A COVID-19 Payment For All QMUL Staff!

Sign our petition here.

As 2020 draws to a close, the news of a vaccination for the coronavirus offers hope to an end in sight for the pandemic in 2021. But meanwhile many of us are still at home, trying to work in a crisis, or bravely coming to campus and risking our health and safety to keep the campus safe for students. We are using our own personal computers, our kitchen tables, broadband networks, electricity and heating, all increasing our domestic bills. It is estimated that the covid pandemic will lead to people paying £100 more in fuel bills this winter as a result. Till now senior management have failed to show their appreciation of staff who have gone above and beyond. They have refused to acknowledge how much more labour intensive our work is now creating ‘hidden overtime’ with increasing stress as many of us work late into the night to complete tasks.

Under government guidelines employers are permitted to pay staff £6 a week extra tax free to cover some of these extra costs. Many employers, including universities like the University of the Arts, London, have been paying their staff this extra payment since the first lockdown. But not Queen Mary, despite recent financial accounts reporting a healthy surplus. Queen Mary also refused to put student staff working for the Student Union on furlough.

But it is not just staff who are working from home who need and deserve this allowance, which if backdated to the beginning of lockdown would amount to over £200. It is ALL staff including those who have been coming in to work on campus and postgraduate researchers who, on top of teaching for many, also are under pressure to keep producing research ‘as normal’ on tight deadlines. Fixed term and hourly paid colleagues are often most worried about their precarious contracts, a Covid payment like this would be a lifeline for these staff, many of whom are on the lowest incomes.

This is why we are asking all staff to sign this petition below – which we won’t publish until we get over 500 signatures among staff members. If successful we will set up a fund for those on higher salaries who wish to donate their allowance to hourly paid precarious staff. Queen Mary is a family. You don’t have to be a UCU member to sign and students and the wider community can also sign the petition to show their solidarity.

Join the call, and sign here.

Day of Action for Disability Equality in Education

Today, QMUCU is marking the Day of Action for Disability Equality in Education and this year the theme of the day is “Organising for Disabled Workers”. Covid-19 has brought new barriers and challenges for disabled workers. We know that this virus can attack anyone and we are all in this together to defend our lives and our livelihoods. But we also know that this is an unequal crisis in which structural inequalities have caused disproportionate deaths among Black and disabled people and emergency legislation has dismantled some of our rights, including to inclusive education. Many of us are more at risk from the virus itself and this creates risk if forced to return to the physical workplace which some employers refuse to recognize; but our lives are also impacted by ableism which, according to a recent report by the CAB, means we are more likely to be made redundant, and especially if we were shielding during the national lockdown. All workers in post-16 education have seen our workloads increase and work stress rise exponentially, and for disabled members, this is compounded by barriers such as trying to sort out reasonable adjustments for blended teaching, and compressed hours on campus with back to back teaching. Members who have caring responsibilities are also more likely to be selected for redundancy and to find the return to face to face teaching a source of constant stress. 
With these new barriers and challenges, it is increasingly urgent to organise disabled workers to defend and extend our rights and equality at work. Our key campaign demands are: 

  • time limits for the implementation of reasonable adjustments
  • a review of building regulations to ensure they meet the accessibility needs of disabled people
  • a statutory right to disability leave
  • the right for disabled people to access mainstream education and a reversal of cuts to SEND provision

Please find below some disability-related resources we have put together.
Organising disabled workers webinar
Wednesday 25 November 2020, 1-2pm
Register here: https://ucu.wufoo.com/forms/day-of-action-organising-disabled-workers/

To mark UCU’s third year of action for disability equality, this event will be chaired by Elane Heffernan, UCU NEC and chair of the disabled members’ standing committee, with contributions from Themesa Neckles, vice-chair of UCU disabled members’ standing committee, Ann Galpin, co-chair, NUJ, TUC disabled workers’ committee and Colleen Johnson, NEU. A BSL interpreter will be available.

