UCU advice: If you have any concerns about your #workingfromhome set up or what’s being asked of you, raise it with your line manager and your local UCU branch. Read the full UCU updated guidance for advice on

  • setting up a safe working space at home
  • checking your employer’s expectations
  • your employer’s responsibilities to you
  • moving to online teaching
  • protecting your intellectual property

and this one for taking care of yourself. Other ressources can be found in the general Information on UCU’s response to the Covid-19 emergency.

27 March

A brief update from the EUCU President on what was discussed at the unions/university meeting 26/03/20:

1. I asked for reassurance on the status of those who have contracts due to end in the next weeks. The contracts of staff in this position are being looked at, much is dependant on the “on the ground” implementation of the government schemes, which has not yet been fully communicated to employers. We have been assured that those staff who have been on fixed Term contracts, who would, in normal circumstances, expect their contracts to be extended, would be a priority and where possible this would happen. With respect to postdocs, HR are, in cooperation with Colleges/services, mapping who funding bodies are to investigate possible extensions,  all of this is not certain and I wish I were able to give you answers right now, there is no clear policy line as yet from the university. HR have promised to put out a statement as soon as they can about all of the above. All unions have been assured that the principles of the fair employment for all initiative will be in operation throughout. Please contact us if you need advice on your personal circumstances. Useful links: UCU page on protecting precarious workers and @CoronaContract petition.

2. I asked about the current situation with respect to students who are currently unable to leave university accommodation. In common with many universities this is an urgent concern, going beyond just international students as many of these students are vulnerable. The University is contacting students daily to check on their welfare. We recognise that this is putting additional pressure on a number of staff.    

3. As many of you may be aware some institutions have rescinded the deduction of strike pay altogether (see section 6 of crowdsourced document). I asked the University to consider this, in recognition of the huge efforts being put in by members. I was told that within the Russell Group, very few were doing so and at this stage they were not prepared to change their minds. The current arrangement is that all deductions are suspended until May and then deductions will occur in May, June and July. I will continue to push for the above.

4. Furloughing of some staff (temporary lay-off): this is where the government will pay 80% of salaries for staff who are just unable to undertake any work at home. You may already be aware that a number of employers have agreed to top this up to 100%, I asked if Exeter would do the same. We were told they needed to look at the maths first. The following discussions took place with HR but may no longer be correct because subsequent to the meeting, government advice has now been published : “As it stands we do not have a lay-off clause in our contracts, which is required by employment law to benefit from this government support, therefore, we would need to have a change to contracts to enable this. This will require consultation with the unions and the individuals involved before being implemented. We need to ensure any such changes are time limited and recognise this may not be needed for all staff. We do need to recognise, however, that for some members, this may be appropriate, and a sensible course of action. This may be particularly relevant to those for example, with caring responsibilities and some in Professional Services,  who have jobs that can only be carried out on campus. Those members will want to protect their jobs for when things ease and we need to ensure such clauses are temporary, as in principle we would not wish these to become permanent changes to anyone’s contract.”  Please contact us if you need personal advice.

5. Just to make you all aware, currently, there is a skills audit being undertaken across the colleges to ensure cover/continuity of services is as far as possible, kept going. Planning ahead, if we have large numbers sick is essential. We need to ensure that if you are asked to take on new tasks, you are supported and that no member becomes overloaded. This initiative would allow someone, who would normally be on campus to temporarily take up new/different responsibilities that they can undertake remotely. Again this will depend on all of our goodwill, and flexibility.

25 March

A brief update on what was discussed at the unions/university meeting 24/03/20:

1. We asked for clarity about the position of those who are working at home, who now find themselves with children to care for (or other caring responsibilities e.g. sick relatives) whilst trying to keep things going. It is vital you get the balance you need in your particular circumstances. It was made very clear to us by HR that they recognised that staff will all be doing the best that they can “best efforts” and  they would not be penalised in any way if they can’t manage everything they might want to. Managing work at home is recognised as difficult and are particularly difficult with children in the house! We were told that, if staff are struggling with balancing work and children, their first port of call will be your line manager. Consequently, line-managers will be given a detailed guide very shortly to help them manage staff who are in this situation and we will be involved in shaping this advice. We and HR want to know if we have members who are feeling under pressure from line managers, as this needs to be flagged, action will be taken if this occurs. Please do not hesitate to contact the Union if this is the case, we can help and get your concerns to HR.

