Eastern & Home Counties UCU Rotating Header Image

Uncategorised

Latest Government Support Package fails to put students and staff at the centre of recovery plans, says UCU

27 June 2020

Commenting on the government’s university research support package, UCU said that while any new money was welcome, the government needed to do much more to safeguard the entire university sector, and protect students and staff.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘This latest announcement from the government fails to put students and staff at the centre of its recovery plans. While there is some new money in the form of a grant to research-intensive universities, the rest of the package consists of loans and repackaged existing spending commitments.

‘The proposals barely mention students other than to make clear that universities who focus most on teaching will receive little of the new money now available. The failure to properly support the sector means that casual staff and those from BAME backgrounds will suffer the most as universities lose academic capacity and seek to get rid of staff. This is an insult to staff who responded so impressively keeping institutions open and students learning.

‘We desperately need a package that prioritises the needs of students and staff across our diverse higher education sector and guarantees all universities’ survival. This is why we are calling on the government to properly underwrite the sector and fund the future. Universities are a crucial part of the economic and social fabric of the UK and they must all be given the support they need to ensure they can be central to our recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.’

More on UCU’s Fund The Future campaign can be found here.

poll of prospective students released earlier this month revealed that almost a quarter (23%) feared that the university they wanted to study at this year could go bust because of the Covid-19 crisis. Half (49%) feared that damage caused by funding cuts because of the pandemic would negatively impact on their education and over two-thirds (71%) backed a delay to the start of term.

UCU Launches Fund the Future Campaign to Secure Universities and Colleges

12 June 2020

UCU launches campaign with message to prime minister that universities and colleges desperately need a clear and coherent plan from government if the UK is to avoid losing educational capacity at a time when it will be needed most

In a letter to Boris Johnson to launch the union’s ‘Fund the Future’ campaign, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said the government’s limited actions so far had failed to meet the challenges further and higher education face.

The union said the government needed to provide financial guarantees to stop thousands of teachers, researchers and professional support staff losing their jobs at a time when education would be needed to drive the recovery from the pandemic.

As well as writing to the Prime Minister, the union is urging its members and the public to use the new campaign website to contact their local MP to make the case for more funding and support. UCU has also launched a new campaign video today and the union’s general secretary Jo Grady is hosting a live Facebook Q&A event at 1pm.

A report for UCU by London Economics in April warned that universities faced a £2.5bn funding black hole due to lost income from student tuition fees and teaching grants. The report warned that, without government intervention, the country faced a total shortfall of £6bn from the reduced economic activity generated by universities with 60,000 jobs at risk.

A poll released last week showed that students shared the union’s concerns about what the impact of Covid-19 might mean for universities and education. Almost a quarter (23%) of the prospective students polled were worried their university might go bust as a result of the crisis and half (49%) feared their education would suffer as a result of cuts linked to Covid-19.

Further education colleges in England warned last month that over £2 billion of their income for the next academic year was uncertain, and they were worried they would not have the resources and capacity needed to support students.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Universities and colleges are a crucial part of the economic and social fabric of the UK and should be central to our recovery from the damage done by the Covid-19 crisis. The government’s limited actions so far have not come close to meeting the challenges further and higher education face.

‘Universities have already started cutting jobs and will keep trying to do so as the uncertainty persists, with huge repercussions for industrial relations and local economies that depend on higher education.

‘We now desperately need a clear and coherent plan from the government that guarantees funding and jobs to protect our academic capacity. The country cannot afford to push tens of thousands of teachers, researchers, and education professionals into unemployment at a time when we will need education to be a key driver of recovery.

‘Our “Fund the Future” campaign will demonstrate the importance of education and make the case for investment in our colleges and universities to politicians across the political divide. We have to ensure that education is given the support it needs to lead our recovery from this crisis.’

