Proposed changes to the USS pension scheme

Proposed changes to the USS pension scheme

A message from the Loughborough UCU Pensions Rep

Dear colleagues,

You may have already received this information from your UCU department rep, due to its importance we are sending again to all members. Please share this email with any non-members that also may not have received the message through department reps.

Proposed Changes to Your USS Pension

As you know, Universities UK (UUK) – the body which speaks on behalf of universities such as Loughborough – is currently consulting universities about changes to the USS pension scheme. Because these proposed changes are complex, it is not straightforward to understand from the headline proposals how they will affect you.

To help, UCU’s actuarial advisors, First Actuarial, have produced an online modeller which allows you to calculate how UUK’s proposals would affect your income in retirement. For example, the modeller reveals that I personally would have a £5068/year reduction to my income in retirement under these proposals.

If you have a USS pension you are welcome to use this tool, regardless of whether you are a member of UCU:

https://www.ucu.org.uk/ussmodeller

(Note: the modeller appears to work best when using Google Chrome.)

Loughborough UCU strongly encourages you to take this opportunity to understand the implications of the current proposals for you personally.

Background

UUK’s proposals are a result of USS’s 2020 valuation, which was published in March this year. Both UUK and UCU agree that this valuation is flawed. For example, UUK has described USS’s approach as “unreasonable”, “unrealistic”, “incredibly conservative” and “unjustifiable”. Unfortunately, UUK has not persuaded USS to change their valuation method, and instead is proposing to pass the cost onto scheme members in the form of reduced benefits. UCU believes that this is approach is not reasonable.

Best wishes

Matthew Inglis, LUCU Pensions Rep

UCU, Unite and UNISON: Professional Services Workload Survey Results

UCU, Unite and UNISON: Professional Services Workload Survey Results

Please see below for the results summary for the UCU, Unite and UNISON Professional Services Workload Survey conducted in March.

We thank those of  you who took the time to complete the survey and assure you that the results will be extremely valuable in providing direction for the Professional Services Workload Task and Finish Group. To drill deeper into the workload issues raised in the survey, the Task and Finish Group will set up staff focus groups.  These groups will be open for all Professional Services staff to join (union members and non-members), and a communication will be sent out shortly to invite participation.

Unite, UNISON and UCU Professional Services Workload Survey – Results

Respondents are Professional Services staff who are union members (UNISON, Unite, UCU), 55% of whom worked from home.

In the year January 2020-Jaunary 2021, 81% of participants experienced an increase in their workload. Some participants are able to complete this additional work within their working hours, whereas others are unable to.

Working hours
32% are able to complete their work in their normal working hours.
30% are able to complete their work about 50% of the time in their normal working hours.
38% are rarely or never able to complete their work in their normal working hours.

Impact of additional workload on hours worked
In addition to their normal weekly working hours:
31% are working 9 or more hours.
44% are working between 3 and 9 hours.
18% are working between 1 and 3 hours.
7% are not working any additional hours.

Tasks left uncompleted to avoid excessive working hours
54% are leaving tasks uncompleted because they are unable to find the time to do them.
Potential Causes for increased workload

Impact of Technology & Processes
51% respondents’ workload has been impacted by the University’s technological systems and/or processes.
49% of respondents’ workload has not been impacted by the University’s technological systems and/or processes.

Impact of the Severance Scheme
40% of respondents’ workload has been impacted by the Severance Scheme
60% of respondents’ workload has not been impacted by the Severance Scheme

Impact of restructure in the last 12 months
49% experienced increased workload
51% did not experience a workload impact

Impact of workload on stress over the past 12 months
96% have experienced increased stress due to workload over the past year, with 19% reporting consistently feeling stressed.

Impact of workload on morale over the past 12 months
91% have felt demoralised, with 23% reporting feeling consistently demoralised.

Impact of workload on quality of service
78% reported an impact the quality of service delivered.

