— Joint statement from Marian Mayer, UCU Left candidate for Vice President, and Peter Evans, UCU Left candidate for the LGBT+ casual vacancy on the NEC.
Most Further Education (FE) colleges in England started physical on-site opening on 17 August, and colleges are due to open their doors to workers and students on Monday 7 September.
The UK Government released SAGE-backed advice on Saturday 5 September.
Marian Mayer, UCU Southern Region Chair, commented that this advice was long in coming, short in substance and four months late.
The new advice states:
- that FE creates connectivity between multiple organisations and could amplify local transmission;
- it is essential to develop clear strategies for testing, tracing and isolation;
- safe provision of education needs to be based on a hierarchy of risk.
These are all policies that UCU has been advocating since lockdown.
Peter Evans, Chair of UCU London Region FE Sector Committee, said that these were areas identified by UCU back in June, and it is outrageous that only now Johnson’s irresponsible Government has only now acknowledged this fact.
Both Marian and Peter said that this advice was sneaked out on a quiet news day just two days before FE colleges are set to fling open their doors to many vulnerable people. This incompetent mismanagement of the pandemic in the context of FE could very well fuel a second wave.
What you can do
- Request flexible working. For those working in FE with employers demanding that you return to on-site working, here is your secret weapon: Don’t forget you have the right to request to work flexibly.Since 30 June 2014, the right to ask to work flexibly has been available to all workers in England who have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service. There is no longer any need to be a carer for children or dependant adults to meet the criteria to make flexible working requests which includes working from home whether partly or wholly, part-time work etc… There is an ACAS Code of Practice on flexible working requests (the ACAS Code) which requires employers to handle them in a reasonable manner. The Code is statutory, so employment tribunals will expect an employer to follow it.
- Make collective demands on the employer to follow health and safety law and Government Covid-19 Guidance. If your employer is one of those who has not adopted a blended learning approach with classroom capacity determined by at least 1m+ social distancing mitigation, they must be forced to do so. Call a branch meeting to discuss whether staff feel if your employer has done enough to secure a safe face to face teaching environment for students and staff. If not, make clear that you will be remaining teaching online until it is.
- Pass this motion through your branch
Motion: No return to face-to-face teaching
- GS’s call for all universities to teach online.
- UCU’s five tests.
- Official figures state that 43,000 people have died from the Coronavirus. Excess deaths are at least 60,000.
- Government calls for a return to workplaces.
- Independent SAGE and WHO believe social distancing, test, track and isolate and the use of PPE in controlling pandemics are central.
- The GS’s call on employers to not instruct staff to teach face to face is a correct one.
- That UCU’s five tests have not been met.
- The government decision to return to work is motivated by concerns of business rather than the safety of students and lecturers.
- That whilst transmission rates have fallen, the likelihood of a second wave is very likely.
- 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.