Covid-19 Hazards and Controls

Considerations for ongoing scrutiny and implementation of risk assessments in FE This document aims to list some of the potential hazards related to Covid-19 transmission in the workplace and some potential control measures that should be considered for further education colleges during any phased reopening of on-site work. Control measures should follow a hierarchy of control that first seeks to eliminate a hazard and where this is not possible, control the hazard to as low a level as is reasonably practicable. Who can be harmed and how A risk assessment should consider all those who could be affected including employees, contractors, and students, members of the public, and anyone who could be harmed by their business activities. When considering who should return to the workplace and when, certain groups of staff at greater risk will need specific considerations and specific control measures implemented. For instance, current data shows that there is disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on older people, pregnant women, people with underling health conditions, BAME people, and men. This includes a greater risk of contracting Covid-19 and/or greater risk of severe illness or death. Other groups of staff to consider in the risk assessment include: women of childbearing age, temporary workers, migrant workers, transient workers, disabled people, young people, newly recruited and inexperienced workers, lone workers, home workers and contractors. Employers risk assessments, safe systems of work, information and guidance should be easy to follow. Employers should ensure workers understand what hazards and risks they face and the measures in place to control these risks, including any emergency procedures. Everyone should be clear on what they need to do and this will require adequate health and safety training that is relevant and effective. Appropriate levels of supervision should also be in place to ensure safe systems of work are implemented and effective. The table below lists the potential hazards and controls for further education. The list is not exhaustive and you will need to identify hazards and controls specific to your organisation and the people working there. 2 www.ucu.org.uk Hazards and hazardous activities Potential controls Transmission of Covid-19 via airborne particles, infected surfaces and waste Group teaching on site/faceto face Homeworking to continue Teaching and assessment delivered online Minimise on-site working requirements Ensure administrative tasks are undertaken from home should be (lesson planning, marking and assessment, meetings) Reduce need for face to face contact while Covid-19 remains widespread and uncontrolled in the community Implement new ways of working to reduce the number of activities and people needed to engage in on site work. E.g. alternative curriculum, teaching methods and assessments. Invest in IT and equipment to allow for effective remote working Reduce numbers of people onsite at any one time – staggered start times, staggered breaks etc Reconfigure office or classroom spaces to ensure social distancing of 2 metres minimum and ensure staff or students are sitting side to side, or back to back, avoiding face-to-face set ups. Use of screens or dividers to separate areas using a physical barrier. Increase ventilation to ensure airborne particles are dispersed. Consider use of air purifiers and other ventilation systems following expert advice where this is identified as a necessary control. Open windows to increase air flow in shared spaces. Ensure appropriate spaces are used for teaching that are well ventilated, avoiding enclosed spaces and recirculated air. 3 www.ucu.org.uk Reduce social mixing – identify safe routes through buildings, corridors and rooms and safe use of any shared facilities or communal areas. Rotas and cohorting of staff and students to reduce risk of virus transmission. Ensure social distancing of 2 metres minimum for all on site work. Change work systems to reduce contact with other people as much as possible Reduce usage of shared equipment – assign own equipment or restrict access Surgical masks – for areas where groups of more than 2 will gather Use of PPE – FFP3 /2 masks, gloves, aprons and coveralls, face masks (safe system of work where required to ensure safe usage and disposal) 1:1 meetings with staff or students Conduct meetings online or via teleconferencing. Consider alternatives and interim arrangements. Reduce number and frequency of 1:1 meetings. Ensure social distancing of 2 metres and avoid use of enclosed spaces with poor ventilation for meetings. On-site meetings Conduct meetings online or via teleconferencing. Review processes to reduce need for on site or face to face meetings. Ensure social distancing in place for any meetings. Reduced numbers attending meetings to low levels and avoid enclosed spaces with poor ventilation for meetings. 4 www.ucu.org.uk Communal and shared areas n break rooms n canteens n social spaces n toilets and other welfare facilities Close non-essential communal and shared areas. Reduce numbers of people who need to access communal or shared areas. Physical partitions, screens or dividers in shared areas to reduce social mixing across individuals or groups. Packed lunches provided or brought in to avoid or reduce any social mixing. Minimise social mixing – restrict access to communal areas to specific groups or cohorts of staff and students. Introduce rotas, staggered times for breaks, schedule work activities before or after lunch breaks to allow people to eat lunch from home where possible. One-in-one out system for small, enclosed spaces and spaces with poor ventilation eg toilets and welfare facilities Ensure there are sufficient toilets and welfare facilities for all those on site at any one time, taking into account safe systems of work. Activities and lessons scheduled to avoid crossing over lunch times so staff and students can eat at home before or after classes. Social distancing clearly communicated with appropriate levels of supervision, instruction and signage for all entry and exit points. Associated safe system of work. Ensure emergency arrangements (e.g. Fire and first aid) are in place for those on site and safe systems of work, emergency procedures and procedures for serious and imminent danger. Bottlenecks into buildings, corridors, stairwells, lifts, classrooms and offices Avoid routes that are likely to create bottlenecks or queues into buildings, classrooms. Identify different entry and exit point for different cohorts of staff and students. Identify one-way entry and exit points with staggered start and find times to avoid queuing. 