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Covid-19: employees' individual and collective rights on health & safety issues - updated information for members in HE


January 2021


As you know, across the UK the rates of Covid-19 are exceptionally high. The return to in-person learning has been delayed, with universities being instructed to move all but essential activities online throughout January and February. Some universities have taken matters into their own hands and announced that they intend to keep activities online for significantly longer.

After months of campaigning for this, we believe this is an important step in the right direction to protect staff. However, with the pandemic currently worse than ever and hospitals on the brink of being overwhelmed, this period should be extended to cover the remainder of the academic year, and we will continue to lobby and campaign as hard for this as we have since we first called for the move online in August. I have continued to meet with education ministers over the Christmas and New Year period and make the case for taking these precautions to prioritise education and wellbeing – particularly while the vaccine is being rolled out.


Despite the UK government's announcements, there have been a few disturbing reports from UCU branches that some employers are continuing to require staff to do work on-site that we believe could be done remotely. We expect all employers to review risk assessments in place as a result of recent developments, including the emergence of the new variant of the virus. If you are worried this has not happened for your workplace, please contact your local branch ASAP.

We have also updated our existing guidance regarding your individual rights to health and safety at work, and in particular your right not to receive any detriment if you refuse to attend your workplace under Sections 44 and 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.


You can find the updated guidance here.


n normal times the most effective way to protect the rights of individual union members to work in a healthy and safe environment is through the collective strength of union representation and through direct engagement with employers and the government. That is how UCU has already won significant concessions since the pandemic started in all our sectors and nations - not least of all in higher education, where we have conducted successful ballots for industrial action on Covid-19 health and safety, and will keep doing this for as long as the pandemic lasts.

However, we are not living through normal times. Members do have individual rights in law as well as collective ones, and trade unions can lawfully give their members information about these. Please read this guidance for assistance in doing this.