The job retention scheme should be extended – or another wage support scheme put in its place – to support thousands of university staff, such as catering and security workers who face redundancy, education unions say today (Thursday).
In a joint letter to higher education minister Michelle Donelan, UNISON, GMB, Unite, the University and College Union (UCU), and the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) also warn problems with the test and trace system pose real risks to the health of staff, students and local communities.
Ahead of the Chancellor’s expected announcement on further measures to protect jobs later today, the unions say the government must consider other ways of supporting the higher education sector.
Other support measures called for by the five unions – representing academics, support staff, catering employees, cleaning staff, caretakers, technicians and receptionists – include full pay for all staff who need to isolate and ready access to testing to keep campuses safe.
The letter also stresses the need to ensure EU research funding received by UK universities is fully maintained, given the end of the Brexit transition period is only months away.
Unite national officer Siobhan Endean said: “University staff have worked incredibly hard to put in place risk assessments and Covid secure campuses. Effective test track and trace is the missing piece in the jigsaw to drive down Covid- 19 infection rates.
“Government and university employers need to come together with unions to keep staff in jobs and keep our universities safe.”
UNISON senior education officer Ruth Levin said: “Thousands of university jobs hang in the balance, and sadly many support staff have already lost their jobs. More government help is a must.
“Ministers must up their game too on testing. Delays in accessing tests and obtaining results are causing untold problems for universities. As more students return and infection rates rise, universities need to know there’s a testing system able to deliver what’s needed, and fast.”
UCU head of higher education Paul Bridge said: “Due to the colossal failings of the test and trace system, it’s not safe to reopen campuses any further. University staff must not pay the price for these shortcomings.
“We will need our universities more than ever as we seek to rebuild post-Covid. The government must step in now and guarantee funding so universities can protect all jobs, welcome students back to campus when it’s safe to do so and continue to provide world-class teaching and research.”
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “We are seeing significant outbreaks in university campuses across the country, so it’s essential that government takes the necessary steps to keep students, staff and the wider community safe.
“That means ensuring that all campuses are Covid-secure, with readily available access to testing for staff and students. Financial support is also required to guarantee that provision can continue, and to ensure that all those who contract Covid or who are required to self-isolate do not suffer financially as a result.”
GMB national officer Stuart Fegan said: “The Covid pandemic has shone a light on the way our higher education members have gone above and beyond in providing support to students, the public, and their institutions.
“We call on the government to do the only right thing in supporting those on furlough when it comes to an end. Meanwhile ministers must fix the problems with track and trace, while ensuring sick pay for those needing to self-isolate.”