UCU pushes employers for more Omicron safeguards

The union has updated its guidance to demand more measures to protect staff at universities and colleges

The University and College Union (UCU) has called on employers to “go beyond government guidance” and increase the measures they are taking to protect staff during the Omicron surge.

Medical-grade face masks, guaranteed sick pay, improved ventilation and more remote working are among the demands made by the union in its updated health and safety guidance.

Employers should also review and update their risk assessments in consultation with UCU representatives, it says.

The guidance, which has been sent to employer bodies the Universities and Colleges Employers Association and the Association of Colleges, asks employers to:

  • Provide FFP2 or FFP3 filtering facepiece respirator masks – these are used by healthcare workers and offer a higher level of protection than the conventional surgical face mask
  • Reduce the number of people required on site and reduce indoor mixing
  • Relieve the most vulnerable staff from in-person work
  • Monitor all indoor spaces on campus to ensure effective ventilation, using air filtration units where necessary
  • Ensure access to regular free PCR and lateral flow tests (PCR and LFD tests)
  • Allow vaccinations and boosters in work time without loss of pay
  • Commit to proper sick pay measures for staff with Covid, those identified as close contacts or with caring responsibilities for people who are isolating, and staff awaiting test results – including those on insecure and zero hours contracts – so they “do not feel pressured to be on site.”


”College and university campuses are reopening this month whilst Omicron is surging throughout the UK and it is clear employers need to raise their game to ensure staff and students are kept safe and education is not disrupted,” said UCU general secretary Jo Grady.

“The measures put forward by UCU are designed to reduce the risk of mass Covid outbreaks, protect those who are vulnerable and ensure staff are able to continue delivering a high-quality education for students.

“Employers need to make sure that high quality face masks, which are scientifically proven to reduce transmission, are freely available for staff and students who are required on campus and ensure all indoor spaces have good levels of ventilation. They must also take long overdue steps to extend sick pay to the thousands of staff employed on non-typical and insecure contracts, allowing people to stay at home and reduce Covid transmission when necessary.

“Employers should also negotiate with their local UCU branches to reduce the numbers of staff required on site. Those who are clinically vulnerable or have caring responsibilities must be supported to work remotely. Other staff, including those who cannot or do not wish to work remotely, must be given access to safe working spaces.

“The levels of disruption experienced by staff and students during the earlier parts of the pandemic can be avoided, but only if employers demonstrate high levels of vigilance and commit to going beyond government guidance.”

Last month, three-day strikes organised by UCU over pensions, pay and working conditions took place at 58 universities.

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