Latest Communications from KU UCU to Senior Leadership

This was sent today (21st September) from the Kingston UCU branch committee to the Senior Leadership Team, through the official channel of the Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC):

Dear JNCC colleagues,

KU UCU fervently request that Senior management adopt an immediate change of policy on face to face teaching in TB1.

Prompted by the rapidly changing Covid 19 national situation and particularly the dramatic increases in cases in our city, we request that all teaching be moved online except where face to face teaching is essential on pedagogic grounds.

The university has stated a commitment to review policies if the national situation changes. That time is now!

Further, KU UCU are not satisfied that campuses provide a safe working environment for our staff and students. Despite repeated requests we still have not had satisfactory clarity in relation to many H&S issues, particularly reporting of positive cases, and subsequent testing and tracing. We cannot recommend that our members return to a less than safe working environment. It also looks likely that the London Mayor will call for working from home and essential only use of public transport in the next few days. We believe that asking staff and students to travel and work/ learn on campus at this time puts them at unnecessary risk, particularly when online delivery is a viable and safer alternative.

We are also concerned about reports of strong arm and coercive tactics aimed at pressuring colleagues into returning to campus. We are logging these and will raise with management.

KU UCU branch committee

Update on KU UCU position on return to campus

As promised an update on our current position (as of 17 September 2020):

Firstly, thank you for all your input and communications regarding concerns and experiences related to returning to campus. We have collated, and presented an outline summary of these to management.

KU UCU are holding firm in the opinion that all teaching, in TB1 at least, should be online except in situations where face to face teaching is essential on pedagogic grounds such as laboratory or studio sessions. This concurs with the current advice from UCU national.

The university does not agree with this position and continues to pursue some face to face teaching on all courses regardless of whether the material is suitable for online delivery or not. We had hoped that given recent developments in the national situation, including the increased R infection rate, new government restrictions, and the Covid-19 testing fiasco, that KU management would invoke an immediate review of this blanket policy and make a move towards a policy that reduces the exposure risk for staff and students. We will continue to press this as the best option and the only one acceptable to KU UCU.

In the university’s own documentation there is a commitment from management to review policies if the national situation changes. The national situation has changed at pace over the last two weeks, but there is no evidence of a review of policy, nor indication that such is forthcoming.

We also raised our concerns about reports of strong arm and coercive tactics aimed at pressurising colleagues into returning to campus when they have stated that they are not confident to do so. Management have again assured us that all concerns should be dealt with in a respectful and understanding manner and that no member should feel coerced into returning to campus. See the latest UCU advice on reporting unsafe work environments.

We urge any colleague who feels dissatisfied or uncomfortable about how their concerns have been received or handled to report this to your local branch committee member or to email kingstonucu@gmail.com

Finally, you are probably aware that UCU negotiators have been involved in weekly meetings with management since the beginning of the lockdown period. Throughout we have raised our concerns relating to many aspects of Health and Safety at work (including working from home). While there have been some successes (e.g. mandatory wearing of face masks, movement towards establishing working from home environments that meet legal responsibilities of the employer) we still have a number of serious and outstanding concerns about the safety of the working environment on campus.  We note that a lot of effort has been invested in providing signage, sanitation, increased cleaning etc. and we welcome these initiatives, but our concerns relating to positive case reporting, testing and tracing have still not been answered sufficiently .

Therefore, regrettably, at this point in time we are not in a position to  recommend to members that KU is providing a Covid secure working environment on campus.

We will continue to work with management on behalf of our members to seek clarity in relation to our concerns and to seek resolution in the areas we find problematic.

KU UCU branch committee.

  • Nick Freestone (Chair)
  • Rosie McNiece (Vice-chair)
  • Fatima Felisberti (H&S)
  • Layla Renshaw (Secretary)
  • Emma O Dwyer (Membership secretary)
  • Willem Spanjers (Treasurer)
  • Maggie Gray
  • Georgia Butler
  • Claudia Uller
  • Lucy Parker

Management response to our motion for online as default

This is the two weeks in the making management response to our demand for online teaching as the default: Response letter to UCU Branch motions AJK 150920 DM

We will send further updates, but this clearly falls short of our, and the national UCU, position on safe return to campus.

Kingston UCU members vote unanimously that teaching should be online, and any return to campus working should be voluntary and opt-in

Thank you to everyone who attended today’s extraordinary meeting of the KU UCU branch – it felt incredibly positive and productive despite the fairly grim circumstances. This is the final version of the motion which was passed unanimously by the branch below. Our top level demand is that online teaching should be the default option for all courses.
.
The next steps are that this motion will be submitted for discussion at JNCC, which is the official forum in which management and UCU discussions take place. We are not optimistic about this being received positively so we will be discussing taking further action as a union after this (suggestions welcome!).
.
We are all now being invited to participate in campus re-induction events, after which we are being asked to state whether we feel confident about returning on campus. As this is being taken as a proxy for confidence with delivering face-to-face teaching, we are advising all members irrespective of whether they are in a vulnerable category or have caring responsibilities for or live with someone in a vulnerable category to respond no they are not confident about returning on campus. Line managers should then initiate a conversation with you – do not initiate it yourself.
.
Thanks again for your support. We will be in touch again as soon as we have further updates.