If you are genuinely just unable to do any work at all, there is now an extended 10 day emergency leave arrangement in place. What about after that? On a national level Universities UK (UUK) is in urgent discussions with government to enable those staff who cant work to be “furloughed” (i.e. to enable a temporary leave of absence to be taken, you would remain employed and this is where the government’s 80% of salary scheme would kick in), more news about this will follow in the next few days. The bottom line is, please don’t worry, you can only do what you can, and this is recognised.

2. We raised concerns about migrant/international, staff and students who are unable to leave campus (or trapped in Exeter city). We asked about the support the university was giving to this very vulnerable group. This has been a huge priority and tracing these staff and students is still ongoing, still with a few people still not responding to emails/text messages, to the extent that, all Halls/student accommodation have been subject to door knocking, where every room has been checked to ensure no one has been missed. Everyone who they know is present (Staff and Students) will be getting a daily phone call to check they are OK and if they need anything and those who have not responded to the university yet will continue to be sent a daily text. We were also reminded that there are non-Exeter employees in this situation such as visiting academics, they are for these purposes being treated as staff.

3. We asked about whether there was a policy/guidance on the use of MS-TEAMS software in place, particularly setting boundaries, to avoid excessive demands on staff as we are all getting to grips with the software. Unites chair Chris Forrest is also IT specialist, he has sent some useful advice about changing your TEAMS status setting to AVAILABLE, BUSY,  DO NOT DISTURB, BE RIGHT BACK, OUT OF OFFICE, so that you can avoid this software from becoming intrusive when you need to concentrate.

‘Top tip of the day’ to change status in Teams: Click your selected image or system avatar icon top right of Window – then click your current status (in my case OoO) then select however you wish to be seen. Don’t forget this status seems to be independent of that set in Skype for Business – so as far I’m aware both apps need to be set independently. (Chris Forrest)

Please do contact the branch if you have any issues or concerns at this difficult time and also let us know if you find this regular update useful, we don’t want to crowd already full email boxes: contact us through this link.

24 March

It has been a very strange and worrying week so far. I wanted to let you know that our branch’s role in supporting and helping you is more important now than it has ever been!

I know there are a lot of big concerns about home-working, how to manage work with children at home, worries from those staff who have to remain on campus, concerns from those members on precarious contracts, post-docs, casual staff etc… 

For the duration of this crisis, along with Unite and Unison, I will be meeting virtually with Head of HR and deputy Head of HR, and also other senior management, twice weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I will be able to take your concerns directly to the top, to get answers, action, where needed and importantly, reassurance where I can. This will also be another channel to get information back to you from the University, in addition to the usual University communications. An agenda will be drawn up for these meetings, which we can use as a vehicle to raise staff concerns/issues with senior management, it is really important that you as members contact us through this link if you have something you want to be raised or more information to be provided. There is also a UK-wide crowdsourced document to collect immediate proposals we can be making to universities in the present crisis, guided by the well-being of staff, students and the community. Please feel free to add ideas.

Today, I will raise the problems associated with trying to work with children at home. I will be asking about the numbers, locations and support being provided for migrant/international staff and students who are unable to leave Exeter. Finally, I will raise the very quick introduction of the Teams software, are there a policy/rules surrounding its introduction and use? Boundaries on your working day at home can be hard to keep, and we want to avoid excessive demands being placed on staff when they are so available particularly to students, we want this software to be a success, to help us manage our work from home and keeping us in contact, so getting this right is important. I will provide a briefing with updates on these meetings regularly via this page (and via emails). We want to be your voice, so please do contact us!

Sharon Strawbridge, EUCU President