QMUCU members demand more from management

Yesterday, at a well attended branch meeting, QMUCU members unanimously passed a trio of motions demanding that university management offer more meaningful support to staff from all sectors of the institution. The motions – on the Covid-19 allowance, on the need to help staff with parental and caring responsibilities during lockdown, and on the health and safety crisis – can be read in full below.

1. Petition allowance:

This branch notes:

Every one of us is playing a vital role in helping this university through the COVID crisis.

From cleaning and securing campuses for essential work, to putting in the extra hours to take courses online, we are all vital parts of this university, and we want recognition for it.

It is estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to people paying £100 more in fuel bills this winter.

Under government guidelines employers have always been permitted to pay staff £6 a week extra tax free to cover some of these costs of working from home.

Universities such as the University of Arts London have been paying their staff this since the first lockdown. But this benefit does not reach staff who have to come to work on campus. In recognition of this, the Open University have gone a step further and are giving ALL their staff a COVID payment of £500.

In the 2019-20 financial year, Queen Mary increased its cash reserves by almost £37m.

That the impact of COVID-19 on life, by direct health risks and risk to life, and short term and long term health and financial burdens, most strongly impacts those already discriminated against in our workplace: those on precarious contracts; staff working in lower paid maintenance work.

This branch resolves:

To refuse such neglect of the financial impact of COVID-19 from our employer, and to represent the demands of over 500+ members who signed the petition to secure a COVID allowance of £200 for all staff at QMUL.

To view a refusal by QMUL to deliver a COVID allowance as having a disproportionate impact on women and Black, Asian and People of Colour staff who are over-represented in the categories of employment most impacted by COVID risks.

To view a refusal by QMUL to deliver a COVID allowance as in effect a salary reduction, as staff who are working from home are paying their own overheads.

This branch demands:

A COVID allowance of £200 for all staff, including precarious fixed term staff and postgraduate researchers now represented by the UCU as workers.

2. Parents and carers

This Branch Notes:

That all Schools and Colleges closed on January 5th 2021 due to the rising numbers of COVID cases,

That staff with children will once again be expected to look after children full-time and home school them,

That this situation places an extraordinary burden on carers who are usually women,

That extra burdens are also placed on staff who are looking after vulnerable people during lockdown,

That carers cannot be expected to work their full workload while caring for dependents and/or home schooling,

That the hours that carers worked in the spring lockdown 2020 were not sustainable and cannot be repeated. Such working conditions have very serious health and safety consequences as well as further entrenching sex discrimination i n the workplace.

This Branch Further Notes:

That the Furlough Scheme has been extended until April 2021 and has been extended to include those who cannot work (even from home) as a result of caring responsibilities due to COVID, such as caring for children due to school closures, or caring for a vulnerable person in a household,

That the Furlough Scheme now enables employees who are carers to request part-time furlough (i.e. to be furloughed for a fraction of one’s job and continue to carry out duties for the remaining duties),

That although schools can accept university staff as ‘critical workers’ (and in those cases where there are two carers, only if both are university workers), they are not obliged to do so and many will not be able to do so because of the pressures faced by the school,

A growing number of universities are producing institutional policy that supports carers during the pandemic, including a commitment to furloughing staff who are carers on both full-time and part-time basis on full pay. Kings College London and University College London have both adopted this policy, as has Oxford University. If other members of the University of London can access the Furlough Scheme, then so can QMUL.

This Branch Resolves:

To refuse such unfair treatment of members who are carers, and to strive collectively to ensure that QMUL fully supports staff who are carers by accessing the furlough scheme and by other means such as special paid leaves of absence, and the employment of TA, TF, and demonstrator staff to cover the work of furloughed or partially furloughed staff carers,

To view a refusal by QMUL to make use of the Furlough Scheme for staff carers as having a disproportionate impact on women which amounts to indirect sex discrimination, where an employer applies a general rule (such as not using the Furlough Scheme) that puts women more than men at a disadvantage,

To view the non-adoption of an institution-wide policy on furloughing for carers as evidence of indirect discrimination,

In the absence of a statement to all staff outlining a policy for furloughing staff carers, to contact Athena Swan (with whom QMUL holds a gender equality award) expressing our concerns about the treatment of women staff and our view of a refusal of furlough to amount to indirect discrimination.

This Branch Demands:

That QMUL adopt a policy, like other University of London institutions, that enables and grants carers furlough requests on full pay,

That this is an institution-wide policy put into place as soon as possible, which provides central funds to make up those 20% (plus NI) of salary costs not covered by the Furlough Scheme,

That Senior Management then approve budgets from departments to employ TA, TF, and demonstrator staff to cover staff carers on furlough.

That QMUL put adequate support to postgraduate researchers (PGRs) who are also carers and asked to keep working as normal. This support should include funding and deadline extensions, as well as explicit advertisement of child nursery services available on site to new and existing PGRs.

3. Health and safety

This branch notes:

The ongoing health and safety crisis affecting our members as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus continues to impact our membership severely and in profoundly unequal ways according to race, gender, class, age, and ability.

While we are relieved to see teaching and most services moved online during the current national lockdown, we are still seeking assurances from the university that this will remain the case for the rest of the academic year.

We remain concerned at the contradictory messaging from the university, which continues to encourage staff and students to use the campus even while the government advises staff and students to remain at home where possible.

We are disappointed to see that the university has still not made face coverings mandatory in all shared indoor spaces and that it is proposing to use minimum ventilation standards for rooms which are significantly lower than those recommended by SAGE.

With many staff working from home, the crisis of over-work, stress, and mental health continues. Workloads continue to soar from the impact of budget cuts and the loss of fixed-term staff, as well as the increased demands of preparing and delivering online teaching.

Meanwhile, many of our colleagues, especially women, are bearing the increased burden of caring for others and home-schooling.

This branch resolves:

To call on the University to mandate face coverings in all indoor shared spaces and to adopt the SAGE recommended standards on ventilation.

To call on the University to keep all teaching online for at least the rest of the academic year 2020/2021.

To call on the university to rectify the crisis of overwork by reversing damaging budget cuts, hiring freezes, by halting restructurings, by introducing flexible furlough for carers, and by paying all staff a COVID allowance, including precarious fixed term staff and postgraduate researchers.

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