With the return of students, the University is gearing to adopt a “Covid-aware” approach, in line with what the government are saying. This is basically shifting the emphasis from the University dealing with Covid safety to individuals taking responsibility themselves, by washing hands regularly, wearing a face-covering “when moving around the University” (strongly advised at least) and being regularly tested.
The problem with all this is that we’re relying on thousands of students to follow the “advice”, which is little more than a “please will you?” There’s no more attempt to get students to follow this than there is on public transport, which is patchy to say the least and continues to be a major issue for those concerned about the prospect of catching a life-threatening disease.
Our concern is that this is placing the emphasis far too much on “individual responsibility”, which is not what we would expect our employer to do. It is true that rates appear to be falling, at least at the moment before the impact of schools being open, but passing off genuine fears of Covid as psychological problems is not, in our view, addressing the very real problems that many people can see, that polite requests for people to be careful in enclosed spaces are weak, to say the least.
Our position is that we want the University to continue to be forceful about the need for people to continue to wear face-coverings, to continue to keep a distance from other people (staff or students) and for the maximum ventilation to be in force. We’d also want a clear limit on the number of people at any one time in certain rooms, lifts etc.
We’ll be discussing all this formally at the (rescheduled) Safety and Wellbeing Committee due to take place this week.
If any members are concerned about the situation, then a discussion with your line manager is essential. If they don’t agree with your concerns or are not willing to compromise then you have the right to take out a grievance, report the incident to Health and Safety, and in extreme cases, refuse to work in a situation which you feel puts you or others at risk.
Clearly this is a difficult time for everyone, but we don’t feel that giving students what we think they might want, or following government/Office for Students (lack of) guidance overrules health and safety considerations.
We all have a responsibility to keep each other safe at work and UNISON will do its best to forcefully make the point that slavishly following what this government wants universities to do is not necessarily going to be the best option.