Workload management
9% reported regular workload reviews with their manager.
19% reported frequent workload reviews with their manager.
50% reported occasional workload reviews with their manager.
22% reported no workload reviews with their manager.

Summary of Discursive Comments

TECHNOLOGY

  • Inadequate IT training for new tasks
  • Lack of MS Teams training
  • Wide range of systems and processes not linked, hence additional work required
  • New technological systems have increased workload
  • Learning to use and then find work arounds for functionality limitations

SEVERANCE

  • Unachievable increased workload requiring work over contract hours
  • Completing tasks above pay scale
  • Driven to seek alternative employment
  • Demotivated
  • Increased workload, but supported by manager
  • Loss of expertise and ability to provide a quality service
  • Programme at crisis point – lack of planning for the future
  • Loss of vital experience and expertise with no plan to replace
  • Work-life balance seriously impacted

OTHER REASONS FOR WORKING OVER CONTRACTED HOURS

  • Working from home
  • Recruitment freeze/non replacement of leavers
  • Additional responsibility, tasks or duties due to loss of expertise
  • COVID-related University initiative
  • Staff absence and/or furlough

NON-COST SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVING WORKLOAD

People Management

  • Improve leadership and strategic task prioritisation: sharing tasks equitably; avoiding favouritism; ‘just do what you can manage’ isn’t helpful
  • Greater consultation on new activities
  • Streamline activity to focus on ‘need to do’ tasks all the way down from top to bottom
  • Reduce last minute decision making through improved planning and notice for changes to complex systems
  • Lower expectations from senior management
  • Call on alumni to help out as the NHS have done with retired staff
  • Review and update job descriptions – greater transparency over role expectations
  • Distribute workload from those heavily impacted by Covid to those with no/limited additional workload
  • Increase online meetings
  • Introduce a culture of administration that consistently tests each procedure for the burdens it places on staff and continually aim for redesign to reduce burden
  • Better communication between admin and teaching staff
  • Better communication between management, team leaders and staff
  • Flexible working

Processes

  • Reduce the amount of assessments and move more online
  • Reduce bureaucracy around PDR
  • Reduce bureaucracy around form filling
  • Better Agresso reporting
  • Spread online labs over more days
  • Remove the need for manual workarounds for dysfunctional online systems

Training

  • Better training
  • Increase staff confidence and proactivity to take on responsibilities

Other suggestions

  • Cut the services we offer to students and better manage their expectations
  • Change student menus to make them less labour intensive

Thanks

LUCU Committee

Challenging Sexual Harassment and Violence

Challenging Sexual Harassment and Violence

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them’.

It can happen to men, women and people of any gender identity or sexual orientation, and it can be carried out by anyone of the same sex, a different sex or anyone of any gender identity. See ACAS definition.

Sexual harassment is usually directed at an individual, but not always. Sometimes there can be a culture of sexual harassment in a workplace which is called ‘joking’ and ‘banter’. Sexual harassment can include:

  • flirting, gesturing, or making sexual remarks about someone’s body, clothing, or appearance
  • asking questions about someone’s sex life
  • telling sexually offensive jokes
  • making sexual comments or jokes about someone’s sexual orientation or gender reassignment
  • displaying or sharing pornographic or sexual images, or other sexual content
  • touching someone against their will, for example hugging them
  • sexual assault or rape

Every day, people across the UK are sexually harassed at work. Our current laws put the onus on individuals to report such incidents but the TUC report that 4 out of 5 don’t feel able to tell their employer.


UCU/Ed Support Sexual Harassment Helpline

Call 0800 138 8724 or email support@edsupport.org.uk further information on the helpline can be found here.

Local Points of Contact for Staff with Sexual Harassment Concerns

Two members of the local branch committee have agreed to be points of contact for staff with sexual harassment concerns. Marie Hanlon (primarily for staff in professional services) and Sue Hignett (primarily for staff in academic departments). Their contact details can be found here. Please do get in touch with either of the contacts if you have any concerns regarding sexual harassment.

