Latest updates from Jo Grady

Dec 9th, 2020 | By | Category: Latest


Dear colleague,

As you know, across the UK the rates of Covid-19 are exceptionally high. The return to in-person learning has been delayed, with universities being instructed to move all but essential activities online throughout January and February. Some universities have taken matters into their own hands and announced that they intend to keep activities online for significantly longer.

After months of campaigning for this, we believe this is an important step in the right direction to protect staff. However, with the pandemic currently worse than ever and hospitals on the brink of being overwhelmed, this period should be extended to cover the remainder of the academic year, and we will continue to lobby and campaign as hard for this as we have since we first called for the move online in August. I have continued to meet with education ministers over the Christmas and New Year period and make the case for taking these precautions to prioritise education and wellbeing – particularly while the vaccine is being rolled out.

Despite the UK government’s announcements, there have been a few disturbing reports from UCU branches that some employers are continuing to require staff to do work on-site that we believe could be done remotely. We expect all employers to review risk assessments in place as a result of recent developments, including the emergence of the new variant of the virus. If you are worried this has not happened for your workplace, please contact your local branch ASAP.

We have also updated our existing guidance regarding your individual rights to health and safety at work, and in particular your right not to receive any detriment if you refuse to attend your workplace under Sections 44 and 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

You can find the updated guidance here.

In normal times the most effective way to protect the rights of individual union members to work in a healthy and safe environment is through the collective strength of union representation and through direct engagement with employers and the government. That is how UCU has already won significant concessions since the pandemic started in all our sectors and nations – not least of all in higher education, where we have conducted successful ballots for industrial action on Covid-19 health and safety, and will keep doing this for as long as the pandemic lasts.

However, we are not living through normal times. Members do have individual rights in law as well as collective ones, and trade unions can lawfully give their members information about these. Please read this guidance for assistance in doing this.  
Jo Grady
UCU general secretary


Dear colleagues 

Thank you all again for your continued work and support for members and each other in this difficult year.  

There has been promising news of vaccines to support a return to normal in the future. However, there is still no confirmed timetable for a vaccine roll out and I do not have confidence that the UK Government’s current advice prioritises safety, so in the meantime we need to air on the side of caution when it comes to UCU working arrangements.

In light of the ongoing rates of infection and the experience of the last “re-opening”, We are therefore now planning on the basis that our general return to UCU offices will not commence until early April. While we will continue to open Carlow Street on a limited basis for safe access and critical functions, we cannot ensure safe travel to our offices that rely heavily on public transport so want to continue to minimise this risk where possible. 

General return will only be on a safe and incremental basis agreed with staff collectively through Unite and individually according to personal circumstances.   

I know that for many of you, this continues to be a very stressful and challenging period. If you are feeling the strain, help and support is available – you can find a range of support services for staff which you can access via the intranet. I would also reinforce what I have said throughout this year about workload and lockdown. That we as a union do not expect everyone to be working as normal. This has not been a remotely normal year and we are not asking any of you to operate in a way that some of the worst employers in further and higher education behave like.

I hope that this gives you some reassurances over the potential timetable for return, but please do keep in touch with your line manager or myself if there are further questions.

Best wishes



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