Joint statement with BUCU on campus reopening

Coronavirus Health and Safety

Despite holding talks with University of Birmingham management earlier today (29 May 2019), Birmingham UCU and UNISON University of Birmingham still have Health and Safety concerns over the University’s plans to press ahead with a phased re-opening of campus, starting this coming Monday (1 June). These concerns stem from the University’s failure to properly engage with Trade Union Health and Safety Representatives before the decision to reopen was made. Birmingham UCU and UNISON University of Birmingham have agreed a joint statement, highlighting the specific reasons for our concerns and what actions the University should take in order to address them.

Statement

On the 21st of May UoB’s Vice Chancellor wrote to all staff to share a plan for the reopening of campus. Notably the plan included reference to the first “phase” of reopening starting on the 1st of June. We received some documentation and information following this announcement but significantly this was after the decision had been made and marked a step change from prior communications that indicated mid-June would be a likely date for the start of a staged reopening of campus. 

Following discussions between recognised trade unions and senior University management at the end of this week we understand that initially only a small number of additional staff will be expected to return to campus next week, and all other staff should remain at home whether they are working from home or unable to do so.

Nationally, all trade unions have repeatedly highlighted the importance of proper engagement with trade union safety representatives about these plans, and evidently for the views of staff to be properly represented, we need to be consulted before decisions are made. Trade union safety representatives at the University are responsible for representing the views of all staff on safety, and our involvement is mandatory under the Government’s “Covid Secure” guidelines. 

In our latest discussions with the University we strongly urged them to move back the start of “phase 1” for the purposes of both clarity and in the interests of allowing proper consultation to take place. As of the close of play on Friday the 29th May we have still yet to receive any specific Covid-19 risk assessment relating to the reopening of campus, and as the government guidelines make clear, this is essential before workplaces are reopened. Despite this it appears that the University still wishes to use the 1st of June as the indicative date for reopening activities to commence. 

While some reassurance has been provided both in our meetings with the University and in the public communications that indicate reopening will be careful and gradual and that we will be involved in the plans for specific buildings, we are still concerned that the 1st of June is either at best an arbitrary date or, at worst, far too soon to allow proper consideration of the plans and their likely impact. Our position is as follows:

  • We need as a matter of urgency to review risk assessment documentation relating to the first phase of buildings due to be reopened.
  • We need to be reassured, before numbers on campus increase, that as part of the University-wide risk assessment process the additional risks returning to work could pose to the following groups are being taken into account:
    • Those defined as clinically vulnerable under public health england guidance
    • Those who would need to use public transport to return to work 
    • Those who require PPE in order to do their roles safely
  • Numbers of staff on campus should not increase until proper time has been given to consultation, and the views of staff to be taken into account. 

We would encourage all staff, whether union members or not, to contact us if they have concerns or need advice regarding safety matters – under H&S law and University policy we are responsible for representing all staff at the University in relation to safety matters. 

Birmingham University UNISON and Birmingham UCU

What will this mean for me and how do I contact you?

As detailed above, we do not expect any more than a handful of staff to return next week and it is vitally important that any conversation regarding a future return is handled sensitively and that those with underlying health conditions are exempted, while caring responsibilities are taken into account. We’ve had an early indication that cleaning services will take this approach and hope that all other departments will follow suit.

You can contact your UNISON safety representatives by email to unisonbham@contacts.bham.ac.uk or by phoning 07964926949. 

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