Campaign for 16 days in 16 ways

From the 25th Nov until the 10th Dec UCU are contributing to a campaign run by The Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, a feminist human rights organisation. For more information please see the UCU website here. Members who wish to get involved in organising and contributing to this campaign on a local level please get in touch with the branch by clicking here.

Continuing Professional Development

We are offering members a webinar course “Challenging Sexual Harassment and Violence” at a date TBC. Our branch Equality Officer has recently completed the pilot session for this webinar and reported back “It was an excellent session lasting just under 1.5 hours”. The course aims to help you; identify what we mean by sexual harassment and violence, understand how polices can protect staff and explore how we can all challenge sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. At this point we are requesting Expressions of Interest, please click here to send an EoI to the branch.

LUCU Committee

Global Boycott of University of Leicester

Global Boycott of University of Leicester

UCU announced a global boycott of the University of Leicester, starting yesterday 4th May 2021, as the union hit the institution with the ultimate sanction of being greylisted. The announcement comes as Leicester staff also begin a marking and assessment boycott.

The greylisting sanction is part of a long running dispute over redundancies at the university. The sanction means UCU is asking its members, other trade unions, labour movement organisations and the international academic community tosupport its members at Leicester in any way possible, including by:

  • not applying for any advertised jobs at Leicester
  • not speaking at or organising academic or other conferences at Leicester
  • not accepting invitations to give lectures at Leicester
  • not accepting positions as visiting professors or researchers at Leicester
  • not writing for any academic journal which is edited at or produced by Leicester
  • not accepting new contracts as external examiners for taught courses at Leicester
  • refusing to collaborate on new research projects with Leicester.

The University of Leicester also faces action short of a strike, which begins today after 84% of UCU Leicester members who voted said they were willing to take industrial action. The action includes a marking and assessment boycott and Leicester staff will stop marking all work from today. The action could impact students’ graduations. UCU said Leicester must lift the threat of compulsory redundancies to end the dispute.

The university had originally threatened 145 staff with compulsory redundancy, although that number is now slightly lower due to some staff taking voluntary redundancy or accepting inferior contracts. Managers deny there are any financial reasons for planned redundancies and refuse to share data on finances with campus trade unions. But the university’s 2019/20 financial statements show the institution is having to borrow money in order to remain financially viable.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘We will not stand back and allow the University of Leicester to be destroyed by dismal management. Nor will we allow staff and students to pay the price for catastrophic failures of governance. It is rare for UCU to call for a global academic boycott, and doing so reflects the seriousness of the situation. Leicester staff have the support of the whole union in their ongoing action; we all stand alongside them in this fight against brutal job cuts. The university needs to lift its threat of compulsory redundancies if it wants to end this dispute.’

LUCU Committee

Women’s History Month: Women across the world

Women’s History Month

Women across the world

Only 20 countries (10%) have women as Heads of State and Government. The United Nations call for “Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls

In the UK, we need role models in all areas of society.  An All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Women in Parliament is running a series of discussions and debates about:

  • modernising Parliament to advance gender equality
  • amplifying the diverse voices of young women from across the country; giving them a seat at the decision-making table.
  • Call for Safe Spaces (part of UN Women): stopping the sexual harassment of women in public spaces, including online platforms

During the COVID-19 pandemic women are facing increased domestic violence, unpaid care duties, unemployment, and poverty. Despite women making up a majority of front-line workers, there is disproportionate and inadequate representation of women in national and global COVID-19 policy spaces. 

The UN has published a report on ‘COVID-19 and women’s leadership: From an effective response to building back better’ to shine a light on the critical role of women’s leadership in responding to COVID-19 and preparing for a more equitable recovery. It recognizes pre-existing and new constraints to women’s participation and leadership and advocates for measures to facilitate women’s influence over decision-making processes.

