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):

Dear JNCC Colleagues,

KU UCU now request an urgent and immediate response to the issue of extending rollover of annual leave.

Since our meeting on Tuesday the situation regarding taking of Annual leave has progressed and we are receiving more updates from members raising serious concerns about disparity in the process across the university. Only yesterday some colleagues were told they must book annual leave by Monday 15th June or lose it. The lack of clarity and miscommunications regarding this issue are causing undue stress and anxiety to our members.  

KU UCU believe that in line with government guidance, the university’s business and the ability of staff to take annual leave has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and that staff have the right to carry up to 4 weeks annual leave to be used within two years. However, we do recognise that this would have implications for university business moving forward and, more importantly, we recognise the need for staff to use annual leave, particularly at this time when some respite from work related fatigue and stress is essential to health and wellbeing.

Therefore KU UCU request that a compromise situation be agreed. We propose that staff be allowed to carry over up to 15 days annual leave (usual 5 plus additional 10 days ) at the end of the current leave year on 31st July 2020, without seeking special permission from their Dean. We would agree that this leave should be used within a limited time period of 24 months or otherwise forfeited.

We believe that this would be well received by a staff body that have worked over and above usual expectations to support students and the university during these most unprecedented times. We also acknowledge that management have identified areas of the university where this might not be possible, as discussed at JNCC on Tuesday, and that those staff will be approached directly. On our part, we will continue to encourage our members to take any remaining annual leave and to use carried over annual leave within the timescales.

Finally, we note with grateful appreciation the announcement of additional closure days over the Christmas period in recognition of staff contributions as announced in the VC’s statement yesterday.

And here is the response from Interim Head of HR Peter Mitchell (12.06.2020):

Dear Rosie,

Thank you for your email, the contents of which are noted, and in particular the positive reaction to the University’s decision to reward all staff for their hard work with additional days of leave over the Winter Break.

I am also pleased that you have acknowledged the importance of ensuring that staff take leave during these unprecedented times in order to protect their mental health and wellbeing and that as a branch you will encourage your members to take their leave, as other UCU branches across the sector are also doing.  As a responsible employer, the University will continue to encourage staff to take leave for these reasons.

In respect of your proposal that we introduce a blanket policy allowing staff to carry-over up to 15 days leave per year and across the next 24 months (in accordance with Government guidelines), I am afraid that the University will not be able to agree to this.

The reasons for this are:

  • Each leave year, UCU members receive an entitlement of 35 days plus 8 bank holidays (43 days in total).  In addition to this, we have just announced that we will provide a further 4 days leave over the Winter Break, which gives a total of 47 days (or nearly 9.5 weeks of paid leave) even allowing for no carry-over of leave at all.  Adding in an additional 15 days of leave would give a total of 62 days (nearly 12.5 weeks) leave for the coming year.  With busy work schedules, we don’t believe that this is reasonable or sustainable as we transition back to on-campus working in support of our students;
  • 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.
  • Not all of our staff receive this amount of leave.  In particular, our support staff below Grade 8 receive 25-30 days of leave dependent upon length of service, so a blanket policy of 15 days of carry-over would mean that they might not take even the statutory minimum amount of leave (20 days) proscribed under the Working Time Regulations, making it practically impossible for them to avail themselves of a full 15 day carry-over;
  • The Government guidelines make it quite clear the intention of the temporary legislation put  in place is to protect both employees in situations where they are genuinely unable to take their statutory leave due to the coronavirus situation from losing that leave and the employers who might otherwise be liable under the Working Time Regulations for not ensuring that the statutory minimum leave is taken.  We believe our policy allows for this protection already and see no reason to change it;
  • Finally, I would draw your attention to the ACAS guidelines related to this, which again make it clear that it is important for staff to take their leave for their own mental health and wellbeing.  These guidelines also make it clear that existing arrangements for carry-over, where they are in place, are unaffected by the new regulations, whilst emphasising the importance of flexibility.

For all of these reasons, given the amount of leave that staff already receive, the inevitable operational and fairness issues that would be caused by a blanket policy of 15 days of carry-over and the need to ensure that leave is taken for wellbeing reasons, we believe that management oversight and scrutiny of leave being planned, booked and taken is both necessary and reasonable. 

Whilst we do of course recognise the difficulty that some staff will have in taking all of their leave, the flexibility contained within our existing arrangements covers all of these issues and we are not proposing to change the policy.

Instead we will continue to encourage managers to be flexible where they can and staff to take leave where they can in order to balance workloads.

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.