Update from Health & Safety Rep

The latest news from our Health & Safety Rep, Fatima Felisberti:

Overview of Lockdown (local or otherwise) 

Kingston University H&S team is devising plans and considering closing buildings (or parts of them) in response to any new Covid-19 cases. In the event of a general London lockdown, I was told that:

the university will need to follow stipulations from Government and would move to having as many people working at home as possible and would aim to provide as much teaching online as possible. This would be the case for any other type of lockdown, local or specific to KU”.

Vulnerable staff
We were told at the Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC) meetings that vulnerable staff would not be forced to be on campus for face-to-face meetings, but the staff in that group would have to talk to ther line manager in advance and arrange for alternative options. I have asked about how to address any eventual disagreements, but nobody replied to my question yet.
.

The Covid-19 Secure Risk Assessment and Re-Opening Health & Safety Plan have been published on StaffSpace:https://kingstonuniversity.sharepoint.com/sites/staffspace/planning-for-the-new-academic-year/accessing-our-buildings-safely/Pages/default.aspx – links at bottom of the page. [NB. these are not the most up-to-date versions of these documents]


Further details about possible lockdowns, track and tracing plans, and cleaning:

Results of June Health & Safety Survey

Thank you to those members who recently completed our survey on experiences of working from home and health and safety issues.
The full report is available here – please do take a read:
.
.
The report really demonstrates the wide range of issues which staff are managing while working from home, some of which are having clear impacts on their well-being. It also indicates the widespread dissatisfaction there is with the University’s response to health and safety issues and the way it has communicated with staff, and further indicates significant concerns around the proposed model for campus reopening which proposes to allow for 30% face-to-face teaching.
.
Thank you again for giving your views on these difficult issues with us. We will share this report with management (all individual responses are unidentifiable) and continue to raise these issues in our ongoing discussions regarding health and safety and campus reopening.

Annual Leave – disappointing intransigence from management

Kingston UCU branch have been pushing for an enhanced carry over of annual leave days in light of the Covid-19 crisis, as has been implemented in several other universities. We have requested it be possible this year to carry over up to 15 days (the usual 5, plus 10 additional days).

We are also aware of experiences in several Schools and Departments of staff being pressurised to use up all their annual leave even if they didn’t want to, and that, instead of being approved by line mangers, the usual up to 5 days rollover would have be signed off by Deans. This has meant serious disparities and muddled communications across the university.

Our request for additional carry over has been rebutted by senior management, but in doing so they have stated that: ‘We have an existing, agreed leave policy that allows considerable flexibility.  You have referenced “the usual” five day carry over and there is flexibility for more days leave than this to be carried-over subject to approval by the relevant Dean/Director of Professional Services.’

We therefore encourage staff to request the carry over that they need, making their case according to their circumstances, and to report back to us when and where this is denied.

Below you can read in full the email message from our Vice-Chair Rosie McNiece to the JNCC (Joint Negotiating and Consultatative Committee) members (11.06.2020):

Continue reading

Black Lives Matter

We would like to support and reiterate this statement from UCU in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the protests against the murder of George Floyd and racism in the US and here in the UK and around the world: UCU Standing Proudly Against Racism

We are aware that as a branch that we need to better support BAME staff and students and fight against institutional racism in our university and HE more broadly. Kingston University needs to offer much more than bland platitudes about diversity and we support the demands of Union of Kingston Students that the university take an unequivocal stand in support of black students and staff and Black Lives Matter.

We welcome members to share ideas on what we as a branch can do (see Get Involved) – in particular we are looking for additional members to join the branch committee as Equalities Reps – to help represent BAME, migrant, LGBTQ+, women, and disabled staff (training and allocated work hours are available). Please get in touch if you are interested.

And please get in touch with local reps if you have issues to raise about racism in our workplace or ideas to share about anti-racist activism the branch could support or get involved in.

Kingston UCU branch committee

Protecting HE Jobs from the impact of Covid-19

We encourage all members to read the new UCU document ‘Protecting jobs in HE from the impact of Covid-19‘ (intended to be read in conjunction with a recent report on ‘Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on university finances‘ published for UCU by London Economics).

As a branch we need to be ready to defend members’ jobs, and to deal with management proposals for addressing the impact of the current crisis, particularly if that includes staff redundancies, including those on fixed term or other ‘casual’ contracts, or any other reductions in staff costs.

As the report says, ‘we should not let employers use the crisis to make job cuts or target our most vulnerable members‘.

Now more than ever is the time to have conversations with colleagues in your department or team about joining the union, and for members to get more involved in Kingston UCU branch activity.