The UCU branch committee sends our thanks and support to schoolteachers in the National Education Union whose refusal to work in dangerous conditions forced the government to move more quickly in moving most school teaching online. Their action has made us all more safe.
The government has left continuing confusion about who should be working and who should be able to send their children to school, and what should happen when people who shouldn’t send their children to school are required to work. As a result, school attendance has been much higher than during the first lockdown meaning that teachers are less safe and the curb on the spread of the virus will be less effective, placing all our communities at further risk.
It is vital that university staff with school-age children can play our part in keeping school attendance low. Therefore, the UCU committee has written to the vice-chancellor and spoken to senior HR managers about the need to reduce workloads and extend the availability of special leave for staff whose role is not critical for the health or wellbeing of students, staff or society. We have impressed upon HR that it is not enough to say, “Do what you can,” or “Work when you can.” We need clear reductions in workloads to off-set the amount of childcare staff members will need to provide in their circumstances, so that those of us with childcare responsibilities are still able to achieve and excel within appropriate workloads.
Senior HR managers have indicated they also think most staff shouldn’t be classed as critical workers for the purposes of being able to send their children to school, because of the community responsibility of reducing the spread of the virus, and are considering UCU’s advice on dealing with workloads.
However, we are deeply concerned that University HR have rejected our request for a blanket extension of special leave provision. They have stated that staff should take special leave as necessary within the extended limit of ten days and if they need more than ten days they should talk to their head of school or service or local HR team and individual circumstances will be considered.
UCU University of Leeds branch joins with other unions in urging everyone to support primary and secondary school staff by not sending children to school if at all possible. We understand that some roles are genuinely critical to the health and wellbeing of students, staff, or society, but wherever possible staff must be supported to care for children at home, without detriment, in order to reduce the spread of the virus. If you have problems with your line manager or head of school or service not reducing your workload to enable you to do that, without working all hours to compensate, contact the UCU branch officers by email email@example.com.