Over the past couple of weeks, QMUL management has started the return to campus. This has been done without proper consultation with the campus unions and without proper plans and provision in place.
It is not safe to return to campus. No-one should be on campus except those who are already living there and those who support them. Those who support them must be kept safe.
There has been no meaningful consultation with the campus unions and those representing the health and safety interests of staff and students, despite public claims. QMUCU and other trade unions were only given a few working days with no notice to respond to the latest university-wide COVID-19 Risk Assessment from QM management. Guidance regarding the return to campus had already been distributed to staff and students before this consultation began.
Worse still, during a time of crisis QMUCU has found itself effectively de-recognised, with management refusing to abide by our recognition agreement and making it impossible for us to pursue union activities to protect the health and safety of staff and students.
It is our view that continuing to work online is the least worst option. Right now, adequate plans and provisions are not in place for a safe return to campus for staff or students, and there has been no effort to address UCU’s five tests. Instead, there is:
- No mask wearing mandate for indoor spaces, completely at odds with the logic of compulsory mask wearing in shops. If forced back to physical attendance, students and staff will be in close contact for far longer than shoppers. Queen Mary should provide face coverings to all those arriving on campus, together with instructions on their proper use.
- No proper plans to improve ventilation, in spite of the growing scientific evidence for airborne COVID-19 transmission. While a ventilation survey is mentioned, which we welcome, the Risk Assessment makes no reference to any planned mitigations, such as the emergency re-building or adaptation of spaces.
- No plans for testing students regularly. Research indicates a proper test and trace system would be vital for any return to campus. Furthermore, there is no account taken of current infection rates and what the university would do at each level of infection rate.
- No specific mention of bathroom facilities anywhere in the document. It is our view that if adequate, safe bathroom facilities cannot be guaranteed then we are not ready to return to campus.
- No firm, published timetable for the return to campus, meaning people are under-informed, confused and scared by this process.
- An unsafe commute making work unsafe. There is no consideration given to the fact that some commuting staff will be reliant on public transport but may not be safe using it. No member of staff should be punished for refusing to undertake high risk to get to work.
- Disregard for the unequal effect the virus will have on different ethnic groups, whether amongst QM staff and students or local residents in Tower Hamlets, an area already hit disproportionately by COVID-19 deaths.
This is but the latest mismanagement of the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic by QMUL senior management, something that could have deadly consequences for staff and students alike.
QMUCU believes that we can only return to campus once (a) the time is right with (b) every relevant plan and precaution in place have been (c) agreed by QMUL management, all campus unions and QM Student Union.
None of these three conditions has been met yet. We will, of course, keep you updated on any developments.