Everyday ableism webinarFriday 27 November 2020, 1-2pm
Register here: https://ucu.wufoo.com/forms/day-of-action-everyday-ableism/

Ableism is discrimination in favour of non-disabled people.  It is based on an assumption that the physical, cognitive and sensory differences with which disabled people live with are deficits, and it is rooted in the medical model of disability that assumes that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’. It is manifest in physical, environmental and attitudinal barriers that exclude and stigmatise an entire group of people as ‘less than’.
This webinar will explore, what ableism is; recognising it and how to challenge it.  The event will be chaired by Themesa Neckles, vice chair of UCU’s disabled members’ standing committee with contributions from Elane Heffernan, NEC and chair of the disabled members’ standing committee, Lucy Burke, NEC and disabled members’ standing committee and Michelle Daley, Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) (invited).  A BSL interpreter will be available.

Social model of disability UCU follows the social model of disability which looks at the ways in which society is organised and the social and institutional barriers which restrict disabled people’s opportunities.
The social model sees the person first and argues that the barriers they face, in combination with their impairments, are what disables them.
Barriers, including attitudes and perceptions around disabilities can make it impossible or very difficult for disabled people to access jobs, buildings or services. Removing these barriers is the best way to include millions of disabled people in our society.
Watch our film on the social model of disability and discuss how branches can adopt the social model: https://youtu.be/Do6U1j1vRYU

Disability History Month
This year’s Disability History Month runs from 22nd November to 22nd December. The month creates a platform to focus on the history of disabled people’s struggle for equality and human rights. The theme for 2020 is ‘Access: How far have we come? How far have we to go?’ For further information on activities being planned for DHM, visit https://ukdhm.org/.

Working toward an anti-racist university, this Friday 13 November 1.30-3pm

QMUCU members are invited to join an Anti-Racism Training and Workshop organised by QMUCU Friday 13 November at 1.30pm London time.

In 2019, QMUL’s own Diversity and Inclusion Manager resigned from her post in frustration at the university’s ‘tick box mentality’, its watered-down commitments to equality, and the utter failure to tackle harassent and bullying on campus. QMUL, in her words, was ‘institutionally racist’.

Our Principal and other members of the senior management team continue to make loud gestures to equality and inclusion. They hide behind glossy promotional materials, PR slogans and accolades won through imperfect, surface-level readings of diversity on campus. Concerns raised repeatedly by staff and students about experiences of racism, discrimination, and abuse are absorbed into opaque bureaucratic procedures or ignored entirely. Reports are partly censored, and ‘bad news’ is suppressed.

We in QMUCU demand more from our place of work and study. We want to see the vast archive of criticisms and complaints transformed into meaningful structural change. Because we can’t rely on senior management for this to happen, QMUCU is planning a series of workshops on anti-racism in the university for the 2020-21 academic year. Together with activists and organisers, we will be offering practical advice and training for members and asking them to take these lessons into their Schools and Departments as well as into our unions, challenging institutional racism and building networks of care and solidarity.

The first of these workshops will take place Friday 13 November 1.30-3pm. This first training session aims at discussing ways of developing our union as an inclusive place and as a community which effectively enables members’ anti-racist work. We want to discuss and reflect on racism in the university, but also on who we, QMUCU members, are, and what we want to become.

The training will be led by Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya, Dr Akanksha Mehta, and Christopher Nicholas (UCU Equality support official for race, religion or belief). They will share their experiences of antiracist work, of engaging with students and local communities, and of working toward making the UCU an enabler of antiracist work in UK universities. A collective discussion will follow their presentations, and allow everyone to share their concerns, experience, knowledge and ideas about how to equip ourselves and how to best use the structure and resources of the branch to work toward an anti-racist university.

We will also be using this space to be in solidarity with Prof. Bhattacharyya as she is one of 11 colleagues at UEL facing forced redundancy, and hear more about what’s happening around the sector and how to mobilise with our colleagues.

The training will be held online and is open to all QMUCU members. Please register here.
Registration is open until Friday 13 November 12pm.

