Why Kingston students should support striking staff

A message from Nicola Field
Kingston UCU Postgraduate Student Representative

Strike action is a last resort. We can all see that teaching staff have been pushed to breaking point by unsafe workloads, inequality, insecure contracts, and shrinking pay. It is in the gift of university Vice Chancellors to address these issues and end this strike. But so far they’ve been intransigent, they won’t negotiate with our branch representatives but instead gaslight them over these issues. So lecturers are being forced to ramp up the pressure to make themselves heard, with more days of strike action.

Students have a right to be angry about this disruption and to demand money back. That anger needs to be directed at those responsible – the employers who have pushed things to this, who seemingly don’t care that staff are sick with stress, struggling to get by, and treated unequally – and who won’t commit to meaningful action to address this situation.

Staff and students are on the same side. Like the NUS, UCU members want students to receive a high quality, inclusive, empowering education. If the staff who teach and support them are overworked to the point of burnout, on temporary insecure contracts, underpaid and treated in a discriminatory way, then students are being let down and deserve better. Student support for UCU industrial action so far has been fantastic – visiting their picket lines, joining teach outs, making posters and placards, discussing what our vision for fair and equal education looks like.

Staff are striking this time on February 21, 22, 28 and March 1 & 2.

March 2 will also be the day of the NUS Student Strike for Education, when we will all strike together to demand fully-funded, accessible, lifelong, democratic education for all.

Students’ voices and the students’ union are often listened to much more than staff and staff unions. If we unite and stand together, we can make a better university and better higher education system.

See you on the picket lines!
You will be very welcome to help us make banners and posters – and eat our cakes!

Solidarity to all Kingston staff and students.

Return to campus: KU UCU Open Letter on face coverings

Kingston UCU sent an open letter to the Vice Chancellor and senior management on 16th September regarding face coverings. The letter was signed by 200 members of staff expressing their deep concern over Kingston University’s change of policy on face coverings to a position of ‘encouraging’ rather than mandating their use in enclosed teaching spaces, labs and workshops on campus, in light of increased rates of community transmission and the dominance of the Delta variant.

However, the interim University registrar has responded to say that ‘the current Covid-19 regulations and government guidance for HE settings mean that we are unable to mandate face coverings on our campuses. The guidance makes it clear that face coverings and social distancing are no longer advised for staff, students and visitors in communal spaces or teaching rooms and that we cannot refuse education to students who choose not to wear a face covering’.

Yet the government guidelines continue ‘The government has removed the requirement to wear face coverings in law but expects and recommends that they are worn in enclosed and crowded spaces where people may come into contact with people they don’t normally meet‘ which would seem to perfectly describe crowded lecture theatres. The guidance on face coverings, updated 17 September 2021, says ‘Businesses, including transport operators, can also ask their employees and customers to wear face coverings.’ As of 18th September in 20 other UK universities face coverings have been made mandatory in all teaching spaces. In London masks are mandated at LSE, Royal Holloway, Roehampton and Birkbeck. Kingston could choose to prioritise the health and safety of its staff, students and local community.

Members should continue to Contact Us about health and safety concerns including mask wearing, ventilation and cleaning, individual and general risk assessments, and make use of national UCU guidance on Coronavirus

Mental Health Awareness

Mental health is a critical issue for university students and staff and an existing crisis exacerbated by the Coronavirus pandemic. It is a health and safety issue – employers should take preventative steps to guard against any long-term negative health implications of employment including stress.

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KU UCU call for immediate halt to unnecessary face-to-face teaching in Faculty of HSCE

This letter was sent by Kingston UCU on 27th January to David Mackintosh (chair of JNCC) and Andy Kent (Dean of HSCE) in response to shocking treatment of staff in the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education:

Dear David and Andy,

We are writing to you as JNCC Chair and Dean of the Faculty of HSCE demanding that you take immediate action to protect the health and wellbeing of our colleagues in the faculty of HSCE. We have received alarming reports from colleagues who feel that senior managers are putting undue pressure on staff to return to face-to-face teaching, this despite current government advice and staff presenting very legitimate concerns about their own health and that of vulnerable members of their close families.

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Blatant dereliction of civic responsibilities and duty of care to KU staff, students and the wider community.  

KU UCU are dismayed at the latest notification from the Vice Chancellor communicating the message that it is “business as usual” at KU, despite the dramatic deterioration in the national situation.

The university management seem to take no account of the fact that we are in a national lockdown, and most concerningly seem to have no appreciation of the real issues and practicalities that affect staff and students travelling to the university for on campus teaching.

To be clear, KU UCU view management’s failure to react appropriately to the lockdown (i.e. moving all teaching online where possible) as a blatant dereliction of their civic responsibilities and their duty of care to KU staff, students and the wider community.

We are also fully aware that the new government advice includes the recommendation that “universities and adult education settings should consider moving to increased levels of online learning where possible“.

Attached here is an update from the branch committee, the document detailing health and safety failures are KU and management’s disappointing response.

KU UCU Branch Newsletter October 2020

Kingston University Health & Safety failures

Vote of No Confidence Management response 26102020 v3

KU UCU Branch Committee

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.

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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.