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Update on Modern Languages, Branch President Disputes and COVID Health and Safety Issues

Two disputes: Modern Languages and Branch President

As reported in the last newsletter, a branch meeting was held on Tuesday 9 February at which two motions were passed which committed the branch to: 1)  challenge the decision to cease Modern Language degree provision at the University (with the risk of compulsory redundancies that arises from this), and 2) challenge the compulsory redundancy of branch president Keith Butler. Following unsatisfactory responses from the Vice Chancellor, on 22 February, UCU Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Official Julie Kelley served the VC with a notice that we intend to enter a formal dispute process in relation to these two issues.

We expect the University to adhere to agreed procedures in addressing these two disputes. The VC states that the University will follow the procedure in relation to the Modern Languages dispute, a procedure which involves meetings and eventually, if necessary, ACAS involvement. However, she disputes that the dismissal of Keith Butler is a collective issue. The branch committee disagrees – we are not aware that the University has the right to dictate which issues the branch can treat as collective issues. This is the prerogative of the branch membership, who in accordance with democratic procedures voted to challenge the branch President’s compulsory redundancy, recognizing this to be an attack on the branch as a whole.

The VC did indicate that the parts of this dispute that relate to the branch President’s access to University facilities and collective meetings and the following of agreed procedures will be discussed with the branch’s representatives at the next meeting of the University Joint Consultation Committee (UJCC) on 10 March.

Covid Health and Safety issues

A regional UCU briefing on COVID health and safety issues was held on 24 February. This was attended by the branch Health and Safety representative. Some of the discussion focused on the use of masks. Our own institutional guidance is to wear face coverings unless there is a detriment to teaching.  In poorly ventilated spaces this is inadequate protection. Whilst FFP2 masks are available for staff and students in clinical skills, further rollout has not been mentioned in any forum or meeting attended by your Health and safety rep. Please let us know if anyone has any different information. The briefing also discussed experiments showing that using a surgical mask under a cloth face covering could be 95% effective (FFP2 is 92% effective and a surgical mask alone is 44% effective). See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/02/10/cdc-double-masks-covid/.

It was advised that we should be diligent in our use of the accident book to report near misses in relation to COVID. Accessing information has proved difficult for many institutions. Our previous branch President, Mary Ellen Large did some great work last year in getting the university to agree to publish health data regularly.

At the briefing we have been given a risk assessment template which we will circulate as it could be helpful in working with the employer.

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