As everyone knows, the schools are closed indefinitely except for vulnerable children and the children of ‘critical workers’.  Unlike previously, this school lockdown coincides with HE teaching significantly, and HE staff were initially added to the ‘critical workers’ list.  This was revised on 8 January, and now it is not entirely clear that HE staff qualify as ‘critical workers.

This raises some concerns.

First, there is considerable evidence from staff experiences that schools in and around Exeter do not have the capacity to offer these ‘critical worker’ places to the children of HE staff, and are prioritising other workers (e.g. health carers) and/or children in a household where all adults are ‘critical workers’.

Secondly, members and HE staff may not wish to send their children to school because of concerns of the health risk to them and their families, and also because they want to do their part in preventing transmission.

Thirdly, members are rightly worried that the university will cite HE staff’s status as ‘critical workers’ and use this to support an expectation that members with children should continue to work full hours.  This is an unreasonable expectation, as the places may be unavailable or unattractive to staff, and this will be creating an unnecessary burden of stress and anxiety for staff with children, in an already very stressful climate.

Fourthly, it is important to note that these concerns particularly (if not exclusively) impact on female members and HE staff, who already are paid less than male colleagues, and the situation is especially difficult for lone female parents.  Placing this in the context of clear evidence that lockdowns disproportionately impact women, carers, single parents, people with impairments and BAME colleagues, there is a serious question of equality to be considered here. We look forward to seeing the University’s promised full equality impact assessment (TU-HR meeting of 07-01-2021).

What do we say in response?

Therefore, the Committee’s position is that there should be an assumption on the part of the University that all staff with children are keeping their children at home and doing considerable additional labour that reduces their availability for University work.  The University needs to understand that members will be working flexibly and reduced hours (agreed with line managers) because of this.  We believe staff should be accommodated in this without penalty, and all necessary adjustments should be made to individual workloads, and that there should be no detriment to career progression as a result.

We are asking the University to adopt a formal policy to allow flexible working and reduced workload hours for parents/carers as a matter of urgency, and that the general workload issues are properly addressed, also as a matter of urgency.