On May 6, the Oxford University & College Union (UCU) called on the University to pause its redundancies and disciplinary procedures during the time of the pandemic. In a tweet by the Oxford UCU account, they announced: “Oxford UCU committee had asked Oxford University to pause all redundancies and disciplinary procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are disappointed that the University has not paused such procedures and urge them to reconsider.”
The tweet by the Oxford UCU was retweeted by fellow organizations such as the Cambridge UCU and the University College London UCU.
In a comment to Cherwell, the Oxford UCU President stated the reason for the action is the hardship already brought about by the virus and the fact that continuing with redundancies would exacerbate the hardship faced by employees.
The President explained: “Staff have already been adapting to seismic shifts in our ways of working and living, with increased stresses from work and concern for our loved ones, newly intensified childcare responsibilities, and heightened anxiety over the entrenched precarity of our day-to-day existence.”
The President continued: “It now appears inevitable that this crisis will have further deleterious effects, not least the very real threat of redundancies and the fact that some of us may not be able to make ends meet. We are appalled by reports of ill treatment of staff across the collegiate University, in particular those most precarious and vulnerable of our colleagues.”
Further, the President spoke to how ambiguous the boundaries for a virtual disciplinary hearing are.
“It is unclear for example what the legal basis of an online disciplinary hearing would be, and whether an employer can be said to have fulfilled their legal duty for a worker to be accompanied at a meeting via remote participation,” the President said. “Similarly, it is hard to see how fairness can be guaranteed at redundancy hearings without the physical presence of a trade union representative.”
Other Universities in the UK have already had redundancies due to the virus. In April, Bristol University dismissed 84 staff members due to the coronavirus outbreak. There is even a new movement started amidst the outbreak called the #CoronaContract which seeks to gain two years of secure employment for university staff to ensure they have income and employment during this time.
The #CoronaContract campaign is attempting to gather signatures in support of this motion from all national UCU branches on a virtual petition that can be found here. No employees from the University of Oxford have signed the petition.
The President of the Oxford UCU expressed disappointment with the University’s response to this issue: “We are deeply disappointed that the University of Oxford has not paused such procedures, and instead is pushing on with these procedures in a ‘business as usual’ approach. We urge them to reconsider. It is hard to accept the premise that we are all in this together where those that deliver crucial aspects of the University’s work are put in this position in this most troubling of times.”
The University of Oxford did not offer a comment on the situation.