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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.

HULL UNIVERSITY UCU CALL ON EMPLOYER TO REINSTATE SACKED BRANCH PRESIDENT – #REINSTATEKEITH

As many of you will be aware a branch
Emergency General Meeting was held
via MS Teams on Tuesday 9 February to
discuss as a matter of urgency two
motions which had been submitted in
response to recent events at the
University.

These motions were (in abbreviated form):

Branch President Motion:
The motion noted the compulsory
redundancy of its Branch President Keith
Butler on 31 January 2021, the fact that
this act is potentially in breach of the
University’s Recognition and Facilities
agreement with the branch and that it is an
attack on the Branch. The motion
demanded Keith be given access to
facilities and processes necessary to
undertake his role as UCU representative,
as well as his reinstatement, and that UCU
would record a collective dispute with the
University if the Branch’s demands are not
met.

Modern Languages Motion:
The motion condemned the recent
suspension of Modern Languages
provision at the University and the risk of
redundancy that arises from this, and
demanded that the University engage with
staff proposals for the continuation of
languages provision and make a
commitment to avoid compulsory
redundancies. The motion committed the
branch to a strategy of escalation,
including if necessary an industrial action
ballot, if management pursues compulsory
redundancies.

Both motions were passed with a majority
vote.

The branch feels that both motions are
connected, in that the University appears
to be pursuing a course whereby
compulsory redundancies are now being
pushed through. Further context to this
includes the fact that another UCU
member was recently served notice of
compulsory redundancy.
Both motions have been sent to the VC
and the Committee will update you on the
response and any developments.

Claim Your Tax Reliefs

There are several tax relief schemes that are likely to be of benefit to some members.  The paragraphs below introduce two schemes that you could consider.

Working From Home Tax Relief
If you have worked from home due to Covid, even for only one day this year, then you can claim a tax relief worth up to £125.  Some members have done this and report that the process takes about 10 minutes and is easy, especially if you already have a Government Gateway account.  This is an article about the tax relief and this is a link to the HMRC site to make the claim. 

Transfer Tax Free Allowance to a Partner

The marriage Allowance applies to married couples or those in civil partnerships.  If one partner earns less than their tax free personal allowance (about £12500 this year depending on circumstances) then they may be able to transfer some of their personal allowance to their partner.  This can save the partner up to £250 a year.  It is easy to apply here .

 

Ballot Results on Return to Campus Motion

Dear Members,

at the last informal Branch meeting a motion was drafted and an online ballot was held to determine its level of support from members.  The motion was:

Hull UCU is adopting the National UCU position: no default face-to-face teaching in line with scientific advice from Independent SAGE and SAGE recommendations. UCU Hull supports a default position that all HE teaching provision, consistently across all Faculties, should be through online/remote means except where this is practically impossible (e.g. for laboratory-based teaching and courses with practical elements such as some courses in the arts, the sciences, and clinical courses). Where face-to-face teaching is unavoidable, measures should be in place to create Covid-safe university settings through the measures set out in the Independent SAGE and SAGE reports and summarised in UCU’s (national) position statement.
The results of the ballot are as follow – 96 members voted (not bad considering workload and strain members are under)
Do you support this motion?
Yes = 85 votes (89%) of voters
No = 11 votes (11%)

Notice of Hull Branch UCU Annual General Meeting

Dear UCU Member
 
Your local branch of UCU will be holding its Annual General Meeting on Wednesday 11th November at 2.00 pm via Zoom.  The agenda and draft minutes of the last AGM, held on the 4/12/19, are attached for your information.   A Zoom link for the AGM will be sent to you nearer the time.
  
CALL FOR NOMINATIONS
 
This e-mail is also a call for nominations for Officer and Committee Members to the following posts;
 
President
Vice President
Treasurer
Secretary
Membership Secretary
Equality Officer
Anti-Casualisation Officer
Campaigns Officer
Committee Members (x 10 positions)
 
A copy of the branch rules (attached) gives a brief description of the above posts and what is expected in the role.  The current Committee strongly encourages members from a wide range of roles and departments to put themselves forward for posts.  This is essential for the effectiveness of your union Branch.
 
If you wish to stand for any of the above posts, please email Vicky Cattini (victoria.cattini@hull.ac.uk) stating the post you wish to stand for.    You will need to find two UCU members willing to support your nomination.  CC these two members into your nomination email.   The closing date for nominations is 12 noon on Wednesday 14th October 2020.  