If you would like to join QMUCU’s anti-racism working group, or would be interested in collaborating on anti-racism work please contact qmucuarwg@gmail.com and we will get in touch. 

In solidarity

The QMUCU Anti-Racism Working group and the QMUCU Branch Committee

Statement of Solidarity with Prof Gargi Bhattacharyya

QMUCU statement of solidarity with Prof. Gargi Bhattacharyya, the other 11 staff members facing forced redundancies and all those threatened by UEL’s restructuring plans 

QMUCU has grown increasingly alarmed at the events unfolding at the University of East London since last summer where Covid-19 has been used as a pretext to restructure and roll out voluntary and forced redundancies, with more than 400 colleagues’ jobs being threatened. Critical race and gender scholars (as well as UEL UCU officers) are at the centre of the redundancies, so these cuts also represent a serious attack on critical scholarship – part of a current trend among European, US and UK policy makers and university managers. This is starkly illustrated by the decision to make Prof. Gargi Bhattacharyya redundant.

Prof. Bhattacharya is one of the UK’s most important and influential scholars, whose career has been foundational to the full range of social science disciplines. She has not only done essential work on racial capitalism, social reproduction and critical theory, she has contributed endlessly to support the careers and intellectual projects of her peers, early career colleagues, students and mentees. She has been integral to the lives of so many of us developing anti-capitalist and anti-racist work, in both our academic and grassroots practices, including offering training to our own UCU community at Queen Mary, while facing redundancy. We are both angry and shocked that this is happening, especially since Prof. Bhattacharyya is one of 11 colleagues targeted for forced redundancy, amidst debilitating cuts aimed at UEL’s most critical programmes.

We urge UEL to rethink their drastic restructuring plans and consider the lasting effects this will have on their students, their reputation and the larger academic community, which value their critical scholarship and expertise.  

Anti-racism workshop Fri 13 Nov, 1.30pm  with Prof. Gargi Bhattacharyya: QMUCU will be holding a workshop with Prof. Gargi Bhattacharyya on Friday, 13th November at 1:30 pm, with Akanksha Mehta (Goldsmiths) and Chris Nicholas (UCU), to develop our capacity for anti-racist organising at QMUL. We can also use this time to be in solidarity with Prof. Bhattacharyya, to hear more about what’s happening around the sector and how to mobilise with our colleagues, through building our union as an anti-racist space. 

For more details on what is happening at UEL and to get involved in the #SaveUEL campaign, please see this document.

And to register for the QMUL-UCU anti-racism training workshop, here’s the link:   

Solidarity,

QMUCU Anti-Racism Working Group 

QMUL management – publish the Inclusion Report 2020 IN FULL

Update from the QMUCU anti-racist working group:

We are writing to inform you of ongoing representations on tackling racism at QMUL, and to invite you to a workshop organised by QMUCU anti-racism working group, on Friday Nov 13, 1.30pm-3pm. Recent representations join with other QMUL colleagues dedicated to equality and anti-racist work to call on QMUL to publish their Inclusion Report complete with ALL appendices and staff testimony about experiences of bullying and harassment.

1. Call on QMUL management to publish the Inclusion Report 2020 IN FULL. 

This week, after persistent efforts by QMUCU reps to persuade QMUL management to share the findings of its recent Inclusion Report with all colleagues, we wrote to the relevant VPs once more requesting that the report be released IN FULL, without redactions. 

You can read our letter by downloading it here:

We are deeply concerned at the gap between senior management’s rhetorical commitment to an inclusive university and the lived everyday reality of exclusion for QMUL staff and students.  In order to make an inclusive university a reality, management need to show that they are actually engaging in anti-racist action.  This is even more imperative given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people of colour.  Instead our requests for open acknowledgement of the problems, in order that we all can come up with some realistic solutions, continue to be met with evasion.  

We ask QMUCU members to raise these issues in any university forum available to you, and to demand that anti-racist action is taken, including through the full publication of the Inclusion Report (2020).   

