(Update 30th April – the university survey closed on 29th April)
Our branch has put together a survey aiming to collect evidence to inform trade union policies and to shape a collective response to the enforced fast move to working online and remotely. We want to find out more about your experiences and concerns, including Health and Safety, work intensification and a sustainable work/life balance, the responses and adjustments by management, the differential impacts on different groups of workers (eg by contractual (in)security, gender, age, care duties, disability, access to equipment) and longer term implications. This survey is for all staff and is being sent out by the three campus trade unions. We would be most grateful if you could fill it in and share it with colleagues as widely as possible. The survey will close on 12th May and we will report on it to the Leeds UCU AGM.
We are aware that the university has recently circulated a (much shorter!) survey about working from home and we would ask members to fill that in as well (there is a free text box at the end where you can give detailed views and we would encourage you to do so). Our survey is intended for a different purpose (to inform unions policies and strengthen our negotiations) and is aimed to capture more in-depth personal experiences of working from home. So please complete both if you possibly can.
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.