Solidarity with our colleagues at UNISON, who have been unnecessarily put in danger by the actions of the senior management team. Over the past month, staff represented by UNISON have had to go into residencies without knowing that there were self-isolating students, cleaning staff have been scheduled to clean shared spaces in self-isolating households, security staff were asked to investigate noise complaints within self-isolating households. Adequate steps to guarantee the safety of staff working on campus and in residencies have not been taken.
Read the motion below with the list of their demands.
QM UNISON notes the numerous breaches and compromises QMUL management has recently made in terms of our health and safety, listed below:
- Senior Managements’ Track and Trace policy, implemented without consulting Trade Unions, is not working effectively. It did not identify any cleaning services or security staff, despite the fact that some colleagues spent significant time within the flats (‘households’), where, a few hours or days later, confirmed cases were identified.
- Senior Management failed to ensure that COVID-Secure, suitable and sufficient risk-assessments were carried out for all Residential buildings in consultation with employees and Trade Union Health and Safety Representatives. No local building risk assessments were uploaded onto MySafety, nor made available to staff expected to work within and around the Residences buildings.
- Security staff were asked to investigate noise complaints within self-isolating households. This indicates that students are misusing the communal areas while on self-isolation, possibly increasing the viral load within shared spaces, such as kitchens, bathrooms and corridors.
- Cleaning services staff are scheduled to clean shared spaces in self-isolating households. The cleaning protocols on Biohazard were uploaded onto MySafety without any consultation with TUs H&S Reps, and they do not recognise the possibility of high viral load and the risk of airborne transmission. Due to the notable absence of local building risk-assessments, ventilation controls for these areas are unknown.
- Colleagues were not informed that students were self-isolating until they arrived at the household and saw notices, sometimes handwritten by students, stuck to the doors. This is not a reliable system of notifying employees not to enter an area of danger.
- Senior Management has not yet clarified queries from Security staff around safe systems of work in the event of emergencies within flats with confirmed cases, although flats went into isolation more than two weeks ago.
QM UNISON further notes the above described failings were preventable by management, and occurred as the result of:
- Senior Managements’ failure to fulfil their duty to consult in good time, by repetitively excluding TU H&S Reps from meetings where significant COVID-19 H&S policies, such as the QMUL Emergency Plan and the QMUL Track and Trace policy were discussed and approved.
- Senior Managements’ unwillingness to discuss its approach to COVID-19 with TUs. The University invited students to move into residences, to attend Welcome Week events on campus and to prepare for face to face teaching, without meaningfully consulting with the Campus TUs
- The inadequacy of H&S Governance within QMUL, despite the joint Trade Union efforts over the summer to improve H&S consultation. TUs raised concerns about COVID-19 JCF meetings being inadequate due to short length and irregularity, as a result the forum was disbanded on 12th August, with the promise to hold regular Safety Committee meetings. Since then, no Safety Committee (HSAG) meetings took place although the University continued to re-open buildings, increase campus occupancy, and change working arrangements.
- The failure of the employer to appoint competent local risk-assessors to perform their job in full awareness of H&S law and their duty to consult with TU H&S Reps in good-time. In statutory regulations, competency is defined by sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow delegated employees to assist the employer properly. Notably, multiple risk-assessments were approved and uploaded on MySafety without any consultation with employees or TU H&S Reps.
In light of the above health and safety concerns, to ensure that Cleaning, Security and Residential Services staff are not exposed to COVID-19 in the short term, QM UNISON demands these urgent conditions are met:
- A halt is to be placed on all work within Residences until all local residential building risk-assessments are put in place, and are shared and discussed with employees and their TU H&S Reps. All cleaning procedures should be updated to take into consideration the significant findings of the local building risk-assessments and the airborne risk of contracting COVID-19.
- Senior Management are to set up reliable tracing procedures, agreed in consultation with TUs, to identify staff members who meet the criteria for self-isolation.
- Senior Management are to put in place a reliable notification procedure to notify employees in good time of households under isolation, agreed in consultation with TUs.
- Senior Management are to arrange rapid testing for all students and staff who have been living and/or working within Residences
- Senior Management are to accurately communicate the gravity of the situation to students living in Residences, and inform them of and enforce the consequences of not following the procedures in place to protect staff members.
In the medium term, to prevent a further health and safety crisis within QMUL, possible law breaches, and potential harm to staff, students, and visitors, QM UNISON further demands that:
- Senior Management must call an emergency meeting of the Health and Safety Advisory Group, and increase the frequency of forthcoming meetings.
- Trade Unions must sit as full members of the regular Senior Management meetings on the management of COVID-19, including local authority meetings.
- Significant changes to institutional risk assessments must stop being approved and implemented without consultation with trade unions. The most recent example was the decision to remove the control specifying that staff should continue to work at home where possible. Unison asks that this control is re-introduced.
- Senior Management must stop delegating H&S work and local risk-assessment to assessors that are not competent with regards to H&S training, experience, and knowledge. Every person conducting risk-assessments must be trained to recognise their legal responsibilities and the role of the TU H&S Reps.
- Senior Management must acknowledge the risk of airborne transmission of the virus:
- The institutional risk assessment and all subordinate local risk assessments must immediately be updated to include airborne transmission
- Relevant controls must be introduced: mandatory face mask wearing in all multiple occupancy indoor spaces, including classrooms and taking any room which does not meet ventilation standards completely out of use.
- Track and trace arrangements must be improved, to take into consideration airborne transmission. This means that infection can happen in university settings even where 2m distancing is maintained.
- The University must establish regular testing of all students and staff to prevent further outbreaks by investing on the proposals from QMUL medical academics and researchers. Proposals were submitted twice but they were not accepted by Senior Management.
- All teaching and other services which can be delivered online, must be delivered online. Government guidelines state: ‘public sector employees working in essential services, including education settings, should continue to go into work where necessary’. Increasing traffic onto campus, in the local area, and on the public transport at a time of rising infection, and while Tower of Hamlets is one of the worst affected London boroughs, disregards the health, safety and well-being of students, staff, visitors and the local community.
- Managers must stop putting pressure on staff to work on campus when they can work remotely. Colleagues working in office roles, still report pressure from their line managers to attend face-to-face meetings and to be physically present on campus when it is not necessary.
- QMUL must agree a ‘no repercussions’ policy for staff members who express COVID-19 safety concerns with regards to their travel, work environment or personal circumstances (for example living with vulnerable family members), and they feel uncomfortable coming into campus.
- QMUL must commission an Equality Impact Assessment on any proposed working arrangements during the COVID-19 crisis, as they do disproportionately affect equality groups.
Finally, QM UNISON will take steps to initiate a formal dispute with management over the issue of worker health and safety.