2. Save the date – 13 November, 1.30-3pm: Anti-Racist Training and Workshop

In order to better mobilise against these examples of institutional racism within Queen Mary, and UK Higher Education more generally, we are developing a series of trainings on how to build anti-racist spaces, communities and systems, within the union, itself. 

The first of these trainings will be led by Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya, Dr Akanksha Mehta, and Christopher Nicholas (UCU Equality support official for race, religion or belief) and will take place on Friday 13 November 1.30-3pm. The training, which will be held online, is open to all QMUCU Members. We will share additional details as well as the link, closer to the date.  

If you would like to join QMUCU’s anti racism working group, or would be interested in collaborating on anti-racism work please contact h.dee@qmul.ac.uk and we will get in touch. 

Fill out the QMUCU Covid-19 Attitudes Survey to strengthen our health and safety demands QMUL

This week all of our members received an invitation to fill out the QMUCU Covid-19 Attitudes Survey. Put together by our health and safety representatives, the survey is designed to gather evidence about the issues staff are facing and demonstrate how widely shared these concerns are. It will only take a few minutes to complete, and all responses are anonymous and confidential. The survey link was sent to your email on Monday and Wednesday.

We have had over 200 responses already! But this is not enough, we need everyone to fill this out in order for this evidence to bear weight in our negotiations with the management.

Why are we collecting this information?

You will have seen our exchanges with the Principal in relation to the health and safety concerns you have raised. While these exchanges elicited a detailed response, it is clear more pressure needs to be exerted if staff are to secure significant improvements. Unless senior management understand the strength of feeling in the university, it is unlikely they will take the steps needed to keep Queen Mary safe.

What will we do with this information?

We will use this information to make a case for our health and safety demands. This will not only be necessary for guaranteeing a safe workplace and a full move to F2F teaching, but equally important for our fight for just workloads. We need evidence to support our demands.

How can I help out with this?

  • Send this survey to five of your colleagues
  • Join your colleagues in a phone banking session to ask other QMUCU members to fill out the survey. Contact h.dee@qmul.ac.uk to join our phone banking session on Tue at 5 pm.

QM UNISON passes a damning motion condemning the failure of senior management to take steps to ensure the health and safety of cleaning and security staff

Solidarity with our colleagues at UNISON, who have been unnecessarily put in danger by the actions of the senior management team. Over the past month, staff represented by UNISON have had to go into residencies without knowing that there were self-isolating students, cleaning staff have been scheduled to clean shared spaces in self-isolating households, security staff were asked to investigate noise complaints within self-isolating households. Adequate steps to guarantee the safety of staff working on campus and in residencies have not been taken.

Read the motion below with the list of their demands.


QM UNISON notes the numerous breaches and compromises QMUL management has recently made in terms of our health and safety, listed below:

  1. Senior Managements’ Track and Trace policy, implemented without consulting Trade Unions, is not working effectively. It did not identify any cleaning services or security staff, despite the fact that some colleagues spent significant time within the flats (‘households’), where, a few hours or days later, confirmed cases were identified.
  2. Senior Management failed to ensure that COVID-Secure, suitable and sufficient risk-assessments were carried out for all Residential buildings in consultation with employees and Trade Union Health and Safety Representatives. No local building risk assessments were uploaded onto MySafety, nor made available to staff expected to work within and around the Residences buildings.
  3. Security staff were asked to investigate noise complaints within self-isolating households. This indicates that students are misusing the communal areas while on self-isolation, possibly increasing the viral load within shared spaces, such as kitchens, bathrooms and corridors.
  4. Cleaning services staff are scheduled to clean shared spaces in self-isolating households. The cleaning protocols on Biohazard were uploaded onto MySafety without any consultation with TUs H&S Reps, and they do not recognise the possibility of high viral load and the risk of airborne transmission. Due to the notable absence of local building risk-assessments, ventilation controls for these areas are unknown. 
  5. Colleagues were not informed that students were self-isolating until they arrived at the household and saw notices, sometimes handwritten by students, stuck to the doors. This is not a reliable system of notifying employees not to enter an area of danger.
  6. Senior Management has not yet clarified queries from Security staff around safe systems of work in the event of emergencies within flats with confirmed cases, although flats went into isolation more than two weeks ago.

