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.

The university does not agree with this position and continues to pursue some face to face teaching on all courses regardless of whether the material is suitable for online delivery or not. We had hoped that given recent developments in the national situation, including the increased R infection rate, new government restrictions, and the Covid-19 testing fiasco, that KU management would invoke an immediate review of this blanket policy and make a move towards a policy that reduces the exposure risk for staff and students. We will continue to press this as the best option and the only one acceptable to KU UCU.

In the university’s own documentation there is a commitment from management to review policies if the national situation changes. The national situation has changed at pace over the last two weeks, but there is no evidence of a review of policy, nor indication that such is forthcoming.

We also raised our concerns about reports of strong arm and coercive tactics aimed at pressurising colleagues into returning to campus when they have stated that they are not confident to do so. Management have again assured us that all concerns should be dealt with in a respectful and understanding manner and that no member should feel coerced into returning to campus. See the latest UCU advice on reporting unsafe work environments.

We urge any colleague who feels dissatisfied or uncomfortable about how their concerns have been received or handled to report this to your local branch committee member or to email kingstonucu@gmail.com

Finally, you are probably aware that UCU negotiators have been involved in weekly meetings with management since the beginning of the lockdown period. Throughout we have raised our concerns relating to many aspects of Health and Safety at work (including working from home). While there have been some successes (e.g. mandatory wearing of face masks, movement towards establishing working from home environments that meet legal responsibilities of the employer) we still have a number of serious and outstanding concerns about the safety of the working environment on campus.  We note that a lot of effort has been invested in providing signage, sanitation, increased cleaning etc. and we welcome these initiatives, but our concerns relating to positive case reporting, testing and tracing have still not been answered sufficiently .

Therefore, regrettably, at this point in time we are not in a position to  recommend to members that KU is providing a Covid secure working environment on campus.

We will continue to work with management on behalf of our members to seek clarity in relation to our concerns and to seek resolution in the areas we find problematic.

KU UCU branch committee.

  • Nick Freestone (Chair)
  • Rosie McNiece (Vice-chair)
  • Fatima Felisberti (H&S)
  • Layla Renshaw (Secretary)
  • Emma O Dwyer (Membership secretary)
  • Willem Spanjers (Treasurer)
  • Maggie Gray
  • Georgia Butler
  • Claudia Uller
  • Lucy Parker

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.

Extraordinary Branch Meeting (Online)

We are arranging an extraordinary meeting of the KU UCU branch to propose a motion relating to the University’s plans regarding face to face teaching this teaching block this Friday 28/08 at 1pm. At this meeting, we will be proposing and voting on the following motion.

This branch notes that Independent Sage have released a Consultation Statement on Universities, urging British universities to pursue online teaching as the ‘default option’ and avoid face-to-face teaching where possible.

We further note their recommendations of regular testing for all students and staff, that masks should be worn in any face-to-face teaching, and that universities should work with students to agree a contract committing everybody to act responsibly on and off campus.

This branch believes that teaching in Teaching Block 1 of the academic year 2020/21 should be online as far as possible, rather than having a 30% minimum face-to-face teaching imposed across the board. We recognise that there are course-specific circumstances where not all teaching can feasibly be done online. Where this is the case (as determined by local Course Teams), face-to-face teaching must be undertaken on a fully voluntary basis with guarantees that those who do not opt to teach face-to-face will not suffer any financial or career detriment. Coercion of individuals by line managers to attempt to force returns to on campus working should be prohibited by the university.

This branch further believes that:

    • Both staff and students should be tested on return to campus, and have regular follow up testing,
    • Masks should be required for any face-to-face classroom teaching,
    • A ‘conduct charter’ should be drawn up in consultation with UKS

Please do join us to discuss this important issue if at all possible. If this motion is passed, we will be able to present it to JNCC and it will need to be considered by management.

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