This includes creating opportunities to ‘build back better’ by including and supporting women, and the organizations and networks that represent them, in the decision-making processes that will shape the post-pandemic future.

LUCU Committee

Survey Results: ‘Covid and In-Person Teaching’

Survey Results: ‘Covid and In-Person Teaching’

We are writing to report on the results of LUCU’s most recent survey on ‘Covid and In-Person Teaching’.  The survey was completed by hundreds of members and achieved a significant response rate as a proportion of the branch membership. This is the highest response we have had to a survey! – and represents an excellent increase in responses compared to our October survey. Thanks to everyone who responded, as your feedback will be used to inform our stance on this issue. LUCU would also like to thank those members who gave so generously of their time and expertise to help us frame the survey and to interpret its results. 

The survey was a listening exercise for the committee. Our aim was to test whether the view of the membership had changed since October and to gauge the current temperature of the membership concerning action that would be needed to push management into adopting the Online-Only position for the rest of this academic year.

Overall, the survey indicates broad support for LUCU to continue working with management to ensure a balanced approach where staff have the ability to request an opt-out of in-person teaching, in line with the outcome agreed through our local dispute process, and a preference for what some members termed ‘constructive’ solutions – that is, reserving ballots or threats of action only when other methods fail to achieve a satisfactory solution for the branch.  

To remind members, management has agreed the following with LUCU:

Staff may request home working even if they are not clinically vulnerable, and without necessarily involving input from Occupational Health, if they are concerned about undertaking their duties in-person. Although the survey focused on in-person teaching, this agreement covers all staff.  Requests are considered at school/unit level by the line manager or their nominee. 

If members would like the advice of a LUCU caseworker before submitting a request or during discussions with a manager, please contact our Casework Coordinator, Andrew Dix – a.dix@lboro.ac.uk.

Thus far, requests have been treated sympathetically, and the agreement is enabling members to work from home or have their in-person hours reduced to a number with which they are comfortable. LUCU is monitoring the process through regular updates from Reps, and regular contact with Deans and HR as required.

Members: please find a fuller report on the survey attached to your email.   

LUCU Committee

LUCU News – March/April

LUCU News – March/April

Restructures/Redundancy/PDR/Casework/LUCUDiscuss

Restructures and the Threat of Redundancy

Currently three areas are undergoing a restructure: Careers, Organisational Development, and the School of Science, where the restructure impacts on technicians.  Management is only obliged to consult where 25 jobs or more will be affected.  However, we are fortunate that in keeping with best practice the three campus trade unions, along with affected staff, are always consulted on proposed changes.  The purpose of consultation is to allow staff and/or their representatives input into the restructure. Note that ‘consultation with’ the campus trade unions does not necessarily equate to ‘agreed by’ the campus trade unions.

An unpleasant fact of restructures is that they may result in staff being required to apply for a new post when the role they currently hold is made ‘redundant’, and they have not been ‘slotted in’ to the new role (‘slotting in’ is where the new role contains at least 60% of the duties of the previous role, as determined by the list of duties in the new and the old job descriptions).  If there is a reduction in the number of posts available, then some staff may face redundancy. Whilst the direct impact of the current restructures is on Professional Services staff, the consequences may also impact on the workloads of academic colleagues.

The campus trade unions are united in opposing job losses because of these restructures. We will also fight against staff being asked to perform the same duties as previously at a lower pay grade or staff facing intensified workloads by being given additional duties for the same pay.

If you are/were involved in a restructure and believe trade union representatives have not been involved, we want to know: ucu@lboro.ac.uk. Please do this so that we can monitor whether a pattern is developing whereby work is being pushed down onto lower grades, with higher grades being made redundant.

PDR

It has been brought to our attention that recent updates re: the PDR have not reached all members. In response to the pandemic, the University has announced that the deadline for PDR discussions has been extended to the end of April 2021.

These are 3 points we feel that we should bring to your attention.