 
It is proposed that if any of the posts have more than one nomination, a ballot will take place.  Those applying will be notified and will be given the opportunity to submit a 450 word document explaining why they wish to stand for the post and this will be sent to members as part of the voting process.  The results of the ballot will be announced at the AGM.
 
If members wish to put forward any motions for the AGM please can you send them to Kevin Paulson, Branch Secretary, at K.S.Paulson@associate.hull.ac.uk stating your name and the name of your seconder, again by 12 noon on Wednesday 14th October 2020.
 
 
Kind regards
 
Vicky 
 
Vicky Cattini
Branch Administrator – 
UCU

Return to Campus

This newsletter contains specific guidance for members on ‘what to do’ in the current circumstances as campus continues to open and as teaching starts. It is important to note that none of the actions suggested imply any criticism of individuals involved in work associated with the University’s response to COVID.

However, nationally and locally (and after a very long summer of discussions) UCU representatives do not agree with the sector wide decision to re-open campus to the extent that is occurring. UCU believes that the risks associated with COVID-19 are such that the default should be that people continue to work on-line, wherever possible. UCU believe that where the default is not applied it should only be in conditions where there is:

  • An individualised risk assessment for each individual conducted by a competent and fully trained individual. Risk assessment should include a mental health/stress risk assessment (as appropriate) as well as a physical health risk assessment. This individual risk assessment should be conducted in addition to the buildings and spaces risk assessments which are generic.
  • A detailed and formalised COVID specific code of behaviour for everyone who attends campus.
  • Fully informed consent of the individual being asked (or asking) to work on campus following their full involvement, particularly in review of their own individual risk assessment, and following face to face conversations with their line manager.
  • Specific protocols, in detail, for what to do if things go wrong or if you have concerns.
  • An active policy of ‘no detriment’ for any individual choosing to continue to work safely away from campus following their fully informed involvement in the above process of assessment.

We do not believe these conditions are currently being met at the University for everyone.

Consequently, we are issuing the following advice for each individual member.

Do not refuse to attend work if directed to do so by your line manager. To refuse to attend work while you are otherwise fit for work is technically a breach of contract.

If you are asked to work on campus and do not think you should be on campus because of the risk to your health or anyone else’s, then:

  1. Before attending campus, review the template letters produced by UCU which can be found here. Decide which letter is most applicable to your situation.
  2. Complete the template letter as it applies to your situation and to the extent you can.
  3. Contact Victoria Cattini (Victoria.Cattini@hull.ac.uk) and ask for a UCU caseworker to assist you to complete the form, if you feel it is necessary. Vicky will put you in touch with a caseworker. Please bear in mind that the volume of cases at present for our five caseworkers is considerable so if you can complete the form without help please do so.
  4. Complete the form and send to your line manager. Copy in your assigned caseworker or send the completed form to Victoria.Cattini@hull.ac.uk
  5. If you return to campus and are involved in, or informed of, an unsafe situation or incident go to here and complete a UCU report on the incident. You should also report the situation (as a legal duty) through University official reporting mechanisms.

Further information and notes

  1. You do have a right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions and UCU will support you in maintenance of that legal right if necessary. But like so much UK employment law, that right effectively applies only after the fact and specifically. In simple terms, and in the current context, you have to be imminently presented with a specific unsafe working environment and where the risk to you and others is apparent and immediate before Section 44 of the Health and Safety at Work act (1974) would apply.
  2. If you encounter a situation that you consider unsafe, the best advice we are able to give at the moment is to remove or distance yourself from the situation, inform the nearest available line manager but do not leave campus until you were due to. We have been asking the ‘what do I do if…?’ question over summer and still have no answer to this question unfortunately so this is the best advice we can give, pending some sort of clear protocols from the University.
  3. We would ask members to remember that line managers (Departmental heads, FAMs, Deans and others) and other colleagues and comrades are also in a very difficult and stressful situation at this time and that generally speaking university wide strategic and operational decisions are made at an institutional level.

