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.
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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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