  1. No colleague will be assessed against objectives that have been so significantly affected by the pandemic that such an approach would be unreasonable. Last year’s objectives should be considered in-the-round and in the light of the challenges that we have all faced. This includes both different ways of working and domestic pressures such as home-schooling children or looking after dependents.
  1. If objectives remain relevant, calculate a new time frame for their completion to be discussed with your reviewer. If no longer relevant say so and write them off – long justifications are not necessary for undeliverable objectives. A clear explanation of the legacy impact of Covid on your research will help ensure that you are not held to a set of unfair objectives in future.
  1. The PDR discussion should focus on the coming year from the perspective of objectives, support and professional development.

Personal casework

Much of the work undertaken by the branch happens in plain sight: think, for example, of our brokering the Partnership Agreement with the University or our organisation of strike activity in support of national campaigns for better pay and pensions. By its very nature, however, personal casework, as undertaken on campus by a small team comprising a number of Committee colleagues and several department or section reps, is liable to go unnoticed. The work involves meeting members who contact us for support on a wide range of issues, reading material relevant to their cases, offering advice, and accompanying them to meetings with managers. The volume of work involved is significant. The rewards, however, are greater still, for in casework we encounter members who are facing difficult, worrying, even distressing situations, and we hope that they find our involvement supportive and constructive.

Sometimes a case with which a member approaches us can be resolved quite quickly and informally. On other occasions, however, the member may need advice in preparing a complex grievance claim or may be facing disciplinary action that has dismissal as one of its possible outcomes. High demands are made on the caseworker in these circumstances to be not only a source of support and counsel, but to be fully prepared.

In this academic year to date, we have offered formal casework support to 18 of our members. Many of these cases are ongoing. In the current, complex circumstances, we do not anticipate that the demands on the caseworking team will lighten.

We are grateful to those members who, either for the first time or as a refresher, attended the recent caseworker training session led by Joe Rooney from the union’s Regional Office. If you feel you might like to get involved in casework and want to find out more, please get in touch with our Personal Casework Coordinator Andrew Dix (A.Dix@lboro.ac.uk). Likewise, do contact Andrew if you would like union support and advice with any issue that you have in the workplace.

Launch of “LUCU Discuss”

Following the motion ‘Building LUCU’, the branch has set up a discussion list where members may raise issues of interest or concern, ask questions of each other, share ideas, and develop solidarity. We know work is especially isolating for many at the moment, and we hope that this might help bring our members together.

To join, please send an email to ucu@lboro.ac.uk with the subject “Subscribe to LUCU Discuss”. In the body, please write your name and the preferred email address you have listed for your UCU membership (this can be checked via MyUCU). You must join the list with the email address your UCU account is registered to (this is the email address through which you receive current UCU information).

Attached to this email are a set of rules and guidelines for LUCU Discuss that we would ask members to read before registering. We hope that members will find the discussion list useful and enjoyable. If you have any questions, please email ucu@lboro.ac.uk.

Meet Our Reps

Jen De Lillo, Library Services: I am Academic Librarian for English and Communication and Media Studies and work within the Library’s Academic Services Team. I’ve been in this role since 2016 having previously worked on research projects on digital scholarly editions of medieval texts after finishing my PhD in 2001. Given my experience, I understand first-hand the precarious nature of research positions.  I became the union rep for the Library as I believe it is important for professional service staff to be represented and, as a part-time worker myself, I feel that it is essential for us to have a voice. I have found union colleagues invaluable when it comes to discussing matters informally and hope to be able to support others whilst keeping the local branch informed of any issues we may be facing within the Library.  

Eef Hogervorst, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences: I am a Professor of Psychology and UCU rep for SSEHS. I very much support the solidarity principle and have personally had much benefit from being a LUCU member over the past years. I research mental health, with a focus on cognitive impairment. My particular interest is in menopause and dementia. During peri-menopause, many women find it hard to focus on work and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression that play a significant role in midlife. With HR and colleagues, I am developing a course for WHEN to help women navigate this.  I have also given several lectures on career progression in academia. I am passionate about reducing gender differences in pay and career opportunities. I am training to become a LUCU caseworker.

