KU UCU vote of no confidence in university response to Covid-19

At the emergency meeting of the KU UCU branch last week, the branch passed a unanimous vote of no confidence in the ability of the Vice-Chancellor and Gold and Silver Command teams to provide staff with safe physical working conditions. This was a necessary outcome of the various unresolved concerns which your branch committee has, e.g. in relation to testing and tracing, lack of consultation etc. 
 
Your branch was ahead of UCU national, SAGE, and Independent SAGE in demanding for online teaching to be the default at Kingston University. Given the fact that London is shortly to move to Tier 2 restrictions due to increased transmission rates, this demand still seems the only reasonable and responsible position to take. 

Further update from branch committee

Dear colleagues

Thank you for the many communications from members this week and for sharing your concerns and experiences of the Covid-19 procedures at KU. We are noting and collating all of them and they are feeding into our discussions with management. We are extremely concerned in relation to reports of positive Covid 19 diagnoses not having been dealt with urgently nor any visible protocol followed.

Having, at last, seen the university’s outbreak management plan (1/10/20) we find it fails in many areas and is not fit for purpose. There are still too many vague statements and it lacks real detail of the protocols to be followed in the event of alerts of one or more positive diagnoses.

Additionally, reports from colleagues suggest that even this inadequate plan is not being followed with any rigour. In one case there was still no contact from KU Alert one week after notification of a positive diagnosis on campus. We say this is not acceptable and puts our members, other staff and students at risk.

On Friday your branch representatives wrote to management urgently requesting responses to precise questions about how the Alert system works and what actions are triggered by an alert including,

  • Is our alert system working?
  • Is anyone tracking the movements of infected individuals across the university?
  • Is anyone attempting to trace and risk assess individuals in close contact with infected individuals?

We have not yet received a precise reply and the staff communication issued on Monday 4th October does not inspire confidence that an effective system is in place.  Further, the current Coronavirus information available under the green banner on Staffspace directs the user to a powerpoint presentation labelled “latest” and dated 5/10/2020.  This presentation includes embedded links to :

  • A Health and Safety Plan dated 9th July 2020, v1.4
  • A Health and Safety Assessment for which the link does not work
  • A COVID-19 Declaration dated 14th July

We say this is evidence that the university is failing to take adequate measures to protect staff and students and provide a safe, working environment as legally required by Health and Safety at Work Act.

Best wishes,
KU UCU Branch Committee

Emergency Update from KU UCU Branch Committee

Your Branch Committee continues to work actively on your behalf. Over the weekend we have been busy providing support and advice as usual to concerned colleagues. This is in stark contrast to management who have not seen fit to respond to direct questions asked by members of the Branch and other colleagues about the responsiveness of the university’s alert system (alert@kingston.ac.uk) and the effectiveness of the “track and trace” process consequent to any reports of positive COVID-19 infections amongst our community. We require an immediate, urgent and comprehensive response to our questions to assure us that the university has our best interests and wellbeing at heart.

Management has consistently disregarded the views of your elected union representatives, if they have bothered to respond at all. For instance, apart from rejecting the KU UCU Branch motion to move to online teaching wherever practicable they have also ignored other eminently sensible suggestions, largely based around financial arguments. It is obvious then that KU management prioritise financial considerations over student and staff wellbeing.

Branch Committee members suggested, around SIX months ago, that the first year student intake should be delayed until the New Year. This would have enabled staff to provide a safer and better student experience, after gaining much needed experience of the online and socially distanced teaching environment with returning second and third years first. Many expert commentators have subsequently made the same suggestion.

Since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, at the end of March until the present date, the Vice Chancellor has not seen fit to meet directly with your elected union representatives. Even before the pandemic the Vice Chancellor was not fulfilling his obligations in meeting with your elected representatives once per semester as stipulated in our Trade Union Recognition Agreement (extract below). We have not spoken to the Vice Chancellor directly in over two years in this official forum. It is clear then that the Vice Chancellor holds your union in contempt and this atmosphere has unfortunately permeated all dealings your union has with university management and HR.  The relevant section of our Trade Union Recognition Agreement is below:

Vice Chancellor Meetings  

Semi-formal in nature, these will be held each semester and are designed to facilitate the development of high-level relationships between the VC and senior union officials, while addressing strategic issues affecting the whole of the business; and ensure a forum to discuss workplace issues of strategic concern. 

These will provide a regular forum for the exchange of ideas, opinions and information and encourage and promote a constructive relationship between the University and the unions through effective communication. 

While our invisible Vice Chancellor may abrogate his responsibilities please be assured that your Branch Committee continue to work tirelessly on your behalf. We urge members then to engage, resist and mobilise.

YOUR participation makes our union strong!

Join our Extraordinary Branch meeting later this week – details to follow shortly.

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.

Continue reading

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.
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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!).
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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.
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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.
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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:
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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.
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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.