5 www.ucu.org.uk Queuing arrangements in place for entry and exit points to buildings and rooms with appropriate supervision, signage, information and instruction to ensure compliance – safe system of work. Restrict numbers entering buildings, classrooms or offices at the same times (e.g. rotas, staggered start and finish times). Restrict access to areas where 2 metres distance will be difficult to implement or maintain. Restrict access to areas where people may gather or congregate. Transmission of Covid-19 via infected surfaces (desks, doors, equipment, fixtures and fittings, perishables) Cleaning regime and personal hygiene Homeworking to avoid contact with infected surfaces or objects. Reduce time spent on site. Reduce contact with infected surfaces. Reduce number of touchpoints by reorganising the workplace to ensure touch free movement or activities e.g. fixed opening of non-fire doors, fire doors held open using mag-locks or equivalent engineering control. Reduce usage of shared equipment. Restrict access to shared equipment e.g. printers. Avoid taking infected equipment or documentation home (e.g. initial studies find Covid-19 can last between 3 hours and 4 days on paper at room temperature). Implement alternative assessment methods e.g. online or telephone assessment, self-assessment documentation. Enhanced cleaning regime (cleaning after every group activity, class, lecture) with associated safe system of work. Implementation of regime closely monitored and documented with associated safe system of work. Deep cleaning before reopening of buildings and after any suspected case of Covid-19 following safe system of work. 6 www.ucu.org.uk Enhanced and more frequent cleaning of touchpoints in buildings, classrooms, corridors, stairwells, lifts etc. Clean equipment before and after usage and between users. Restrict access to areas that have not been cleaned or have no infection control measures in place. Follow safe system to decontaminate any items that may contain viable virus e.g. paper based assessments. Wash hands before and after using equipment, before and after entering rooms and before and after each activity. Use hand sanitiser that can kill virus (e.g. minimum 60% alcohol) when handwashing facilities. unavailable. Ensure adequate provision of hand sanitiser, soap, paper towels, and lidded, pedal push bins at key points across the workplace. Use of PPE – gloves, aprons, RPE, face masks. Infected waste Infected waste (tissues, paper towels) to be disposed of in lidded pedal push bins were possible. Hand dryers in bathrooms turned off and provision of lidded pedal operated bins in toilets. Arrangements in place for regular collection and disposal of hazardous waste with safe systems of work. Waste double bagged, labelled and disposed of as clinical waste. Safe procedure for storage, use and disposal of cleaning materials and PPE. Travel to work Homeworking to avoid travel to workplace. Covid-19 travel to work policy. Avoid all non-essential travel – consider remote options first. 7 www.ucu.org.uk Avoid use of public transport. Promote and support alternative travel arrangements. Travel to work in cars alone (unless travelling to work with other members of your household). Travel to work on bike. Walk to work. Increase car parking availability and bike storage facilities. Increase access to showers and changing facilities on site. Suggest safe systems for use of car or public transport and provide information on safe systems to decontaminate clothing either at work or at home. Covid-19 travel to work policy. If using public transport, use PPE, face masks, hand-gel, and follow safe systems including changing and cleaning contaminated clothing. On site staffing levels – absences due to COVID related illness, requirement to selfisolate, and caring responsibilities. Reduce social mixing and reduce unnecessary contact by cohorting of staff and students into fixed teams or partnering. This will also reduce impact of any confirmed or suspected cases and reduce number of those required to self-isolate for 14 days. Increase access to testing and encourage use of any track, trace and isolate technology to reduce impact of any outbreaks. Workforce plan to consider safe staffing levels during any phased return. Minimum staffing levels considered for key roles to ensure safe operation of the workplace (e.g. cleaners, fire wardens, security staff, and those implementing control measures. Procedure in place for staff to remove themselves from any serious and imminent danger from Covid-19. 8 www.ucu.org.uk Emergency procedures in place for phased return to onsite work with arrangements to mitigate any risks associated with absences of key duty holders or staff e.g. fire wardens and first aiders. Lone person working procedure for phased return and safe systems of work. Roles that may involve less than 2m social distancing e.g. First aider role, personal care duties, working with student with emotional and behavioural difficulties Reduce numbers on site. Reduce time spent on site. Reduce time spent together where social distancing cannot be maintained. Cohort staff and students into smaller groups. Safe systems of work in place for specific roles or activities. Use appropriate PPE – RPE, gloves, aprons or coveralls, face masks. Safety culture and behaviour of staff and students Take actions that will increase motivation to follow safe systems of work such as additional training, inductions, safety checks, supervision. Utilise a range of communication methods to suit different groups. Identify areas where additional training, information and instruction are required and consider use of signage throughout workplace to support implementation of various control measures. Undertake refresher training on work tasks and equipment, particularly where that work is safety critical. Publish risk assessments and safe systems of work and encourage feedback and review to ensure risks continue to be managed to their lowest possible level. Implement H&S training as identified in risk assessments and training for staff in various safe systems of work before any reopening. 9 www.ucu.org.uk Consider piloting smaller and lower risk areas first and make improvements to risk assessments and safe systems of work as needed. Failure of control measures Procedure for serious and imminent danger. Promote understanding of health and safety arrangements that are in place and awareness of reporting mechanisms to highlight any new hazards, failed controls or near misses. Increase supervision of areas and activities that are higher risk for Covid-19 transmission and regularly review the effectiveness of control measures. People at greater risk of viral transmission and poorer outcomes n Those in older age groups (60+) n Those with underlying health conditions n Those from BAME background n Men Home working. Encouraging staff to disclose any increased risk factors and reassurance that they will be given additional protections and considerations e.g. homeworking, lower risk groups phased back to the workplace before higher risk groups. Workforce planning to identify those staff and students at greater risk and for this data to inform return to work plans. Alternative duties to allow for home working. Temporary redeployment to allow work from home Lower risk on-site activities with safe systems of work. Increased access to testing. Individual risk assessments where required. Priority access to PPE (FFP3/2 respirators, gloves, aprons. PPE that is fit tested and staff have training in storage, cleaning, use and disposal. Safe system of work for PPE. Staff at greater risk of ill health due to impact of COVID-19 n Disabled staff (impact on reasonable adjustments, safe working Home-working and flexible working arrangements in place. Review of reasonable adjustments and additional support. 