QM UNISON further notes the above described failings were preventable by management, and occurred as the result of:

  1. Senior Managements’ failure to fulfil their duty to consult in good time, by repetitively excluding TU H&S Reps from meetings where significant COVID-19 H&S policies, such as the QMUL Emergency Plan and the QMUL Track and Trace policy were discussed and approved.  
  2. Senior Managements’ unwillingness to discuss its approach to COVID-19 with TUs. The University invited students to move into residences, to attend Welcome Week events on campus and to prepare for face to face teaching, without meaningfully consulting with the Campus TUs  
  3. The inadequacy of H&S Governance within QMUL, despite the joint Trade Union efforts over the summer to improve H&S consultation. TUs raised concerns about COVID-19 JCF meetings being inadequate due to short length and irregularity, as a result the forum was disbanded on 12th August, with the promise to hold regular Safety Committee meetings. Since then, no Safety Committee (HSAG) meetings took place although the University continued to re-open buildings, increase campus occupancy, and change working arrangements
  4. The failure of the employer to appoint competent local risk-assessors to perform their job in full awareness of H&S law and their duty to consult with TU H&S Reps in good-time. In statutory regulations, competency is defined by sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow delegated employees to assist the employer properly. Notably, multiple risk-assessments were approved and uploaded on MySafety without any consultation with employees or TU H&S Reps. 

In light of the above health and safety concerns, to ensure that Cleaning, Security and Residential Services staff are not exposed to COVID-19 in the short term, QM UNISON demands these urgent conditions are met:

  1. A halt is to be placed on all work within Residences until all local residential building risk-assessments are put in place, and are shared and discussed with employees and their TU H&S Reps. All cleaning procedures should be updated to take into consideration the significant findings of the local building risk-assessments and the airborne risk of contracting COVID-19.
  2. Senior Management are to set up reliable tracing procedures, agreed in consultation with TUs, to identify staff members who meet the criteria for self-isolation.
  3. Senior Management are to put in place a reliable notification procedure to notify employees in good time of households under isolation, agreed in consultation with TUs.
  4. Senior Management are to arrange rapid testing for all students and staff who have been living and/or working within Residences
  5. Senior Management are to accurately communicate the gravity of the situation to students living in Residences, and inform them of and enforce the consequences of not following the procedures in place to protect staff members.  

In the medium term, to prevent a further health and safety crisis within QMUL, possible law breaches, and potential harm to staff, students, and visitors, QM UNISON further demands that:

  1. Senior Management must call an emergency meeting of the Health and Safety Advisory Group, and increase the frequency of forthcoming meetings.
  2. Trade Unions must sit as full members of the regular Senior Management meetings on the management of COVID-19, including local authority meetings.
  3. Significant changes to institutional risk assessments must stop being approved and implemented without consultation with trade unions. The most recent example was the decision to remove the control specifying that staff should continue to work at home where possible. Unison asks that this control is re-introduced. 
  4. Senior Management must stop delegating H&S work and local risk-assessment to assessors that are not competent with regards to H&S training, experience, and knowledge. Every person conducting risk-assessments must be trained to recognise their legal responsibilities and the role of the TU H&S Reps.  
  5. Senior Management must acknowledge the risk of airborne transmission of the virus:
    1. The institutional risk assessment and all subordinate local risk assessments must immediately be updated to include airborne transmission
    2. Relevant controls must be introduced: mandatory face mask wearing in all multiple occupancy indoor spaces, including classrooms and taking any room which does not meet ventilation standards completely out of use.
  1. Track and trace arrangements must be improved, to take into consideration airborne transmission. This means that infection can happen in university settings even where 2m distancing is maintained.  
  2. The University must establish regular testing of all students and staff to prevent further outbreaks by investing on the proposals from QMUL medical academics and researchers. Proposals were submitted twice but they were not accepted by Senior Management.
  3. All teaching and other services which can be delivered online, must be delivered online. Government guidelines state: ‘public sector employees working in essential services, including education settings, should continue to go into work where necessary’. Increasing traffic onto campus, in the local area, and on the public transport at a time of rising infection, and while Tower of Hamlets is one of the worst affected London boroughs, disregards the health, safety and well-being of students, staff, visitors and the local community.
  4. Managers must stop putting pressure on staff to work on campus when they can work remotely. Colleagues working in office roles, still report pressure from their line managers to attend face-to-face meetings and to be physically present on campus when it is not necessary.  
  5. QMUL must agree a ‘no repercussions’ policy for staff members who express COVID-19 safety concerns with regards to their travel, work environment or personal circumstances (for example living with vulnerable family members), and they feel uncomfortable coming into campus.
  6. QMUL must commission an Equality Impact Assessment on any proposed working arrangements during the COVID-19 crisis, as they do disproportionately affect equality groups.

