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.

Today staff report that, at a meeting at Kington Hill yesterday, senior managers paid no heed to concerns raised by staff regarding safety within the workplace. Further, no new safety measures at Kingston Hill were presented, in contrast to St Georges where an up-to-date risk assessment is fully published, staff are offered vaccines and Type II Face Masks are provided for both staff and students. Staff report that senior managers put focus on the ‘student experience’ while paying no attention to the health and welfare of staff.

We appreciate that students may find the current situation unsatisfactory, as do teaching staff and much of the UK population. However, we are all making the best of a difficult situation in trying times. The solution is not to respond by putting our members and colleagues at risk and adding to their stress levels by issuing demands that are inappropriate in a pandemic. In fact, the government are asking people to act as if ‘they had Covid, and that others had Covid’ in order to keep themselves and others safe. The university should be advocating this too by allowing that, where at all possible, teaching should be carried out remotely.

Staff have expressed that they feel their concerns are being dismissed out of hand and that the university is failing in their duty to provide a safe working environment. We note that the only easily accessible risk assessment document available on Staffspace relates to the Townhouse and is dated Sept 2020. This is very clearly unacceptable and a failure of the university’s legal obligation to staff.

Further, senior managers are putting excessive expectations on staff, it is reported leaders in the School of Nursing have expressed an expectation that all staff undertake face-to-face teaching, be a ‘back up teacher’ in case colleagues are off sick or have childcare issues and that all face-to-face teaching lectures be recorded and made available to those students who don’t attend. It was further suggested that face-to-face teaching was no different to going to the supermarket. We find this type of comment highly offensive and reflective of a deplorable attitude towards staff wellbeing which seems to be permeating our senior management layers. It illustrates a clear disregard for the real risks faced by our members, including not only in face-to-face teaching contexts but in commuting to the workplace.  We demand that these comments be publicly retracted along with an apology to staff for the stress they may have caused.

KU UCU branch

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.

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

Extraordinary Branch Meeting (Online)

We are arranging an extraordinary meeting of the KU UCU branch to discuss next steps to take in light of recent developments.

Here are some of the key issues which are still outstanding and which will be discussed:

Please check your inboxes for the Zoom link and remember to ensure that your full name is visible when you join the meeting

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.