UCU blasts ‘reckless and shortsighted’ government over Covid changes

The UCU is calling for the reinstatement of free Covid testing in universities, as well as explicit consideration of the virus in workplace risk assessments

The government has been branded “reckless and shortsighted” by the University and College Union (UCU) over recent changes in its approach to Covid-19.

Under the Cabinet Office’s ‘Living with Covid’ plan, access to free Covid-19 testing was removed on 1 April, and there is no longer a requirement to explicitly consider the virus when making workplace risk assessments.

“The health of staff, students and the wider community is too important to gamble with,” said UCU general secretary, Jo Grady. “The pandemic is not over.”

In an open letter to Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, Grady noted that: “The World Health Organisation on 23 March 2022 said that ‘testing, sequencing and contact tracing, also remain essential, and it’s vital that countries don’t abandon the capacities they have built over the past two years’. In removing free universal access to Covid-19 tests and ending contact tracing regimes, the UK government is doing just that.”

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The union claims that some employers have already been diluting safety measures, including C02 monitoring and ventilation, and has written to both the Universities and Colleges Employers Association and the Association of Colleges to request they continue to undertake Covid-related risk assessments, as well as provide free tests for staff and students.

With the Health and Safety Executive having removed Covid-19 risk assessment guidance from its website, UCU has produced its own updated guidance for members.

The union is also calling on employers to commit to following the recommendations of Independent SAGE, a group of scientists advising the government and wider public on staying healthy during the Covid crisis.

Signatories to the safety pledge would:

  • Protect staff and users from Covid-19
  • Assess physical environment and working practices according to health and safety law, including risk assessments 
  • Abide by best public health advice and ensure all employees who test positive for Covid-19 are asked – and given support – to stay home and self-isolate  

“It was reckless and short-sighted of the government to end free asymptomatic testing and the requirement for Covid-19 workplace risk assessments, especially as infections continue to rise,” said Grady.

“Staff in our universities and colleges have gone above and beyond throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and they deserve to know that they and their students are going to be safe on campus.”

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