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Working from home for academic staff

Dear Member,

As last week, in relation to the 15 day turnaround of marking and feedback ‘policy’, a substantial number of members have contacted myself or local reps regarding the institutional ‘Working From Home Policy’. A number of incorrect and contradictory statements have been made by various managers over the last week or so, on this issue. Once again I apologise for the length of this email, but it is all important information.

In contrast to the 15 day turnaround of marking ‘policy’ which does not exist as such (see previous post for details), there is indeed a ‘Working From Home Policy’ (which can be found on the HR pages of LJMUWeb); however, IT DOES NOT APPLY TO ACADEMIC STAFF. Changes to working practices in relation to academic staff currently being pushed by management and HR around the institution have not been decided upon in consultation with UCU. The ‘Working From Home Policy’ was agreed before UCU came into existence and was not consulted upon, negotiated with, or agreed to by NATFHE (the union which then represented academic staff at LJMU, and which was one of the unions which later amalgamated to form the UCU).

The Policy is in fact an agreement between LJMU and UNISON, relating to administrative and technical staff only.

The Post ’92 contracts of employment we ‘enjoy’ recognise the professional and largely self-supervised nature of academic activities: The Post 92 Staff Handbook (Agreed National Text, http://www.ucu.org.uk/1973), which our institution agreed to as much as any other Post 92 institution states;

1.3.1   On the matter of the working week, it is not appropriate in a professional contract to be specific as to the exact hours of availability for duties; moreover, it is accepted that in the case of the obligation to undertake research and other scholarly activity that obligation will not necessarily require attendance at the institution. However, in relation to teaching duties a reasonable norm may be helpful at institutional level. Such a norm should be comparable with those of other employees in the institution and with those of related professional groups; it is not to be regarded as either a minimum or maximum.’

And from the Post 92 Contract;

8.3 Your research and scholarly activity will be principally self-managed.’

It is, obviously, perfectly reasonable for management to expect and require presence on University premises for scheduled teaching activities, meetings (whether administrative or with students), advertised ‘Office Hours’ where these are the norm and other activities which are a contractual requirement and for which physical presence is necessary. This is not, however, the case where physical presence is not required to carry out our assigned duties – in fact, particularly in the case of staff expected to work in multi-occupancy offices, where colleagues may be holding meetings with students because of short supply or non-existence of alternative accommodation, physical presence may significantly undermine our ability to perform our assigned duties, be they research, scholarly activities, marking or administrative tasks. We are professionals, recognised as such by our contracts of employment and the handbook guidelines on their implementation, to which our institution is a signatory; e.g. ‘You are expected to work flexibly and efficiently, and to maintain the highest professional standards in discharging your responsibilities, and in promoting and implementing the corporate policies of Liverpool John Moores University.’

It would not be unreasonable for management/HR to expect to codify working arrangements by reaching an agreement with UCU relating to availability for contact when off the premises etc., but they have not attempted to do this. Instead they are either allowing local managers to make things up as they go along, or have operated unilaterally and without consultation, in clear breach of the Recognition Agreement between LJMU and the three unions with recognised rights to representation, negotiation and consultation at LJMU.

Once again, as with the issues relating to ‘15 day turnaround’, the issue of the implementation of the ‘Working From Home Policy’ will be taken up with management.

In Solidarity,

Jim Hollinshead,

Branch Secretary,

LJMU UCU

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