LUCU Committee

Equality, Diversity, Inclusivity

Equality, Diversity, Inclusivity

Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day (IWD2021)

International Women’s Day (IWD) was started in the 1900s when women’s oppression and inequality spurred them to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change in working hours, pay and for voting rights.   The first National Woman’s Day (NWD) was observed in the United States on February 28, 1909, followed by the establishment of International Women’s Day in 1911 in Europe and the US. International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations in 1975.

Over the last 110 years, there is more equality in legislative rights in many countries, and an increased visibility of women role models. However, the gender pay gap persists, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health, and the violence against them is worse than that of men. https://www.internationalwomensday.com/Activity/15586/The-history-of-IWD).

To celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, LUCU will be sending weekly emails with information about women in the workplace and also holding 2 free events on:

  1. #ChooseToChallenge bias.  A workshop with Marie Hanlon to empower people to identify and challenge bias head-on.
  2. Complaint as Diversity Work reading group discussion with David Bell and David Wilson. This group will discuss the complexities that emerge when institutions take on the mantle of ‘diversifying’ themselves, and the struggles of those who complain about gendered and racialized issues in the workplace. 

The University has also organized events to mark these dates: https://www.lboro.ac.uk/news-events/iwd-2021/

Listening to Lived Experience

We all have complex identities made up of intersecting characteristics such as race, gender, sexuality and much more.   We may face prejudice against our gender, while experiencing privilege because of our race, or vice versa.  It’s important that we listen to the experiences of those around us and think about how they compare to our own, in order to help us understand this complex picture.  Sharing our personal experiences, especially painful experiences, can make us feel vulnerable.  Indeed, such experiences can make us materially vulnerable.  It is a privilege when someone is willing to let us see into their lives, and it gives us an opportunity to learn and grow.

We are therefore very grateful to our colleague David Roberts, who recently shared an intimate account of his life on the University Equality, Diversity and Inclusion blog.  In ‘Recollections of a racial past in a racist present’ David paints a vivid picture of the challenges he’s faced, and continues to face, and those who have helped him achieve the success he has.  We urge you to find time in your busy lives to read it – especially if your race is not something you’ve ever thought much about.

Gendered Lives.

When a baby is born, or indeed more often these days long before it is born, we ask “what is it?”  The gender of the brand-new human becomes their defining feature before they have drawn their first breath – determining the choice of clothes in which they will be dressed and the colour of the toys on which they will dribble and chew.  In the short piece “What are you having?”, David Wilson explores why we’re so keen to answer this burning question, and what problems it might cause.

If you would like to have a piece of writing on EDI circulated among the membership, please get in touch: ucu@lboro.ac.uk

LUCU Committee

Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS)

Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS)

As you will have seen from the Vice Chancellor’s message on Wednesday, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) has issued a new valuation.

The goal of the valuation is to assess the scheme’s assets and liabilities as of 31st March 2020. As the Vice Chancellor pointed out, pension funds are legally required to conduct valuations every three years. USS last undertook a valuation two years ago. Consequently,  this valuation, the date of which coincided with perhaps the most uncertain point of the pandemic, is not required to take place for another year.

USS has used a valuation method very similar to that proposed in September 2020. In its response to these proposals, Universities UK (UUK), the group which speaks on behalf of universities like Loughborough, described the valuation method as “extremely unhelpful”, “unreasonable”, “unrealistic”, “incredibly conservative” and “unjustifiable”. UUK concluded that USS was making “extreme and unwarranted” proposals. Remarkably, the proposals issued on Wednesday are actually more extreme than those which prompted these unrestrained remarks.

UCU agrees with UUK’s criticisms of the valuation method. We continue to believe that the recommendations of the Joint Expert Panel, which was set up by UCU and UUK following the 2018 industrial action, should be implemented.

