Updates – April 2020

Negotiations update

Your UNISON representatives and those from the other campus trade unions are continuing to negotiate with the University to keep staff safe and to look after your rights in these very difficult times. Our priority remains pressing the University to limit the number of staff on campus, to protect those who have underlying health conditions or who live with those who have underlying health conditions and ensuring that people can prioritise their caring responsibilities. We’ve secured the following in recent negotiations:

  • The majority of Cleaning staff are now no longer required to come to campus, with most essential work being conducted by a core team of 15-20 staff. Cleaning staff who have safety concerns, who are vulnerable to the virus or who have caring responsibilities should be able to opt out of the rota – please speak to us if you need any advice about this.
  • There is now no limit on the special paid dependent leave the University introduced before the closure of campus. Everyone should be able to balance any work responsibilities with their caring ones without loss of pay.

We also put a formal proposal to the University on making all work on campus voluntary and increasing the level of enhanced pay for this work (see below for more information). In our continuing negotiations we will be focusing on:

  • Securing continuing pay for anyone on fixed term contracts that are due to expire as well as those on casual work arrangements such as Worklink and casual contracts at the Hotel
  • Ensuring people receive refunds for any University services they are not currently accessing, including car parking, nursery fees and bike locker fees (as we said in our last email, for travel pass refunds please speak directly to the transport company in question)
  • Making sure staff working at home can do so safely, and can when necessary obtain equipment to reduce strain

If you have any comments or questions about our negotiations with the University, please let us know.

We would particularly encourage members to read and support Birmingham UCU’s open letter about staff on precarious contracts and postgraduate students. 

Essential workers

As detailed above, we put a proposal to the University last week on making all work on campus voluntary. We attached the full proposal in our email but in brief the committee feels that for reasons of safety, fairness and efficiency the work remaining to be done on campus is best done by small teams of properly remunerated volunteers.

The University’s initial response to this was that they feel they would not be able to staff some continuing services solely on a voluntary basis, and also that they felt their current offer of £75 per week was more generous than other Universities are offering at present. They clarified that though this is pro-rata, the rate for this work is at least £15 per day, regardless of the number of hours someone works.

We maintain that it could be possible to staff the majority of work at the University on a completely voluntary basis and we want to hear from you if you feel the number of staff in your area could be further reduced – please contact us if you are still being asked to come onto campus and you think your area could move to a wholly voluntary model of staffing.

Working from home

These are exceptional times and many of us have been thrown into home working without much preparation and generally no additional equipment other than a University laptop.

Some managers at the University are being understanding about this and are making it clear that staff cannot be expected to achieve as much as they normally would in a day’s work, but we know this isn’t the sentiment across the University and some people will still feel under pressure to meet deadlines and maintain services remotely in difficult circumstances.

The law is very clear that employers retain responsibility for the safety of their staff even when they are working from home. You should be able to take more regular breaks, for example, than you normally would. We have been pressing for updated home working guidance (from a safety perspective) in our meetings with the University and we hope this will be released soon. In addition we are urging the University to agree centrally to expenses being used for the purchase of small pieces of necessary ergonomic equipment such as mice, keyboards and risers when these are suggested by a basic DSE self-assessment – we know that some areas are already doing this but it’s important this is available to all staff across the University.

Committee elections

Following the postponement of the AGM, the committee has agreed to proceed with initial online elections for the branch committee, before a meeting is held to confirm the officer posts. We wanted to balance the need to maintain our response to the current crisis against the essential requirement to have fair and open democratic elections for officer posts. Officers are empowered by the mandate you give them in elections and in branch meetings, so this process is absolutely critical to the work we do.

The first stage in this process is to accept nominations for committee roles. Given the difficulties in obtaining nominations from other members at this time, please could anyone interested in standing for a committee role email unisonbham@contacts.bham.ac.uk before the 28th of April – we can talk to you more about the roles and the process if that would be helpful. We will be launching an online ballot of all members after this.

Online members meeting

In the same vein, we are also eager to try having an online members’ meeting in coming weeks, to give everyone a forum to hear from us and to ask any questions they might have. We have penciled this in for 12pm on Tuesday the 28th April, and we are currently looking at the best platform to use to ensure as many people as possible are able to take part.

Support and advice

Just to reiterate, we are still here and able to help and advise you in these difficult times. You can contact us on this email address or on the following mobile numbers – 07964926949 & 07709583846.

In addition we’ve been asked to reassure you that the Employee Advice and Listening service and Disability Advisor are still available to respond to your questions and concerns at this time. They are unable to take phone enquiries using the normally advertised numbers but if you email them using the details at https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/hr/wellbeing/workhealth/index.aspx they will be able to respond via email and can arrange to call you back at a convenient time.

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