10 www.ucu.org.uk environments, access to support and conditions that increase ill-health) n Parents and carers – predominantly women (more likely to have additional caring responsibilities) less able to attend the workplace n Those with members of their household who are at greater risk of contracting Covid-19 or suffering poorer outcomes. Encourage staff to disclose any issues and offer reassurance that support can be given to prevent or minimise impact on health and safety. Workforce planning to ensure specific groups and their additional risks inform return to work plans. Induction to workplace and safe systems of work. Alternative roles, duties, tasks considered where necessary. Individual risk assessments where required. Flexible or alternative working arrangements. Access to PPE for on-site work. Health surveillance – workers becoming ill at their place of work Health surveillance arrangements in place to ensure early signs of illness can be detected; e.g. temperature checks before entry to workplace or during the working day. Daily self-reporting or confirmation of health checks completed i.e. temperature, loss of smell/taste, new persistent cough (coughing a lot for more than an hour, three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours). Health surveillance as an early warning system for any outbreaks within the workplace. Health surveillance to ensure suitable control measures are in place to prevent and reduce exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace. Domestic violence – increased isolation at home and increased risk of physical and mental harm Domestic violence policy for the workplace. Employer to increase awareness of domestic violence and sources of advice and support. Welfare facilities/personal hygiene Access to welfare facilities for frequent handwashing. Restricted access to welfare facilities and safe systems of work. Washing stations provided or installed where needed, well stocked with soap and paper towels, lidded pedal bins to 11 www.ucu.org.uk eliminate need to use hands and keep hazardous waste well contained. Access to sufficient hand sanitiser that meets standards to eliminate the virus. Access to shower rooms and rooms to change out of travel or work clothes. Safe system of work. Isolation rooms or spaces for those who may become ill with Covid-19 symptoms at place of work with safe system of work. Stress Refer to generic, preventative and organisation level stress risk assessment. Risk assessment should identify potential stressors during Covid-19 and preventative and protective control measures that need to be implemented. Multiple changes to ways of working, new technology and pace of work due to Covid-19 and other impacts on mental health such as bereavement and isolation. Stress risk assessments should consider the HSE Management Standards (demands, control, support, relationships, role, and change) to draw out the potential stressors for workers from various groups undertaking various work activities both on site and at home. Controls can also look at workload agreements, reduced workload demands, alternative duties and activities, increased support and communication from managers, bereavement policy etc. Individual stress risk assessments to be competed as needed. Homeworking Refer to homeworking risk assessment. Homeworking risk assessments can consider home environments, access to suitable equipment, training, advice and support, measures to support physical and mental well-being. 12 www.ucu.org.uk Individual DSE risk assessments to be completed where required and/or self-assessment checklists to ensure safe working practices at home. Emergency evacuation procedures (eg Fire) Emergency evacuation systems and procedures should be reviewed and adapted to take into account social distancing requirements and lower staffing levels. Personal protective equipment (PPE) Ensure adequate supply of appropriate PPE as identified in risk assessments. Implement safe systems of work for use and disposal of PPE and ensure fit testing and training is implemented in advance to prevent transmission of Covid-19. Additional considerations Risk assessments should also consider hazards associated with ad hoc and non-routine operations, seasonal tasks, different weather and environmental factors to ensure controls are adequate for all circumstances. For example, in hot weather people will be less likely to wear a face mask and may need increased access to drinking water. In addition, some controls may fail due to human behaviour or practical issues. For instance, PPE may not be available in sufficient type or quantity and some activities may not be able to continue as a result. Reopening buildings and restarting systems safely ensuring all required checks have been done and remedial actions taken. All plant and equipment which have been closed during lock-down must be reviewed for safe operation and to identify new and existing hazards. For instance, hot and cold water systems present a risk of Legionnaires disease. Pest control and other environmental health considerations should also be reviewed and measures implemented before reopening of workplaces. Suggested questions for employers to inform the risk assessment process n What is the local infection rate/R number? n What is the make-up of the workforce and student body by risk factors – women, men, BME, disability, underlying health conditions, young people, new or inexperienced workers, transient workers, women of childbearing age, pregnant (list not exhaustive)? What steps have been taken to capture accurate information from staff and students on this? How has this informed workforce planning and return to work plans? Need to share this information and data with UCU. n How will the above data inform their risk assessments or plans to re-open colleges? n Are people in the organisation competent to undertake risk management and risk assessment in relation to Covid-19 and reopening plans? If not what H&S training will be implemented before reopening and what expertise will they bring in to ensure the 13 www.ucu.org.uk organisation has the necessary expertise to inform their decision making before any reopening? n How can they prevent outbreaks in the workplace and local community without effective track, trace and isolate systems operational? n How can they be assured that their risk assessments and reopening plans are implemented at a time when it is safe to do so? n How will they ensure suitable and sufficient risk assessments are in place across the organisation with all control measures implemented before reopening? n Will they confirm that all training, safety checks and safe systems of work have been completed and implemented before reopening? Other resources Hazards Campaign: reviewing Covid-19 risk assessments Government Guidance for FE during COVID 19 5 steps to working safely during COVID 19 British Occupational Hygiene Society Covid-19 Return to Work Guidance Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Covid-19 Hub

