UK unions and employers commit to work together during pandemic

Representatives agree to discuss how to safely reopen campuses

May 22, 2020
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Higher education unions and employers have released a statement committing to work together during the pandemic and ensuring that campuses are safely reopened for work when lockdown restrictions ease.

In the statement, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) said they had agreed with Unison, Unite, GMB, the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) and the Educational Institute in Scotland “to explore opportunities to work together to highlight the scale of the financial challenge confronting higher education institutions”.

The agreement follows a round table on 20 May in which representatives discussed the situation facing higher education as a result of the pandemic crisis.

According to the statement, Ucea and the unions have “committed to work together to support the sector in developing a risk assessment-led approach to ensuring the safe reopening of campuses and a safe return to work for staff, taking into account equalities considerations, following the easing of restrictions”.

This will include working together on “the development of principles on the reopening of institutions”, the statement said.

Earlier this week, the UCU said that “inconsistent plans” from universities concerning when they will reopen, whether they will ban face-to-face lectures, try blended learning or open fully, are “adding to the confusion” for students and staff and it “does not suggest their health and safety is the top priority”.

A previous report commissioned by the UCU said the sector could be hit by a £2.6 billion shortfall in the next academic year owing to the pandemic.

The universities of Cambridge and Manchester have said they will start the next academic year with online lectures only, while the University of Bolton has announced plans for a “Covid secure” working and learning environment to ensure that the campus is fully opened in September.

Ucea and the unions have said they want to work with the Department for Education, and equivalent departments in devolved nations, “to ensure that there is clear, consistent and appropriate guidance for the sector”.

They also said that, following the pandemic, they would explore whether there could be increased opportunities for flexible working and homeworking across the sector, “subject to business needs” in the future.

The groups plan to revisit existing sector resources, such as the Acas Digest on job security, a 2010 document that provides guidance on handling workforce change.

Further talks on the individual points and another round table will also be scheduled in the coming weeks.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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