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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.
An update regarding the current state of play in relation to our ongoing engagement with HR and management.
We will be holding another extraordinary meeting of the branch soon to discuss next steps – we will notify members of the time and date soon.
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
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.
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.
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”.
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]