COVID-19: Returning to work and health & safety – A note for branches on the legal position

Employers’ duties

The starting point for any consideration of the legal position on return to work proposals, following the Covid-19 ‘lockdown’, should be the obligations on employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees. The union has recently provided advice on this to FE branches in England following the prime minister’s announcements on return to work in his television address of 17 May. The advice, which applies to all UCU member workplaces, summarises employers’ responsibilities as follows. Employers must:  prevent the spread and transmission of COVID-19 within their workplaces and fulfil their legal duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974  conduct ‘suitable and sufficient’ risk assessments in consultation with trade unions and employees which seek to first prevent or eliminate workplace hazards or control risks at their source  identify all potential hazards and risks within the workplace in consultation with trade unions and employees. Risk assessments should consider all those who could be harmed by the hazards identified including employees, students, contractors, visitors, members of the public and so on. Risk assessments should capture what actually happens in practice and include any non-routine tasks  all those identified as being at a greater risk need to also be specifically identified in any risk assessment as required under Reg 3 of The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regs 1999 – including new and temporary workers, young people, migrant workers, new or expectant mothers  as new evidence emerges in relation to COVID-19, the risk assessments should include those who are at greater potential risk of infection or poorer outcomes from COVID-19 (including long-term health conditions, older age, pregnancy, and Black and Minority Ethnic people)  appoint competent persons with appropriate levels of knowledge and expertise to undertake risk assessments (union health and safety reps must be consulted about the appointment of competent persons). Once completed the risk assessments should be signed off by the employer and regularly reviewed to ensure the effectiveness of control measures 2 www.ucu.org.uk  provide sufficient information, instruction and training to ensure employees and others understand the hazards to which they are exposed and the preventative and protective control measures that should be in place  ensure they communicate their risk management systems and procedures to all staff and regularly review the effectiveness of these in consultation with trade unions and employees. The role of trade union health and safety representatives is very important:  employers are already legally required to consult with union health and safety representatives where a union is recognised. Health and safety reps are play an important role in preventing illness, injury and death at work. Their role is recognised and protected under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and they have special legal rights under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (the ‘Brown Book’) to investigate workplace hazards, represent their colleagues and be consulted on changes to working practices. Employers must consult with union appointed or elected health and safety representatives in good time on all health and safety matters at work that could have a substantial impact on the health, safety or welfare of employees. The union calls for:  all risk assessments in workplaces to be produced in consultation with union representatives and actions to guarantee safe working agreed with unions  all risk assessments to be published and made available to all employees  changes to working conditions and arrangements affecting the workforce to be preceded by an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA). This is particularly important in the current crisis in which the disproportionate direct and indirect impact of Covid-19 are well known (e.g. on black and minority ethnic staff; on medically vulnerable staff; on staff, mainly women, with caring responsibilities; and so on). EIAs should be published to all employee  assessment of data about the local incidence of COVID-19 should be factored into workplace risk assessments. Rights of employees The most effective way to protect the rights of individual union members to work in a healthy and safe environment is through the collective strength of union representation and through direct engagement with employers. Members do have individual rights in law but relying on them is not recommended as a strategy for securing the health and safety of all members. 3 www.ucu.org.uk The individual right most commonly cited is Section 44 (and the associated Section 100) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (in NI, Section 68 of the Employment Rights Order 1996) – the so-called ‘serious and imminent danger’ provision. This is a difficult area of law, particularly in the highly problematic way in which it relates to the law governing industrial action. The following note is extracted by permission of its author, Stuart Brittenden of Old Square Chambers, and the UK Labour Law Blog, where it was first published under the title ‘Coronavirus: Rights to Leave the Workplace and Strikes’ (https://uklabourlawblog.com/2020/03/27/the-coronavirus-rights-to-leavethe-workplace-and-strikes-by-stuart-brittenden/). As the article points out, although S44 is an individual right, it goes together with, and should always be approached by unions in the light of, the corresponding legal duty of employers under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to put in place procedures to be followed in the event of serious and imminent danger in the workplace. While S44 is often quoted, this duty on employers is often overlooked. Serious and imminent danger The individual rights to protection from detriment and dismissal in s44 ERA are