Will UCL stand up for staff and avoid redundancies? Report from negotiations

16 April 2020

We are writing to update colleagues regarding a number of matters, most importantly on negotiations with UCL to avoid redundancy of staff during the lockdown.

Redundancies - staff at risk now!

UCL has officially frozen new posts on core funding and most restructuring proposals have been put on ice. New research posts are being advertised, but only for research that can commence in the current conditions. Meanwhile, with the exception of Covid-19 research, research activity is limited to work that can be conducted from home. The Government has announced a ‘furlough’ scheme but its application is currently unclear.

UCL, like many universities, are engaged in high-level talks with the Government regarding temporary funding to support research and teaching. 

We are currently seeking a commitment from UCL to underwrite grant-funded posts until such time as the situation is clarified. We met with UCL on either side of Easter to pursue this point.

An Open Letter calling on universities to protect ‘casual’ staff by issuing a 2 year ‘Corona Contract’ has been launched which we encourage colleagues to sign.

In one department a group of teaching staff are at risk of losing their jobs. 

A management proposal threatens to dismiss staff on contractor arrangements (that UCU considers to be tantamount to ‘sham’ self-employment contracts) and allow them to apply for a smaller number of employment posts. These staff were - in contravention of UCL policy, and employment and tax law - engaged as self-employed contractors to teach students, when they should have been properly employed as teaching fellows or lecturers and given the same rights as other staff.

We are contesting this process vigorously on behalf of the affected members, but also because of the threat to academic activity and UCL’s reputation that this case represents. We note that (genuine) self-employed contractors are not covered by UCL Statues and Regulations, including Statue 18 (the Statute that protects academic freedom). We therefore consider this practice a direct threat to academic freedom. We will write to members separately about this matter ahead of our General Meeting.

Working from home - some updates

We are pressing UCL to improve advice and support to staff working from home, and their 'Remote, not Distant' website is being improved and updated. 

UCL has agreed that, in working from home, often in difficult circumstances, staff are exercising their goodwill, or ‘best endeavours’. This does mean that on our part, we are expected to use our judgment to manage our own safety in the workplace (home), and that of others (such as children who need supervision), and definitely not work more than our contracted hours. 

  • Safety. To work from home safely, staff should carry out a Display System Equipment (DSE) Assessment. A full DSE Assessment requires a trained second person to assess the employee while working - not possible during lockdown - so colleagues should use the HSE checklist.
  • Purchasing. If equipment is needed, staff should ask their department to purchase it. Our poll of members in our last meeting found two thirds of staff using laptop computers as their main computer. Unfortunately, there appears to be conflicting advice from the university regarding procurement procedures. We are pressing for this to be resolved promptly.
  • Insurance. UCL has confirmed that their insurers will cover injuries while working on UCL business at home. Secondly, personal home insurance should not be voided by working from home, according to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Most insurers appear to be following FCA advice, but it is worth checking with your insurer.

Formal procedures during lockdown

We pressed UCL to agree that capability and disciplinary procedures relating to refusing ‘reasonable management instructions’ should not be triggered in the current circumstances.Though there was agreement that such cases should be highly unlikely - precisely because staff are engaged in working under difficult circumstances to their best endeavours - UCL would not agree to our request to rule-out these formal processes.

Leave: additional days and carry-over allowance

Your union representatives did seek an extension to the Easter break to recognise the workload that staff had been carrying. Although this was not granted, UCL has agreed to three additional closure dates this year (to be announced) and to allow staff to carry over 7 days instead of 5 annual leave days at the end of the leave year (at the end of August) as of right.

Negotiations with UCL continue. 

UCL UCU Executive Committee