Closing notes:

Neither UCU representatives nor ‘the campus trade unions’ have made formal agreements about any aspect of the remobilization of campus with the University of Hull management. We have been involved in collegiate and often productive, discussions or consultations over the summer period about the University’s response to the global pandemic. [See https://share.hull.ac.uk/Services/HR/SitePages/Employee%20Relations%20(Trade%20Unions).aspx for a link to minutes from the UJCC Sub COVID meetings so you can read the representations that have been made.]  In these meetings, individual managers we have worked with have been open and transparent about planning and work that has been occurring, for example inviting trade union representatives to inspect work conducted or sharing risk assessments for buildings. This collegiate approach is why none of our advice constitutes a criticism of individuals who have worked on COVID related safety measures.

But trade unions do not make strategic or University wide strategic or operational decisions or get a vote on these decisions. So, while we recognise the work that has occurred locally and at the ‘sharp end’ across campus, we do not think that the remobilization of campus, as a strategic decision, can protect everyone (staff and students) as fully as we believe necessary.  We believe a much more gradual, piloted approach – based more fully on precautionary principles – would have been appropriate. Furthermore, we believe a gradual, piloted approach based on individual consent and no detriment remains possible and desirable. In current circumstances where such an approach has now more or less been ruled out, the advice in this newsletter represents our recommendations for what members can do to protect their own, and other’s safety.

Martin Nickson

Hull UCU Committee

Risk Assessments

University management has belatedly decided not to perform personal risk assessments for staff returning to campus.  Regional UCU has adapted a HSE risk assessment for you to use.  You can complete Y H Region Personal Risk Assessment Pro Forma (3) and use it in discussions with your line manager.

Petition for sweatshop-free ICT at the University

Staff and students at universities across the North East and Midlands are demanding that their electronics supplier go #SweatshopFree. Take action against supply chains injustice NOW by signing the petition! Follow @Sweatshop Free – People & Planet for updates

https://tinyurl.com/y2fsrugq

Changes to working conditions and health and safety

Dear Members,
 
Please find a report on the changes in our work conditions that have been communicated to UCU members via internal comms (and perhaps in some staff meetings).  The report is based on the survey results from last week, the Branch meeting held on 16th July and correspondence with individual members. Events have moved rapidly so some of the issues raised by members have been covered by more recent communications from our employers. For example, in the Internal Comms 05/08 staff were informed that the guidance on changes to working hours,  ‘….will be regularly reviewed and will remain in place whilst the University continues to operate an extended teaching day due to the COVID-19 pandemic.’
 
However, there remains substantial issues around demands on our members time, lack of detail around keeping us safe on campus, and the manner in which decisions are made and communicated by our employers. Whilst UCU is sympathetic to our employer’s efforts to keep staff and student’s safe during a global pandemic, we are worried about the consequences of poor engagement with staff in key decisions. The next year is going to be difficult for everyone, both in terms of workload and risks to health. Good will, collegiality and reciprocity are likely to be a key factors in navigating the uncertainties and anxieties facing all of us working at the University over the next 12 months or so.  
 
If you have further concerns or questions, please feel free to  get in touch with your local UCU representative,  the Branch Administrator – Victoria.Cattini@hull.ac.uk , or Branch Secretary, Kevin Paulson,  K.S.Paulson@associate.hull.ac.uk .

Change to Timetabled Hours

Dear Members,
Last week we held a Branch meeting to address the changes to teaching that have been proposed by management. There was widespread concern on the management’s plan to timetable teaching from 9am – 8pm for specialist spaces, and from 9am – 9pm for generic spaces, Monday to Friday, excluding Wednesday afternoons (from 1pm).
The UCU committee did ask to negotiate on this change to the timetable, but we were refused on the grounds that the Supplementary Terms and Conditions for Academic Staff, states the following:
“The normal hours of work are not specified but are those which are necessary to carry out the responsibilities and duties associated with the post.”
The UCU committee contends that custom and practice is that teaching takes place between 9am – 6pm, Monday to Friday, and our employer’s plan to significantly extend the teaching timetable is a significant change to our working conditions.
At the branch meeting members raised a number of concerns ranging from work/life balance, impact on those with caring responsibilities, and the safety of those travelling at home late at night. Members expressed disappointment that the management sought to impose this change to their working conditions rather than taking a collegial approach given that the reason for the change relates to the health and safety of staff and students.
At the meeting it was agreed to poll the wider membership on the change in timetabled teaching.  This survey will be sent to members in the next few days.