not confined to trade union representatives but cover six situations. Of particular topical relevance are (d) and (e) which protect employees from detriment or dismissal on the grounds that: d) in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which they could not reasonably have been expected to avert, they left (or proposed to leave) or (while the danger persisted) refused to return to their place of work or any dangerous part of their place of work, or e) in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent, they took (or proposed to take) appropriate steps to protect themselves or other persons from the danger. Category (d) is deliberately framed in wide terms. Where an employee reasonably believes that there are circumstances of danger which are ‘serious and imminent’ they can tell the employer that they plan to leave the workplace, actually leave (this presupposes that they do not have permission to do so), or even refuse to attend for work. Without doubt, exposure to Coronavirus is serious – both for the individual and those they come into contact with. In a pandemic, it is difficult to regard it as something which is not imminent. Category (e) is an important right, which may permit individual workers or union representatives to refuse to work until the workplace is made safe. This provision is less precise, and ‘appropriate steps’ is not defined. However, where part of a factory is suspected of being dangerous, an appropriate step would be to refrain from entering that particular area, whilst still being physically present at the workplace. 4 www.ucu.org.uk Union advice It is unlawful for trade unions to seek to induce their members to breach their contracts (including by refusing to attend for work or downing tools and leaving the workplace) unless the unions have the protections accrued by having gone through the necessary legal steps to take lawful industrial action. Disputes over health and safety matters can form the basis for lawful industrial action, although, of course, the timescale involved in balloting and other procedural requirements in preparation for industrial action is likely to be too long to respond to any urgent health and safety issue. This legal framework of individual versus collective rights prevents unions from proactively advising or encouraging their members to exercise their S44 right to remove themselves from ‘serious and imminent danger’ at their workplace. The question is whether the union’s communications with its members cross the line from advice to unlawful industrial action. Stuart Brittenden examines this difficult area of law comprehensively in his blog article, dealing with the nuances and potential attitudes of the courts to this question. He concludes that unions would be advised to take care to distinguish between merely providing members with information about their rights under S44, which he argues must be permissible, and being seen to ask or encourage members to act on their right to remove themselves from danger where they have a ‘reasonable belief’. He advises: While there is a tension between the system of individualised rights under ss. 44 and 100 and the provisions in Part V of TULRCA [Industrial Action], the better view is that a Court should not decide that the provision of advice by a trade union as to its members’ legal rights in these circumstances should amount to an inducement. From the union’s perspective, of course, it would be sensible to make it absolutely clear in any communication that the union is not asking or encouraging the member to do or to refrain from doing anything at all. It is merely providing information as to their individual rights under ss. 44 and 100. That is something that any trade union must be permitted to do, in order to protect its members’ health and safety. To this extent, the use of S44 is limited and from the trade union perspective does carry some serious potential exposure to legal retaliation from employers. This reinforces the importance of not giving members the impression that S44 is a viable or practical solution to the challenge of ensuring health and safety for all members as and when the return to work process begins. That challenge is a collective one for unions through the deployment of their consultative and negotiating rights under existing agreements and legislation, aimed at forcing all employers to abide by their legal responsibilities to guarantee the health and safety of all their employees, as well as fulfilling their broader duties of care and equality. 5 www.ucu.org.uk While providing members with information about rights, members should always be encouraged to raise any health and safety concerns with the union so that they can be taken up with the employer on their behalf. Members should be aware that despite the protections under S44, an effective response to any detriment suffered as a result of exercising S44 rights would be dependent on the employment tribunals. Even if successful in an unfair dismissal claim, there would be no guarantee of reinstatement; indeed, that outcome would be unlikely. For this reason, union representatives should not advise or encourage members to depend on S44 or give the impression that union support for members who decide to utilise S44 would be automatic – it would depend on the circumstances in each case. If members are placed in a position in which they are being pressurised by their employer to respond to an instruction to return to work, a suitable holding reply while seeking union advice would be: ‘I am very concerned about the suggestion that I return to on-site work activities without knowing all suitable and sufficient risk management controls are in place making it safe to return. My union, UCU, will be advising me of the outcome of collective consultations over any proposed risk management strategy the [college/university etc] may have. I therefore request that this consultation takes place with UCU prior to any consultation with me individually.’

