway in the Medical School and Biological Sciences was the subject of discussion in the second part of the meeting and information was provided on the outcome of the VLS and an outline time line relating to next steps. Representatives from the University did attempt to placate the recognised trade unions by saying that full consultation and consideration will occur in the future but unfortunately there remains no commitment to no compulsory redundancies and no explicit offer in regards to sharing information relating to finances or plans related to the effect of 20 VLS applications which have been supported.
We are still none the wiser as to the savings targets being considered or proposed, the particular staff groups that are in scope and to what extent the savings created by 20 voluntary leavers will provide for the ongoing job security of the remaining workforce. Given that leavers have been selected by business need and that some staff have been turned down it would seem to UCU that the recent VLS was a targeted scheme with particular roles in scope and to argue otherwise is nothing more than a smokescreen. This brings into question as to whether the process the University is following is lawful as prescribed under S188 of TULRCA. I understand that the recognised trade unions have repeatedly called for more information and transparency and to date this has not been provided and yet targeted staff reductions are going ahead. UCU do not accept that managers are not contemplating compulsory redundancies or have in train a plan for delivering savings.
I am also mindful that the university has made no attempt to contact me directly regarding the failure to agree with a view to setting up a series of meetings with myself and local UCU officers to avoid escalation. This would certainly be my expectation in situations such as this.
It is therefore with regret that I am writing to formally register a dispute with you on the issue(s) listed above.
UCU reserves its right to now progress this matter but the institution is aware of the action needed to resolve this issue and we remain open to meaningful negotiations.
This dispute will continue until such time as all the above issues, and any issues related to any potential future industrial action called for by the union in support of the dispute, have been resolved to UCU’s satisfaction.
Julie Kelley – Regional Official Yorkshire and Humberside
cc: Ben Plumpton, Chloe Wallace, Tim Goodall – Leeds University UCU Branch Officers
Please sign and share this petition link with your contacts in Leeds and beyond. Anyone can sign – universities are for the whole community.
University of Leeds senior management are insisting on reducing staff to cut costs in the School of Medicine and the Faculty of Biological Sciences, and they refuse to rule out compulsory redundancies.
UCU reps have argued the widespread belief that the university’s opaque funding allocation model under-funds many STEM* subjects which are more expensive to research and teach, and called upon the senior management to be more open about the funding model and improve its approach, to properly fund all subjects instead of cutting jobs.
Update: UCU has sent a formal letter to the VC to register a dispute with the university. You can read the full text of the letter here.
(*Science, technology, engineering and mathematics)