At the branch meeting today members voted, with none against, to compel the branch committee to begin laying the foundations for a formal industrial dispute with the employer. You can read the full motion below.
Motion Passed, 23 September, 2020
The Queen Mary branch of the University and College Union notes:
- Queen Mary’s mission dedicated to the public good.
- Rising infection and hospitalisation rates both nationally and locally.
- Recent confirmed Covid cases both at Queen Mary and at universities across the country.
- Historical (and continuing) failures of UK government policy in managing coronavirus.
- The current inadequacy of test and trace in the UK.
- Particularly vulnerable nature of the local community.
- Queen Mary includes sites that are also hospitals
- Increasing evidence of ‘Long-Covid’.
The branch further notes,
- Despite limited support, mixed and changing messages, staff have spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort preparing for online teaching. Management has promised students that learning outcomes can be met with online delivery.
Given the above facts, the branch believes that Queen Mary should proactively ensure that it minimises the risk of the spread of coronavirus and specifically:
- The default should be for teaching to take place online, unless there are compelling pedagogical reasons for on-campus teaching. These decisions should be made on the basis of necessity by the lecturer, tutor, or demonstrator undertaking the teaching. Where online teaching can achieve comparable learning objectives, on-campus teaching should not be mandated.
- All staff should have direct input into the risk assessments that cover their work.
- Only staff who for personal reasons or the nature of their work cannot work at home should come to campus.
- By failing to enable the above, senior management’s decisions recklessly increase the risk of infection, hospitalisation of Queen Mary staff, students and the wider community.
With respect to the local management of coronavirus mitigation and working arrangements, the branch regrettably notes:
- The Health and Safety Advisory group, the only university-level health and safety committee at which trade unions are represented, has not met since June and is not scheduled to meet again until the end of November.
- Management has excluded the unions from other relevant decision-making bodies, including the return to campus group.
- The institution-wide risk assessment was recently changed to remove the leading control measure (working from home where possible) without prior consultation with the unions.
- Colleagues report that, even though they sit on departmental health and safety committees, they have not been consulted about their department’s risk assessment.
- Colleagues report being under pressure to commute and to be in the office without good justification, even when they can work satisfactorily from home.
- Colleagues have been told to come to campus, even though the return to work form requires an occupational health assessment and they are awaiting an appointment.
- The university does not require masks in teaching spaces and proposes to use poorly ventilated teaching spaces despite strong evidence of aerosol virus transmission.
- The individual risk assessments ignores colleagues who live with vulnerable partners, children or flatmates, or have responsibilities to care for the vulnerable.
- There is no provision for university-led testing initiatives on campus, despite this having been implemented at other institutions and despite proposals from well-qualified staff at Queen Mary to introduce it.
- The university’s track and trace policy will not by default inform staff or students if they have been teaching or learning in a classroom with an infected person.
- The university has refused to publish data on the rates of infection on campus.
Given the issues noted above, the branch calls on the executive committee to,
- Notify the Principal that the university is in breach of its statutory obligations to consult and to protect the health and safety of its staff and students.
- Take steps to initiate a formal dispute with management over management’s failures to adequately negotiate and consult with the unions to create a safe working environment.
- Make representations to relevant external individuals and organisations to ensure a more proactive and humane approach to Queen Mary’s participation in the reduction of the spread of coronavirus.
- Respond to statements of lack of confidence of management by broadly surveying the membership on this issue.