Five Ws: Question areas to inform discussions about a return to work in FE branches

Any risk assessment should eliminate risks or reduce risks to the lowest level as is reasonably practicable. In the current circumstances of Covid-19 this means all staff and students working from home where possible and ensuring that if there is any return to the workplace the risks of infection and transmission are controlled and remain low. Given Covid-19 can lead to severe illness or death and there is no cure or vaccine in place, the risk level is at the highest level possible. The likelihood of a risk causing harm then depends upon the control measures implemented which should reduce the risk to low levels.

The risk assessment will need to consider who employers propose to return to onsite work, what activities will be taking place, and where those activities will be happening – Why should these people / groups / activities be involved / take place? Where are the activities to take place? When will the activities begin? The risk assessment should consider all these ‘Ws’ so that all potential hazards and risks can be identified, then eliminated or reduced to low levels. The risk assessment should thus inform any strategic decision making on what a return to work could look like to ensure any decisions prioritise the health, safety and welfare of staff and students.

WHO? Who are the students and staff affected by any proposed return to onsite working and who will be expected to return to college? No one is suggesting that everyone is to return. Government guidance for FE only talks about some form of face-to-face delivery before the end of summer term, for some students, phased, and in small numbers. Identify who the college are proposing to be included in any pre-summer return and include all impacted groups in the risk assessment. Have they considered those who are at greater potential risk of infection or poorer outcomes from Covid-19? – Government guidance identifies three categories including those with specific long-term health conditions, older age groups, pregnancy, and emerging evidence suggests people of BAME background, and males are at greater risk. Have they considered those with caring responsibilities who are unable to attend the workplace? Based on who can or should return to the workplace have they considered the safe staffing levels required to 2 www.ucu.org.uk implement their plans and safe working arrangements? Government is not saying a definite WHEN for FE, so consider and deal with all other Ws for each group before agreeing WHEN.

WHY? Why are colleges proposing to bring back these students and staff? Do they really need to come back? Why can’t remote working continue until UCU’s first three tests can be met by Government? Why return before the risks of Covid-19 transmission can be significantly reduced? Why return these groups before test and trace systems are in place to quickly identify and control new infections and prevent spread across workplaces and the local community? Why prioritise these staff, students and activities? Discuss the rationale for their return, the attributes of those students (family Covid-19 vulnerabilities e.g. BAME etc.), their educational needs, and the timing of the return. What other options, e.g. for alternative remote delivery, have been considered and why aren’t they an adequate alternative for these students? What could we do to make the alternatives work? Why are these the right staff to bring back? Discuss the rationale for their return, and the attributes of those staff affected, including Covid-19 vulnerabilities, mental health, transport options and if they are available to return in a safe and healthy way? Can we achieve necessary delivery with volunteers and/ or what do we need to do to make that happen? Try to establish that home working and online delivery is currently the default position unless there is a sufficient reason why this cannot be made to work, and the five tests are met.

WHERE? Where will the proposed staff and students return to? Which buildings and spaces on campus will these students and staff work, learn, and circulate in and through? Identify all the spaces that will need to be considered for risk assessments such as infection control measures (for safe physical distancing, increased cleaning frequency and access to appropriate welfare facilities) What other building considerations have been risk assessed – water quality, appropriate ventilation, fire safety measures, pest control, security.

WHAT? What are the health, safety and welfare risks associated with the college proposals? What does a safe return to college look like for these students and staff? 3 www.ucu.org.uk A thorough risk assessment of all spaces classrooms/learning settings/communal areas indoors and outdoors is required in terms of physical distancing and hygiene, to identify safe ways of working. What tasks will students and staff be required to undertake? Identify the tasks that need to be risk assessed in order to agree safe ways of working. What travel is required and how can we establish safe ways of travelling? What PPE will be required? Identify the spaces and tasks where the only way to achieve safe ways of working requires PPE. Identify what PPE is necessary, and how and when it will be reliably available.

WHEN? Only after there is agreement over what a safe return for any groups of students and staff looks like, can a date for their return be agreed. This discussion should take account of the five tests, including consideration of factors external to the college referenced in the first three tests. Test the necessity of any educational needs being addressed before summer, or whether this can be deferred until autumn – is the net educational benefit commensurate with the potential risk to students and staff?

Unions set out fives tests Government and colleges must meet before staff and students can return

13 May 2020

Staff and student safety must be guaranteed before colleges can reopen, said unions representing staff in further education, as they set out five tests that must be met by government and colleges.

UCU, the GMB, UNISON, Unite and the National Education Union (NEU) called for stringent hygiene measures, protection for vulnerable people and isolation for all suspected cases to avoid colleges becoming Covid-19 hotspots.

The unions said that social distancing plans had to extend beyond the classroom to cover things like travelling to and from college and socialising. To help deal with those challenges, they said that staff and students who can work from home should continue to do so.

The unions were responding to government guidance released last night setting out how some students may return to face-to-face teaching in colleges from 1 June. The guidance stated that:

“We will ask secondary schools, sixth form and further education colleges to offer some face-to-face support to supplement the remote education of year 10 and year 12 students who are due to take key exams next year, alongside the full time provision they are offering to priority groups.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Staff and student health is the number one priority and nobody should be going back to college until it is safe to do so. The government needs to work us to address the national challenges, while individual colleges should work with their local union reps to address the unique challenges they will face.’

GMB national officer Stuart Fegan said: ‘The public expects the government to put in place all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of students and workers in further education institutions. What the joint trade unions are calling for in these five key tests is reasonable, proportionate and wholly necessary.’

NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: ‘Safety has to be the overriding concern. Planning for wider reopening should focus on ensuring safety is assured if and when the college reopens, not on meeting Government deadlines which may well prove unrealistic.’

UNISON national education officer Leigh Powell said: ‘Managers and unions must work together to make colleges safe places to work and study. Cutting corners by skimping on full risk assessments and rigorous cleaning regimes, or limiting provision of protective equipment, risk pushing us back to square one. Staff and students need to be know that everything that can be done to protect their health has been done.’

