Published On: Sat, Oct 17th, 2020

Our universities are not safe in management’s hands

Anger and frustration is reaching boiling point in universities throughout the UK.

The University and College Union (UCU) have been warning, at both local and national level, that campuses are nowhere near ‘COVID-safe’ or ‘COVID-secure’, as universities claim they are.

The Glasgow University experience – with 172 students testing positive, and 500 self-isolating in halls of residence at Abertay – is a warning sign of what is in store for campuses across the country, as they begin reopening over the next few weeks.

At a recent online meeting of the De Montfort UCU branch, around 150 union members passed two motions by majorities of over 90%. These motions criticised management’s bullying and attempts at victimisation of activists, as well as condemning the pressure on staff to teach face-to-face in unsafe conditions.

Similar motions have been passed at Leicester University also. However, the DMU branch has agreed to use “all means at our disposal to defend members, including lawful industrial action”, in relation to bullying and victimisation.

Members have suggested declaring a dispute if management continues cutting part-time hourly paid jobs; or if they make no significant moves on safety.

DMU safety reps have raised issues such as: poor signage; lack of sanitiser; and inadequate preparations for the students to return to campus. Questions have also been asked of management’s failure to inform the health & safety department and union safety reps about the teaching of 80 students on a foundation course. This resulted in two members of staff testing positive.

Our supposedly ‘COVID-safe’ campus is seeing infection spreading before term has even started.

Northampton University has made it clear that lecturers who feel vulnerable and refuse to obey instructions about undertaking face-to-face teaching will face disciplinary action “as a last resort”. This attitude is widespread across the sector.

The lives of students and staff are meaningless to the greasy-pole climbers and their managerialist agenda. To them, education is a business – their business. But businesses exist for profit, nothing else. Universities, by contrast, are supposed to exist for the public good.

It is time that these institutions were brought under workers’ control, to be run as public institutions, not private businesses.

Motions passed at DMU UCU branch

UCUbannersTUCdemoThis branch notes that:

  • There have been regular consultation meetings between the Executive Board and our UCU Negotiating committee since the start of the pandemic.
  • During these consultation meetings, our UCU Negotiating committee has constructively engaged with proposals for a safe return to campus, the protection of all jobs, a revised workload model to address the new working conditions set by the pandemic.
  • The University has instrumentally referred to these consultations in communication with all staff.
  • In such communications, the University has instrumentally omitted to report UCU’s concerns and strong disagreement.
  • The University appears to engage with these negotiations only to gain legitimation, but with no real intention to meaningfully engage with UCU’s proposals.
  • That the UCU and Unison Health and Safety reps report on the campus tour of 4 September declares the campus unsafe for the imminent reopening to students and staff.

This branch believes that:

  • The University Executive Board cannot be trusted for meaningful consultations and negotiations.
  • Our UCU branch should not accept any compromise on safety, job security and the mental health and wellbeing of all staff.

This branch resolves to:

  • Declare a collective dispute if an individual opt-out procedure for face-to-face teaching during the COVID crisis is not offered to all staff.
  • Call on the University to make the default mode for teaching online-only for the duration of the COVID crisis.
  • Formally urge the University to stop all redundancies of Part Time Hourly Paid colleagues.
  • Demand a new workload model negotiated via UCU.
  • Demand the protection of research time, funding and support.
  • Explore the possibility of declaring a formal dispute with the University if the demands above are not addressed.

This branch notes:

  • The continuing failure of management to address the culture of bullying at DMU. We particularly condemn attempts to utilise the disciplinary process to victimise any UCU member for their involvement in our recent ‘Four Fights’ industrial action.

This branch resolves:

  • That it will use all means at our disposal to defend members, including lawful industrial action, and calls on senior university management to rein in perpetrators forthwith.

Socialist Appeal

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