Minutes of branch meeting April 21st

Members can find the minutes of the last KU UCU branch meeting here:

Kingston University UCU Branch Meeting via Zoom 21st April 2020

Issues discussed included:

  • Working from Home and Health and Safety at work
  • Personal Boundaries and safeguarding while working from home
  • Support for staff with caring responsibilities whilst working from home
  • Situation for HPLs, fixed term and casualised staff
  • Furlough arrangements
  • Marking deadlines
  • Annual Leave
  • Impact of university closure on REF
  • Support for international and postgraduate students
  • Proposals for TB1 2020/2021

A #CoronaContract motion was passed to call on Kingston University support and protect the jobs of all staff on casual contracts and PhD students.

Please get in touch if you have any updates or feedback on these issues or any other issues that arise.

Wellbeing working from home and casualisation

Here’s a couple of articles members might be interested in:

On wellbeing working from home and why online working can be more tiring and stressful, see ‘The reason Zoom calls drain your energy‘ from BBC Worklife.

On casualisation and Covid-19 being used to target staff on casual and short-term contracts see ‘Covid-19 shows up UK universities’ shameful employment practices‘ by Stefan Collini for the Guardian.

At the recent KU UCU Branch meeting a #CoronaContract motion was passed to call on Kingston University support and protect the jobs of all staff on casual contracts and PhD students.

And the branch committee continues to urge all members to conduct a workstation assessment in view of health and safety considerations under working from home conditions.

Health & Safety update: Home workstation self-assessment

KU UCU branch committee highly recommends that members who are working from home carry out a workstation self-assessment as a matter of urgency.

Your employer has a legal obligation to abide by Health & Safety guidelines while you are working from home. If you feel that you are at risk or have concerns about your working environment you should raise these with your line manager. Please feel free to also alert your Kingston UCU branch officers.  

To help you conduct a self-assessment there are guidelines from the Health and Safety Executive. The university’s current guidance can be found Staffspace along with FAQs about setting up home workstations. There is also an online training module on setting up and assessing your workstation. Staff can request to join this module by emailing safety@kingston.ac.uk

Kingston UCU Covid-19 update (from JNCC meeting March 24)

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

UCU Working from Home Guidance

UCU circulated this very useful guidance on home working and universities’ responsibilities in relation to this. Please do take a read as you may wish to discuss these issues with your line managers: https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/10830/UCU-guidance-on-working-from-home-and-teaching-online/pdf/ucu_workfromhome_guide_mar202.pdf
This guidance is of course informing our discussions with management regarding the transition to home working.
Please just get in touch if we can offer help or advice.

 

Covid-19 Open Letter from Kingston academic staff in support of non-academic colleagues

6.30pm 19 March 2020, the following Open Letter to the Vice Chancellor was sent from the Kingston UCU Branch Committee on behalf of academic staff from across the university, expressing their concern for non-academic colleagues in light to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is still open for signatories (KU academic staff only please).

‘To: Kingston University Vice-Chancellor Steven Spier

18 March 2020

We welcome the suspension of face-to-face teaching this week, as well as the decision to shut KSA workshops, as recognition of the unprecedented scale of the global Covid-19 pandemic and the responsibility Kingston University shares in minimising the spread of the virus through reducing the number of people on campus and enabling working from home.

However, as academic members of staff we are very concerned about the situation of our colleagues in administrative, technical, security, facilities management, cleaning, catering, and library roles who may be currently required to work ‘as usual’ on campus until Sunday 22nd March, with a phased reduction then ‘considered’ only where ‘operationally this can be achieved’.

We strongly believe that there can be no ‘as usual’ approach in this context and asking non-academic staff to continue to work on campus (where stocks of hand sanitiser and wipes are running low and staff are having to bring in their own supplies) constitutes an unacceptable risk for both for staff and the students who may continue to use the library and other face-to-face services. Across the country, universities are closing their buildings to the public to ensure the safety of students, staff and the local community, and we ask you to show similar leadership.

Kingston University has a legal responsibility for the welfare and safety of all staff and students, and should not require staff to place their health at risk in the course of their employment. Section 7 of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, places a duty on every employee to take reasonable care both for their own health and safety and that of other people who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work.  Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 empowers any employee to remove themselves from circumstances of danger.

We ask that the University suspend library services immediately, directing students to online resources instead. We ask that laboratories are shut down in a safe manner with due consideration to all hazards.We ask that clear communication is provided to all staff confirming that suspending work on campus and/or working from home is acceptable and encouraged.

Furthermore, we ask that any staff who decide to stay at home in an effort to safeguard their health and the health of those around them will not be penalised through deductions to pay, or face any threat of disciplinary action for taking actions which they deem responsible and appropriate during a public health crisis. We ask that the University guarantee the income and job security of all workers who are out-sourced and / or on zero-hours contracts, such as Elior catering staff. We ask that the university openly publish these commitments.

We expect these issues to be addressed and action taken promptly.

Signed,

Kingston UCU Branch Committee, and Kingston academic staff’

Kingston UCU continues to request an emergency Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC) meeting between senior management, HR, ourselves and the other recognised trade unions.