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9 September 2020

No return to unsafe workplaces

No return to unsafe workplaces

The government announcement that it will be illegal to be a part of a gathering of more than 6 is a panic response by them to the predictable rise of Covid-19 cases.  The premature push to get everyone back to the workplaces is putting many people’s lives at risk. The government’s negligent handling of the pandemic is causing infection rates to rise again. Encouraging everyone to go out to restaurants and pubs for half price food and then blaming young people for not adhering to social distancing measures is a farce.

It is inexplicable why these new rules, enforceable by law, do not apply to schools, colleges and universities.

The government’s drive to force people back to the workplace has nothing to do with a concern about working class students missing out on education. Nobody falls for the Etonian’s crocodile tears for poor people they have just discovered exist. They are forcing people back to unsafe workplaces because they want us to spend money on fares, food and student accommodation.

Independent Sage reported recently that,

‘Further Education (FE) creates connectivity between multiple organisations and could amplify local transmission. It is highly likely that there will be outbreaks associated with FE, and asymptomatic transmission may make these harder to detect.’

and that,

‘Further Education settings share some features and demographics with both schools and workplaces, with some differences: whilst a large proportion of students are aged 16-18, a significant number of students and staff are older than 50; nearly 25% of students are from a BAME background and 50% of adult students are from the bottom 2 IMD quintiles; students are also likely to attend workplaces as part of study or otherwise; FE students are more reliant on public transport. DfE indicate 20% of FE students self-report having a learning difficulty and/or disability’

The government cannot say they have not been warned.

In FE the beginning of term has not been a smooth one. Staff are already worn out and anxiety levels have reached a peak as we attempt to make the new learning conditions work for our students.

In many cases staff anxieties have been made worst by poor planning and inappropriate classroom layouts and class sizes. FE employers justify the need to get colleges open for face to face teaching on the funding and quality measures that the government relaxed during lockdown but are now applying these same measure as if we are back to business as usual. We are not.

UCU must campaign to force government to relax FE funding and quality measures to allow greater flexibility in delivery models and onsite capacity.

UCU’s General Secretary has been absolutely correct to demand of the University employers that they deliver all education online and only teach face to face where necessary. She is also right to warn the employer that UCU will ballot its members if employers insist in forcing lecturers to teach face to face.

Not only are the employers who insist on face to face teaching putting their staff and student’s lives at risk but also the whole of the community those universities are situated in. By refusing to do the majority of their delivery online the employers and government are making the likelihood of a significant spike in infection rates and deaths much more likely.

We will then have to lockdown the whole of the University system.

But we need more then threats if we are to force the employers to take our students and staff safety seriously. At the beginning of this pandemic, whilst Johnson was ignoring advice to shake hands and trying to get us all infected through their criminal herd immunity strategy, it was the popular will that forced the government to change track. The lockdown and the use of PPE was forced upon them by the collective resistance in colleges, universities and the wider society. It took the death of over 300 NHS workers and 33 Bus drivers in London before they moved to take our safety seriously.

We will need to do the same if we are to protect our students, staff, communities and our loved ones.

The NEU were successful in stopping Johnson forcing teachers back on 1st June by organising mass online meetings for all their reps which gave them confidence to act locally in their schools.

UCU must back up its threats by organising mass online meetings now and socially distanced physical protests. Below is a motion UCU Left has circulated and encouraging branches to meet as soon as possible to discuss.

Sean Vernell UCU NEC


Motion: No return to face to face teaching.

Notes:

1)     GS’s call for all universities to teach online.

2)     UCU’s five tests.

3)     Official figures state that 43,000 people have died from the Coronavirus. Excess deaths are at least 60,000.

4)     Government calls for a return to workplaces.

5)      Independent SAGE and WHO, believe social distancing, test, track and isolate and the use of PPE, in controlling pandemics, are central.

Believes:

1)     The GS’s call on employers to not instruct staff to teach face to face is a correct one.

2)     That UCU’s five tests have not been met.

3)     The government decision to return to work is motivated by concerns of business rather than the safety of students and lecturers.

4)     That whilst the transmission rates have fallen the likelihood of a second wave is very likely.

Resolves:

1)     To refuse to teach face to face and continue to work online unless UCU’s tests have been met except where absolutely necessary, i.e. to ensure disabled students are able to participate, or for lessons which strictly require students to be present, such as surgery.

2)     To declare a dispute on Health and Safety ground if management refuse to heed the advice of the UCU.

3)     To call upon UCU to organise national reps meeting around the theme of No return to unsafe workplaces.

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