The branch is engaging with management colleagues here at Loughborough. A report will be provided at the forthcoming AGM and members will have the opportunity to pose questions to our Pensions Rep, Matthew Inglis.

LUCU Committee

LUCU Covid Bulletin 3 – March 2020

LUCU Covid Bulletin 3 – March 2020

Our survey on Covid and in-person contact closes tomorrow – March 5, 2021. If you have not yet completed the survey, which takes c. 3 minutes, we urge you to do so to help the committee better understand your views on Covid related issues at this time. 

Campus Re-opening

There will be a partial re-opening of campus on Monday, March 8, 2021 for students who are registered on courses that require access to specialist facilities to complete practical elements of their programmes. See here for a complete lists of courses: Microsoft Word – practical-degree-programes-march2021.docx (lboro.ac.uk). In addition, undergraduate finalists who require access to specialist facilities for project / dissertation work can continue their on-campus activity as per the email to students dated 28th January.

Teaching programmes that are not listed on the above linked document will remain online until after Easter, pending review during April and further government guidance.

For your information, the most recent Government advice, based on SAGE guidance, that informs how the University is managing the staggered return of students may be found here: Higher education: operational guidance – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). Members may also be interested to read Indie Sage Guidance: Independent SAGE Statement on Universities and Colleges Winter-Spring 2021 in the Context of SARS-CoV-2 and the | Independent SAGE.

Covid H&S Update

Since the start of the pandemic, LUCU and the other campus trades unions have been closely involved in monitoring how the University is responding to Covid risks on campus through representation on the University Health and Safety committee. In addition, we have held weekly meetings with Neil Budworth, Director of Health, Safety and Wellbeing, and Anne Lamb, Deputy Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development, in cooperation with Unison and Unite, where we have been able to assess in greater detail the implementation and enforcement of Covid-secure measures. 

In response to Covid variants that are more highly transmissible, we can report to members that all risk assessments for rooms that will be in use from March 8, 2021 have been reviewed and updated where needed, and risk assessments for all remaining teaching/shared office spaces that may come into use after Easter are also under review. 

Thus far, the following changes have been made in response to the threat of Covid variants.

  1. Student and Staff Testing: Students are required to undertake a rapid Covid test at least once every seven days in order to be allowed to use campus-based facilities (e.g. Library, PC labs, study spaces).  Students who do not take a minimum of one test every seven days will be denied access to facilities until they comply with the testing.  The aim is for students to undertake two tests each week (3-4 days apart), but rather than implementing this from the start, the University is building up compliance with at least one test per week. 

Staff are required to take a weekly rapid Covid test if they are working on the campus for any length of time.  The only exceptions to these requirements are for anyone who has had a positive Covid test in the last 90 days, or who is otherwise medically exempt.  Staff based on the Loughborough campus can book a rapid test via the website (https://www.lboro.ac.uk/internal/studying-working-living/testing/), while for staff based at the London campus, testing is available on Mondays and Wednesdays between 10am and 2pm at the 4th floor test centre and booking is not required in London. 

LUCU broadly support the requirement for staff working on campus to undertake regular rapid Covid tests and would encourage all members to engage with the policy where they can.  If you have any concerns about the testing, please speak to your line manager in the first instance, or you can contact LUCU at ucu@lboro.ac.uk.

  1. Ventilation: The ventilation in all teaching spaces on campus has been reviewed to ensure that it is compliant with the latest guidance regarding the more highly transmissible variants. Lectern notes and Risk Assessments have been updated to reflect this.
  1. Leaving spaces empty for longer between sessions: In order to reduce the risk posed by viral load build up in teaching spaces, extra gaps are being left between sessions to ensure the rooms are well ventilated between classes.  The requirement for this varies between locations and is factored into the timetabling of the rooms.
  1. Social distancing: As with the autumn term, staff should be able to maintain a 2m distance between themselves and students in teaching spaces.  Floor markings have been placed in teaching spaces denoting the safe areas for staff to maintain this spacing.  Students will be spaced at 2m where feasible.  Where 2m distancing between students would severely impact the capacity of a room, the University is mandating 1m+ spacing, where students may be seated within 2m of one another but other protections (such as differing orientations and mandatory face coverings) reduce the risks). 

