On Tuesday 24th March UCU representatives, along with our partner unions, met formally with KU senior management at a Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC) meeting to discuss actions and reactions to the current national Covid-19 emergency.
In the interim between scheduling and the meeting taking place, the situation had moved rapidly nationally and some of the concerns had already been addressed either by KU themselves or by government instruction.
Some of the key areas of concern for our members were:
Staff Pay: salaried staff are still working, albeit in a different environment. Staff will be paid as usual. This was one of the first areas paid attention to by Silver Command.
HPLs and other contracted staff: In response to our query, we were assured that contracts will be honoured and staff will be paid for pre-arranged sessions even if the sessions have not been physically delivered. The university will maintain relationships with their HPL staff for the next academic year.
Research and PhD students: The situation surrounding PhD students is still evolving but is being addressed. The university is working to ensure that PhD students will not be disadvantaged by this break in the time they have to conduct research work. This could be in the form of fee waivers, registration extensions, etc. Where there are issues related to funding these will be addressed on an individual basis – staff and students should contact line managers to discuss and confirm arrangements locally. Arrangements for pending face to face examinations are still being worked out but online or postponement are likely scenarios.
Student Recruitment: There is a moratorium on unconditional offers across the sector as the funding bodies were very unhappy with those institutions who had converted their provisional offers to prospective students to unconditional ones. Our cycle will be delayed, at this time, by just two weeks. No further detail at this time.
Staff on site: All Kingston University buildings should now be closed. The only staff to be physically on site at the university will be IT staff, security and maintenance on an on call basis. The government has insisted that universities provide support for certain categories of students, including vulnerable, overseas, and so some Halls of Residence will remain open, hence some KUSCO and cleaners will continue to work as agreed by line managers. Our UNISON colleagues raised concerns relating to PPE (personal protective equipment) for these staff and we were told that this is in hand and processes of deep cleaning of areas of the university had commenced.
Clinical students who need to work in the current crisis: Royal College of Nursing (RCN) reps raised concern about access to food/ vending machines for student nurses living in university accommodation when they come off shift. Kingston University do not think the provision of food services is viable in the current situation and the advice was for them to get food before returning to campus. There is limited provision of food in vending machines.
HR Procedures, such as disciplinary, grievance etc.: UCU highlighted that many of these procedures include time limited response times, it was agreed that these would probably need to be dealt with on a case by case basis with agreement from all parties involved. We also sought assurance that effectively the clock would be paused for commencing new procedures, so that staff would not be prevented from initiating processes when things return to normal. In essence processes will proceed as normal but with the obvious allowances in not being able to hold face to face meetings within usual timeframes.
Health & Safety when working from home: We raised the issue that some Health & Safety guidance on the impacts of working from home was needed urgently. As it happens UCU national have since launched a very comprehensive guide to working from home which we have asked the university to disseminate on StaffSpace – please do refer to it for advice. There was a tentative suggestion that staff may be able to recoup reasonable expenses incurred from making their home working environment suitable for more long-term use. We will try and find out the scope and limits of any such funding.
Exam marking deadlines: We asked if there was any intention to extend examination marking deadlines given that this will be almost exclusively online and highly time consuming, with obvious Health & Safety implications. While there was no definitive response from management, we were assured that this would be kept under review and would be approached in a reasonable manner. Government guidance for universities is to avoid disruption to students and student outcomes as far as possible and so the plan is to stick as closely as possible to current deadlines but that this will be kept under review.
Workload / capacity expectations: We raised concerns relating to the impact on workload output capacity for staff while working from home for those with families out of school, particularly young children, and those with caring responsibilities. Overall the response was positive and there seemed to be general recognition that outputs will be necessarily reduced for such staff, as will be the case nationally and across all sectors. We asked that some general guidance to go out to line managers to adjust expectations accordingly – or a recognition of this impact in an announcement on StaffSpace.
Role of the union: While Kingston UCU still consider the branch to be in dispute with the university, we feel that at this time our role is to work alongside KU management in achieving the best outcomes for our members and the wider Kingston University community. This is in accordance with UCU national guidance to branches.
We have been assured that any changes in process or procedure wherever possible will be forwarded to the unions for their agreement. We also urge members to contact us if they are experiencing difficulties brought about by this rapid change to working conditions in any aspect of their work.
Keep safe and Keep well
KU UCU Branch Committee