Branch response to coronavirus

Dear fellow Sheffield UCU member,

We have received numerous emails about the current situation with Coronavirus (COVID-19). We have been in contact with management about your concerns and we sent a joint letter along with the other campus unions to the Deputy Director of Human Resources to express our concerns about the [then] University’s response to the unfolding situation, and to seek assurances on a number of points.

Committee were in the process of writing a message to update you on this and national UCU activity around the COVID-19 virus when we received Prof. Koen Lambert’s email to all staff yesterday evening, making our message out of date. This is clearly a fast moving situation and we need to understand in more detail what is being proposed and what this means for our membership. We will send you a more in-depth email on Monday. However, in the meantime we wanted to let you know that we are doing everything we can to make sure your concerns are being addressed, especially seeking a clear University wide approach to ensuring:

  • Time off for staff requiring self-isolation due to the coronavirus should be treated as special leave and not form part of the usual sickness absence policy or associated procedures, including performance management or disciplinary processes

  • Consideration should be given to those staff who are more vulnerable by virtue of either their own underlying health conditions or those of their dependents or other close contacts, and self isolation as a preventative measure should be allowed in those cases

  • Casual workers whose work has been affected should receive pay in line with their normal working patterns where that work is disrupted. We understand that this is the agreement the Students’ Union has reached with its staff

  • Staff should not suffer any detriment, regardless of their contract or agreement. Advice should be provided to staff around the various visa types, with details of how the university will seek to avoid detriment to them

  • We understand that the University will not be requiring ‘fit notes’ for staff absent due to self-isolation, and we expect that this information will be communicated clearly to all staff on the incident page

  • We all recognise the particular expertise of our colleagues who primarily teach online. Online teaching is a specialised pedagogical method that requires training and bespoke practices and materials. There can be no expectation that staff who do not already teach primarily online will close this gap within the time constraints we face. This will require sensitivity from management when issuing instructions and guidelines, particularly with regard to workloads in conditions of high stress and health risk

UCU national is also taking this very seriously, with yesterday’s National Executive Committee and emergency Higher Education Committee discussing COVID-19 extensively. We expect more information early next week about the union’s response and how this relates to our ongoing disputes.

We are aware that members in professional services and non-teaching roles have raised concerns about the lack of guidance from the University so far on how their work will be affected. We would advise all members to check their email ahead of coming into work on Monday, as the situation is very much in flux.

As usual, please do message us if you have any concerns or questions and we will do our best to respond. We are conscious of the seriousness of this situation, and out of concern for members’ safety, members of the branch committee will be monitoring our communication channels over the weekend.

Sheffield UCU committee