Anglia Ruskin is the first branch we know of to declare an official dispute over health and safety in relation to face to face teaching in the light of the spike in Covid-19 transmission. “UCU is unconvinced by claims made by the University that it is safe, responsible or necessary to resume on-site activity.” The notice highlights the importance for both staff and students of calling for urgent action to support the national UCU call to shift the majority of teaching and support online. “Our decision to declare a dispute has not been made lightly, but there is far too much at stake. It is a matter of life and death.” We have provided a selection of motions and statement that branches may want to adapt as they meet in the coming weeks. We must now allow the employers to put revenue before the safety of staff and students.
Anglia Ruskin notice of official dispute, 8 September
Hertfordshire UCU, original motions passed on 9 September
Motion 1: Protecting UH staff and students from Covid-19 in Semester A
This Branch notes:
- UCU’s decision to call on “the government and universities to switch to fully online teaching as the default for the duration of next term” in order to “prevent a situation that could see universities becoming the care homes of a second wave of covid-19” (Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary, email to members of 29.8.20);
- UCU’s advice that “A number of UCU branches have already called on their employer to withdraw as much face-to-face teaching and other activities as possible and we are now encouraging all branches to push their employer to take this approach” (Jo Grady email as above);
- The report of the Independent SAGE group of experts, led by Sir David King, the former Scientific Adviser to the government, advising universities against resuming face-to-face teaching because risks of infection are too high; and
- The following risk factors: (a) the high rates of infection among the young who are typically asymptomatic if infected; (b) the rising UK-wide infection rates; (c) the country-wide risks of infection as one million students travel to campuses and occupy halls of residence; (d) the enhanced health risks of infection to older staff and BAME staff and students, and their families; and (e) the evidence from the United States where 60 universities and colleges in 36 states have so far reported Covid-19 outbreaks.
This Branch believes:
- That it is not currently safe for staff and students to resume face-to-face teaching in Semester A for the reasons stated above; and
- That teaching in Semester A should therefore be restricted to online learning (except where there are compelling pedagogical reasons to the contrary, such as practical work, assuming rigorous health and safety standards).
This Branch therefore resolves:
- To call on UH management to adopt a default position in favour of online learning; and
- To call on UH management to abandon plans for face-to-face teaching in Semester A (except where there are compelling pedagogical reasons to the contrary, such as practical work, assuming rigorous health and safety standards).
Motion 2: Protecting UH staff and students from Covid-19 in Semester A if face-to-face teaching proceeds
This Branch notes:
- That notwithstanding UCU’s call for universities to switch to fully online teaching as the default position for the duration of Semester A, UH management may nevertheless decide to proceed with the planned return to campus, halls of residence and face-to-face teaching;
- That in this event there are no plans for the regular mandatory testing and tracing of staff and students at UH;
- That in this event there is also a lack of information about any contingency plans UH management may have should there be an outbreak of Covid-19; and
- That management is presently determined to individualise issues of face-to-face teaching arising from the Covid-19 crisis by maintaining that they can be resolved on a case by case basis at individual staff member meetings with line managers.
This Branch believes:
- That if face-to-face teaching nevertheless proceeds:
(a) there must be regular mandatory testing and tracing of staff and students for Covid-19; and
(b) any contingency plans UH management may have in the event of an outbreak must be published;
- That further if face-to-face teaching proceeds:
(a) it is unacceptable for face-to-face teaching issues to be determined on a case by case basis at individual staff member meetings with line managers, as currently maintained by UH management; and
(b) that instead no staff member should be required to undertake face-to-face teaching in Semester A if they express the wish not to do so.
This Branch therefore resolves:
- That in the event face-to-face teaching proceeds, to call on UH management:
(a) to arrange without delay the regular mandatory testing and tracing of staff and students for Covid-19;
(b) to publish without delay any contingency plans in the event of an outbreak of Covid-19; and
(c) to agree that no-one will be required to undertake face-to-face teaching in Semester A if they express the wish not to do so.
Imperial UCU (motion passed 9 September)
This meeting notes:
1. the call by our GS and iSage for all teaching to be held online
2. UCU’s five tests
3. pressures on all staff for face-to-face teaching
4. that iSage/WHO believe social distancing, test, track and islate and PPE are central in controlling pandemics
5. a potential second wave
This meeting requests
The HESC encourages branaches to campaign, negotiate and pressure management and governments for agreements on:
1. no face-to-face teaching and student support in 2020/21 other than where there are no other options, e.g. practical work
2. all on-line teaching to be accessible
3. provision of ICT and safe quiet study spaces for all students as required
4. support and training for staff in online teaching
5. no staff, casualised or permanent, to risk losing jobs if they do not teach face-to-face
6. additional government funding to cover shortfalls and additional costs.
Sheffield Hallam UCU, motion passed 9 September
In line with Independent Sage recommendations, UCU supports a default position that all HE teaching provision should be through online/remote means except where this is practically impossible (e.g. for laboratory-based teaching and courses with practical elements such as performing arts, sciences, and some arts courses). Where face-to-face teaching is unavoidable measures should be in place to create Covid-safe university settings through the measures set out in the Independent SAGE report and summarised (in UCU’s position statement).
Bournemouth UCU exec, passed 9 September
No return to unsafe workplaces; no face-to-face teaching unless educationally necessary.
Bournemouth University UCU notes:
1. GS’s call for all universities to teach online in Term 1 at least.
2. UCU’s five tests.
3. Official figures record 43,000 deaths from Coronavirus. Excess deaths are at least 60,000.
4. Government calls for a return to workplaces.
5. Independent SAGE, SAGE and WHO believe social distancing, test, track and isolate and the use of PPE are central to controlling pandemics.
Bournemouth University UCU believes:
1. The GS’s call on universities and colleges is correct.
2. UCU’s five tests have not been met.
3. The Government’s call to return to offices is motivated by business concerns not public safety.
4. The likelihood of a second wave is increasingly likely.
Bournemouth University UCU resolves:
1. To call on members to refuse to teach face-to-face and to work remotely until UCU’s tests have been met. Exceptions for face-to-face teaching are where absolutely necessary, i.e. for lessons which strictly require students to be present, such as lab and studio work.
2. To call on UCU to organise a series of sector-based “No return to unsafe workplace” online meetings.
Manchester UCU, passed 9 September
Sussex campus unions statement on campus reopening, 8 September
Manchester Metropolitan UCU motion, passed 9 September:
Exeter UCU motion, passed at AGM 16 September
Covid-19 area research map (Imperial College) – very useful for identifying transmissions in your area
Independent SAGE response to Sage “Principles for Managing Covid-19 Transmission Associated with Higher Education, 9 September
Warwick and Coventry UCU statement: public health in the community, 11 September