For those unable to see inline PDFs (IPhones?). This is the cut and paste version of,London & Eastern Education Region Newsletter, March 2021.
London & Eastern Education Region
Advice and help during Covid -19 crisis
Road map and Reality…
The government, as always, finds it impossible to resist basking in the glory of the hard work of others, and is now happily claiming unearned credit over the rapid vaccine roll-out. In reality, the delivery has actually been handled efficiently and in an orderly fashion, by our overworked and underfunded public bodies, rather than the chaotic, profit-greedy private sector the government seems to prefer lobbing vast amounts of money at.
All seemed to be going smoothly, until now, with the roll out and government road map facing a potential pot-hole, due to supply issues requiring a limit to be put on appointments in April.
Nonetheless, this has not stopped impatient calls from some quarters to speed up a return to a so-called “Normal” – whatever that is – as if nothing has been learnt from the previous hasty loosening of lockdowns. At the moment the Government seems to be sticking to their road map mantra, meaning the effect of each stage needs to be carefully reviewed, implying that might have some effect on moving to the next stage. But what would happen if there was a bad review’ is unclear.
Data Not Dates!
As usual the government messaging is a muddle, with their claims that they are looking at ‘data and not dates’ undermined by the numerous dates already given out for each stage down the road.
With the government review of the higher education sector taking place during the Easter holidays, their February guidance limited itself to a targeted return to campus. On March 8 students on practice-based courses (including those in the creative and performing arts) and those requiring specialist equipment could return – with Oxford University,
apparently, locating a huge loophole for MBA students and some others on similar courses (paying around £60,000 each) that allowed them back by simply re-categorising their courses as practical.
Unite reps, meanwhile, continue to support inductions on Covid-secure measure for all those returning to the workplace, as well as the provision of the latest risk assessments for the relevant work areas. Unite believes it is vital that staff are able to challenge those measures, or their lack, so an investigation can be undertaken and any necessary adjustments made. Contact your H&S reps if you have concerns so they are able to give you advice, and act with you or on your behalf.
Updates and advice on anti-Covid measures from Unite can be found here: https://unitetheunion.org/
Testing, testing, testing.
As the pandemic continues, and despite the vaccine roll-out in the UK, it is clear that those who can work from home must continue to do so and this remains the government’s advice for now. Those who have been needed on campus during the past year may have already used on-site Covid testing facilities, know how they work, feel comfortable with the testing or dealt with any concerns.
Practical And Convenient…
For those required to return soon to a workplace that does not have testing facilities, Unite expects management to discuss and come to an agreement about how testing can be handled so this is practical and convenient for all coming on site – for instance, if staff are required to test before arriving at work, whether staff are to personally order lateral flow tests using, say, the government website link and/or whether the institution will order these for the workplace as well under the free scheme.
If testing is done at an institution and any data collected there, Unite also expects consultation and negotiation on how this is protected, its use and how long it is kept. There may also be concerns to do with enforcing any requirement to test for access to the workplace that needs to be discussed and agreed with your Unite reps on your behalf. As always, if in doubt, contact
your branch reps for guidance and support.
You + You + You = UNITE
It cannot be said too often:
You are the union. All of You. Your input into your local branch – attending meetings, responding to and raising concerns, answering surveys, supporting your colleagues and having your say – is vital for it to be effective. But even with very active branches, elected reps move on and new people, like you, are essential to continue union activity and build up the strength of the branch. So how about stepping up?
Did you know that all your branch officers and reps are volunteers? They are trained but not paid by the union. They may have stepped up because other members have encouraged them to, or they wanted to be more active, they may have wanted to challenge poor management or had skills they believed could be useful.
Keep Your Eyes Out…
Of course, you may have no idea what a branch secretary, a workplace rep or H&S rep actually does in an everyday kind of way – how much time is needed, how being a rep works around holding down a job, what support reps themselves have from Unite. Perhaps it feels too much like a leap in the dark at the moment to even consider becoming one. But your regional committee plans to tackle this knowledge gap over the next few months to encourage more of you to have a go. And, yes, this will be aimed at whoever is reading this newsletter. Keep your eyes out for an invite.
Saving for the future?
At this time of year all the banks and building societies send out reminders about ISAs and other savings schemes before the tax year ends. But looking further ahead than saving for, say, a holiday or something expensive to buy, we all need to look at how we can make ends meet at the end of our working lives. This can come sooner than at the normal pension age due to, perhaps, ill-health.
Workplace pensions are the most important and significant way to do this. The introduction of auto-enrolment has meant that joining your work place pension scheme is, of course, automatic – but with the ructions and difficulties facing the largest higher education scheme, USS, fear has been mounting that, in particular, poorly paid academics at the start of their careers will opt out creating difficulties for the scheme and, eventually, for themselves.
There are other providers for higher education: some institutions are part of a local government scheme while many institutions in Central London – for staff in lower pay bands – belong to the Superannuation Arrangements University of London scheme – SAUL for short.
Most are defined benefit schemes – the gold standard for pensions savings, with your employer required to pay a large contribution to your pension ‘pot’ too. But all such schemes require vigilance to protect them.
Have you considered becoming a pensions rep for your branch to help do this? This would require keeping an eye on developments or any proposed changes to your workplace scheme ready to report back to your branch and gather their views about whether to accept or resist these – and, of course, provide their ideas too. This will help Unite stand up for such a key workplace benefit . Contact your
branch officers and see if having a pensions rep is something the branch would like.
If you are reading this but are not yet a member, welcome. We hope you will see the importance of belonging to a union in the face of so many threats to jobs, fairness and well- being at work. Join us here: https://unitetheunion.org/
The London & Eastern Education Regional Committee supports Unite
activities in your institution. Contact us via your local representative .