Finally, QM UNISON will take steps to initiate a formal dispute with management over the issue of worker health and safety.

UCU Special HE sector conference: protecting GTAs work and acknowledging PGRs as members of staff

At our last branch meeting, on September 16th, the branch approved, with none against, a motion to be submitted to the UCU special Higher Education sector conference (HESC) taking place on September 30th. This motion calls on UCU to include demands that Graduate Teaching Associates’ work occur on contracted basis in our national bargaining, and was prepared by PandemicPGRs, a cross-UK group of PGRs which was formed as a response to the crisis and its impact on the PGR community in the UK.

This motion was moved by QMUCU at the UCU HESC on September 30th, and successfully carried, alongside a clarification amendment made by UCU Sheffield. The carried motion reads as follows:

HESC notes that during Covid-19 GTAs were most at risk of job loss and uncertainty. These did not appear in statistics due to the nature of casual contracts. Further, UCU’s and Pandemic PGRs’ surveys revealed inter- and intra institutional disparities of contractual agreements across the UK. This lack of transparency and accountability is a key contributor of casualisation within the sector over which UCU is in dispute with the employers in its Four Fights campaign.

HESC resolves:

  • to include demands that GTA work occur on a contracted basis in our national bargaining
  • that GTA contracts include an appropriate workload allocation mechanism, guarantee that all GTAs are paid at the appropriate grade for the work they are conducting; receive paid training, and have access to the same rights and entitlements as all permanent members of staff
  • To ensure all labour is paid for what it is worth and ensure scholarships do not have an unpaid work requirement in line with UKRI policy.

QMUCU is also very happy to report that a motion to ‘Acknowledge postgraduate researchers as members of staff’, submitted by the University of Glasgow and also prepared collectively by PandemicPGRs, has been carried:

Covid-19 exposed the contradiction of PGRs being viewed as students rather than staff. Open letters revealed that like staff’s, PGRs’ work was affected by the pandemic, however, because of their student status PGRs were unable to access neither employer nor government support such as benefits and furlough. Instead of being paid for their work, PGRs pay to do the work on which Universities and companies’ profit. This is contrary to practice in other sectors (graduate training schemes) and countries, where PGRs would not be seen as students, but workers. The unpaid research labour of PGRs cements the expectation of unpaid labour throughout academic careers, which contributes to the workload and casualisation crisis in the sector.

HESC resolves to establish a principle that acknowledges original postgraduate research as labour like any other work at universities and resolves to campaign for PGRs to be recognised as members of staff.

For more on PandemicPGRs and its national campaigns, please follow @PandemicPGRs, sign up here , or contact Salomé Ietter (s.a.ietter@qmul.ac.uk), your QMUCU PGR representative. Please also reach out to our local PhD Organising group at QM for joining our campaigns and getting support @QueenMaryPhDs or here ().

For more on the UCU special HE sector conference, please visit: https://www.ucu.org.uk/hesc_sept20 or contact the QMUCU delegation to the conference. (ucu-coordinator@qmul.ac.uk)