The seats in teaching spaces that are suitable for students to occupy are clearly denoted with stickers.  In laboratories, workshops and practical spaces, where 2m floor spacings for staff may not be possible, higher grade PPE (e.g. additional respiratory protection) will be provided.

  1. Enforcement: Covid ambassadors will be in place to ensure compliance with social distancing and other safety measures.

If you become aware of a situation where health and safety guidelines are not being followed, contact your line manager and school health and safety officer in the first instance. Please also let the union know.

LUCU Dispute Update

Early in the pandemic UCU called for all non-essential teaching to move online, and LUCU requested management to adopt the UCU position.

Management refused on the basis that 1) they were providing a workplace where Covid risks were minimized as much as possible, and therefore, requesting in-person contact was not unreasonable; 2) it was necessary to deliver some in-person teaching for the benefit of students’ educational needs and mental wellbeing, as per LSU’s position; and 3) minimizing financial losses during the pandemic was essential to protect jobs.

LUCU has paid careful attention to what members have been telling us via their union Reps, email communications, surveys, and AGMs/EGMs.  We learned that the membership holds a wide range of views relative to the UCU position, ranging from support for moving all teaching online to support for the system of blended learning that management put in place.  The majority of members took the position that LUCU should work toward ensuring that the campus was made as safe as possible, avoid action that would impact on university finances to the extent that management may move toward further cutbacks, and consider the learning experience and wellbeing of students as well as staff when negotiating with management. 

Feedback from members also demonstrated a concern that some staff might be pressured into working on campus even if they felt extremely anxious about doing so.  Clinically vulnerable staff are not expected to work on campus, and those staff (mainly in professional services) who are able to perform their roles remotely are also working from home. 

Consequently, in November 2020, LUCU declared a formal dispute in line with our Partnership Agreement: our aim was to find a compromise that would allow members who did not feel comfortable about undertaking in-person teaching, or other campus duties involving in-person contact, to work from home. We argued that anxiety about in-person contact should not be pathologized during a pandemic, and management had a duty of care to respond to reports of high levels of anxiety with reasonable adjustments.  Management accepted this argument.

We requested that management adopt an opt-in policy for campus working, but this was refused on the basis that an opt-in policy could result in students having an uneven experience across disciplines in terms of in-person hours.  Consequently, further negotiations to resolve the dispute resulted in a working agreement whereby staff members may request home working or reduced in-person hours even if they are not clinically vulnerable, and without necessarily involving input from Occupational Health (although in some cases a referral to OH may be in a member’s interest).

Requests are considered on a case-by-case basis at school level by the relevant line manager or a member of staff designated by the line manager (e.g. Head of Subject, Operations Manager).  Thus far, most requests to work remotely have been treated sympathetically, with members either having their in-person hours reduced or being allowed to work from home. 

Anyone who is not satisfied with the response they receive to their request for remote working may contact LUCU, and we will assign them a caseworker.  Where a caseworker has become involved, we have enjoyed a good rate of success in negotiating a satisfactory outcome for members, and we have a small handful of cases that are ongoing.

We are continuing to monitor how well this approach is working through communication with school and unit LUCU Reps, as well as ongoing meetings with Deans/HR. Currently, we are aware of two subject areas where remote working is negatively impacting other colleagues in terms of the number of in-person hours they are being asked to deliver, and we have secured management agreement to work with LUCU on an action plan to resolve the problem in these areas. 

If you are considering making a request for remote working and have questions/would like further guidance before doing so, please contact us: UCU@lboro.ac.uk

On behalf of LUCU Committee