UNISON, the leading union for support staff in higher education, is urging vigilance from UNISON members, university employers and public health authorities as various virus outbreaks emerge at Scottish university campuses.
UNISON represents staff working in student accommodation: cleaners, security officers, community support workers and campus operations staff. These staff are at most acute risk from the rapid spread of the virus through accommodation settings. These staff tend to be older and generally more clinically vulnerable than the student population. There is real anxiety among UNISON members regarding the mass return of students mid-pandemic.
UNISON recognises this is a difficult situation for all parties involved. In the absence of comprehensive support for the sector from the UK Government, universities have had to recruit students as normal to protect their finances and ultimately, the jobs of our members. Students cannot be blamed for attending university after being asked to do so.
Local UNISON representatives have been negotiating with employers for months on risk assessments and best practice safety measures, but employers cannot be complacent and members on the front line should be vigilant. In the absence of mass surveillance testing of incoming students, and given the evidence of asymptomatic transmission among concentrated groups of young people, the virus presents a real risk to the health and safety of staff.
Where UNISON members working in universities feel they are at risk, they must contact their representatives, share information on current working conditions and take advice at the earliest opportunity.
Lorcan Mullen, UNISON Regional Organiser for Higher Education said: “Our members in and around university accommodation are the people at most acute risk with the return of students to campuses. Our local representatives have negotiated hard for best-practice safety measures to limit risk, but no-one can be complacent given the growing reports of student infections and local lockdown measures.
UNISON is monitoring the situation closely, with representatives regularly comparing employer responses and pressing the emerging best practice on safety measures as events unfold. If employers do not put safety measures in place, we will issue formal warnings, and can ultimately advise members on their rights to withdraw from dangerous work scenarios. UNISON will not let anyone treat low-paid support staff as an afterthought in this crisis.”
UNISON is the largest trade union in Scotland and the leading union for support staff in higher education. UNISON represent staff in universities and student residences, including: cleaners, security officers, community support workers, and campus operations staff.