Published: 30th March, 2020
Email sent to all Leicester UCU members, 30 March
Phew! What a fortnight! And what more is to come? We don’t know whether the glimmers we see are sunlight at the end of the tunnel or the headlights of an oncoming train!
Simply keeping up with the daily set of cascading emails has been a mission in itself. But here’s another…
As we think everyone knows, members of University of Leicester have responded with creativity and vigour to the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. Two and a half weeks ago, many of us were standing on picket lines. From Monday 16 March – our first day back at work, post-strike – we were gifting time, demonstrating commitment to our University’s students and to its (our) scholarship, struggling collectively to clear a route through this crisis. We believe that by our actions over the past fortnight, we have extended extraordinary goodwill – and much more goodwill on our part will be required over the coming weeks and months. In this period, we have asked the University’s leadership to reciprocate. We have been meeting and discussing – as both branch committee and with the senior management team – to this effect.
To facilitate the transition to on-line teaching, the leadership has asked us to relax our opposition to the default use of Panopto lecture capture for all teaching sessions. (Members may recall senior managers’ clumsy attempt to impose a one-size-fits-all policy regarding Panopto in autumn 2016.) We are open to this relaxation of our policy. However, we have specified some caveats (all agreed) and are still negotating on some issues (not all agreed yet):
All of our caveats have been agreed:A review after 4–6 months
We have agreement for most of our requests and are continuing to negotiate on one.
1. Preparations for REF and TEF be suspended or abandoned to allow resources to directed to meet more important priorities.
Little to discuss here. By the time we met with managers, the REF had already been paused; we were assured that TEF preparations are currently minimal to non-existent.
2. All disciplinary and performance management processes be paused.
We are currently in further discussion about this point and its details but we are confident that almost all such processes will be put on hold. We basically seem to be on the same page.
3. More practical support be made available to staff now home-working, e.g. provision of appropriate hardware and software.
The leadership is providing IT support, but will not provide new hardware for staff, nor will it subsidize employees who are now paying for their own IT equipment, broadband, heating, space and so on. (They pointed out that we are no longer paying commuting costs – true, for most of us – some colleagues have already paid for travel passes and season tickets).
4. There should be no detriment for staff unable to fulfil their normal duties as a result of working from home.
This is agreed. The policy will largely be implemented by local-level managers – any member of staff feeling unduly pressured by their line manage should contact HR.
5. There should be no detriment to students unable to fulfil their assessments and assignments etc as a result of working from home, or other factors related to the pandemic.
We have full agreement here.
6. Modification of the agreed rate of deductions from pay for striking members, especially those on precarious contracts. Specifically we have asked that no deductions be taken from staff on fixed-term contracts whose contracts are due to end within 4 months; and that, for other colleagues, the University leaders refrain from deducting pay for half of the days during which we took action.
We are still negotiating here. The argument we have put to the VC and his team is as follows.
When we took strike action in February and March, we knew we would take a financial hit that would mean we would struggle over the next months. We also knew we were taking this action not only in defence of our presents and futures, but those of our colleagues, our students and for the University of Leicester. We knew that if and when we won our dispute, we would leave all our colleagues much better off, whether or not they supported us and each other by striking; in the case of pensions, a win for us would save the University of Leicester a fortune. In fact, our University’s vice-chancellor has acknowledged our sacrifice. We did not, of course, anticipate COVID-19. In many cases we have lost earnings and even contracts. In many other cases we are now financially supporting loved ones and neighbours who have been left with nothing. Many of us are thus doubly hit.
We believe that, in the present situation, insisting on making full deductions for strike would be unnecessarily punitive. It would go against the sentiment expressed in messages from the University’s leadership that tell us that our well-being is paramount.
We have also reminded the leadership that finding a route through the present crisis will rely on voluntary labour, innovation, and working above and beyond contract – in other words, an inordinate amount of goodwill over the coming half-year (or more). Such goodwill is likely to be in short supply if, over that half-year, our monthly salary is significantly diminished.
We will let you know as soon as there is further progress in these negotiations. (At the moment we are waiting for a response to our latest communication, sent on Friday afternoon.)
In the meantime, stay safe!