Unite national officer Siobhan Endean said: ‘Unite workplace representatives are at the forefront of dealing with the Covid-19 crisis in the education sector. These five tests set out a clear roadmap to reopening at a time when the health and safety of all staff, students and others can be assured. Risk assessments are crucial to this and can be carried out effectively where Unite members remain central to the process, with appropriate adjustments being made, enforcement in place and provision of PPE where necessary to ensure the ongoing health of all involved.’

The five tests

Test 1: Much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases

The new case count must be much lower than it is now, with a sustained downward trend and confidence that new cases are known and counted promptly. And the Government must have extensive, open and transparent arrangements in place for testing, contact tracing and isolating those with Covid-19 symptoms.

 

Test 2: A national plan for social distancing

The Government must have a national plan in place which includes parameters for both appropriate physical distancing and safe levels of social mixing in all further education settings. To help ensure physical distancing during travel and at colleges, all staff and students who can work and study from home must continue to do so.
Test 3: Comprehensive testing

Comprehensive access to regular testing for students and staff, with isolation for all suspected cases, to ensure colleges don’t become hotspots for Covid-19. In addition to routine testing, protocols to be in place to ensure testing across whole college sites and other non-college work-based learning sites whenever a confirmed case of Covid-19 occurs.

 

Test 4: A whole college strategy for health and safety

Risk assessments and safe ways of working for all tasks and spaces within a college should be established with relevant staff and unions in advance. This should include regular deep cleaning and stringent hygiene measures. Where PPE is identified as required by risk assessments, supplies of these are secured before re-opening of affected areas. Strategy to be clearly communicated to all stakeholders.

 

Test 5: Protection for the vulnerable

Vulnerable staff, and staff who live with vulnerable people, must work from home, fulfilling their professional duties to the extent that is possible. Plans must specifically address the protection of all staff, students and members of their households who are vulnerable to Covid-19.

Latest Regional newsletter 7 May 2020

Please click below for the latest Eastern region newsletter with further guidance during the coronavirus

 newsletter 7.5.2020

Students’ fear over exam assessment

Almost half of university applicants think that the coronavirus crisis will have a negative impact on their chances of getting into their first-choice university, according to research from the Sutton Trust

The research also found that working class applicants are more likely to be worried about the impact on them than their middle-class peers (51% vs 43%), and that students at private schools were almost twice as likely to be regularly completing work and receiving feedback than those in state schools (57% v 30%).

UCU said colleges and universities needed to make greater use of contextual data so that students progress according to their achievements. The union also backed the Sutton Trust’s call to move to a system in the future where students apply to university after they receive their results.

Last month, UCU warned that disadvantaged students could be the big losers under new assessment plans to replace exams this summer. Research shows that high-achieving, disadvantaged students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted than their wealthier contemporaries.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: ‘This survey appears to confirm fears that it is disadvantaged students who are most likely to lose out under this new system. Research shows that disadvantaged students fare badly when it comes to predicted grades, and they are less likely to be able to put life on hold to delay sitting exams, or have access to the tools required to navigate any appeals system.

‘We are worried about the numbers of students considering deferring or cancelling their studies, particularly in non-Russell Group universities. This could be a big step backwards for widening participation.

‘The context in which qualifications are achieved needs to be considered by colleges and universities. Not all achievements are equal and they should not be seen as such. Colleges and universities will need to make greater use of contextual data.

‘Allowing students to apply to university after they receive their results would bring us into line with the rest of the world, eliminate the use of controversial unconditional offers and ensure that university offers are based on actual achievement rather than unreliable estimates of potential.’

 

Government support package for universities doesn’t provide protection the sector needs

3 May 2020 | last updated: 4 May 2020

Responding to the support package announced by the Department for Education, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘While it is encouraging that the government appears to have recognised the need to provide support for universities, this package does not deliver the protection or stability that students, staff and the communities they serve so desperately need. The Office for Budget Responsibility says universities are most at risk of financial pain from the current crisis and they need more than IOUs to solve the problems they face.

‘The student number cap is a misnomer as it will enable the wealthiest universities to substantially grow their domestic student base at the expense of other more locally-focussed institutions. We cannot afford to let this dog-eat-dog approach risk substantial damage both to our country’s academic capacity and local economies which universities are such an important part of.

‘Instead of kicking the can down the road, the government must underwrite funding lost from a fall in domestic and international student numbers and remove incentives for universities to compete against each other at a time when we need to be pulling together.’

A report by London Economics for UCU highlighted a £2.5bn loss of income from tuition fees and teaching grants.

The Office for Budget Responsibility said education would be the sector hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis, with the impact likely to be felt most by universities

UCU national guidance during coronavirus (23 April 2020)

All guidance on our national UCU website regarding coronavirus incl branch guidance, protecting precarious workers is at: https://www.ucu.org.uk/covid19