Letter from #Coventry City #UNISON to the Leader & Chief Exec @coventrycc ref Working Arrangements for Council Staff.

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Dear Cllr Duggins and Martin

UNISON would like to raise our concerns with you about the email sent to all staff yesterday entitled ‘Returning to the Office’. There has been no discussion with trades unions on this and with the Director of HR being on leave this week we would question what the urgency of this to happen from next week would be?

The employer has not shared any updated risk assessments with us and our previous discussions with the employer had left us in the belief that the approach would be far more cautious than every team having a presence. Many teams have adapted perfectly well to working from home and many staff feel far more secure and safe working from home. Whilst appreciating that many frontline services have been working for several months in the workplace not all staff are required to do so. With the rising COVID rate and not all staff yet vaccinated we believe that the risks outweigh the benefit signficantly.

We believe that the arbitrary approach laid out in the communication to all staff is not productive and in fact we have received multiple emails and calls of concern. Further the discussion around more flexible working that are occurring, again without trade union input in staff panels, seemed to be of the consensus that a far more flexible approach to home working would be taken.

UNISON would therefore request an urgent meeting on this matter. We would also expect full risk assessments to be shared with us and a proper discussion about the rationale for all teams to have a presence clearly explained.

We would request that until this has happened, we do not proceed with plans to have all services in. We are sure that we do not need to remind anyone of the duties to consult around health and safety and the recent failure of COVID precautions in a city centre premises.

Yours sincerely

Sarah

Sarah Feeney (she/her)
Branch Secretary
UNISON Coventry City Branch

#UNISON Update – Safer #Schools Plan…

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UNISON’s recommendations for safer re-opening of schools in England

The government announced on 27 January that it hopes to re-open schools in England on 8 March. UNISON believes that school re-opening should only happen when the science says it is safe, when school risk assessments have been updated, and when appropriate safety measures have been introduced. 

We must ensure that schools do not become ‘vectors of transmission’ again. It is vital that the Department for Education (DfE) allows for a staggered approach so that a sudden re-opening does not increase local transmission rates. We believe a phased return and the ability to have flexible rota systems would help to make schools safer.

In a noticeable change in policy, the DfE has constructively engaged with UNISON and other unions in the last few weeks. We are hopeful that this new relationship will result in improved guidance that will make the full return to schools safer.

UNISON has outlined several key measures for schools below that we believe the DfE should implement before schools fully re-open: 

  • Allow schools to use a rota system/blended learning when schools re-open. 
  • Split classes into smaller groups to keep bubble sizes as small as possible. If necessary, give schools additional funding to hire extra staff and space to accommodate them. Small bubbles, rotas, and a phased return would help to ensure 2m social distancing. 
  • Keep staff and pupils within one bubble (except for emergencies) to reduce the risk of cross-transmission and wider closures. 
  • Subject to a risk assessment, provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including medical-grade masks, for staff administering first aid, medical care or personal care activities where social distancing cannot be maintained, for example in some special schools and nurseries.
  • Staff and pupils in secondary schools should wear face coverings in all areas of the school, including classrooms. There should be an urgent review of the international evidence for face coverings for pupils in primary schools. Stocks of face coverings, including clear face coverings that facilitate lip-reading, should be made available. 
  • Review the quality of face coverings and recommendations, noting the banning of home-made masks in schools in France
  • Mass testing can be used as an additional tool, alongside the full maintenance of all other preventative measures such as isolation of contacts of those with symptoms. Home tests must be backed up by access to more reliable PCR tests.
  • As part of re-opening, the DfE should ask the government to prioritise vaccinating school staff. 
  • Provide additional national guidance on ventilation in schools and support local reviews of ventilation in all schools prior to wider re-opening. This guidance should include advice on minimum safe temperatures for classrooms. Classrooms and other school areas with unsafe ventilation should not be used.
  • Clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) and clinically vulnerable (CV) staff should continue to work from home on full pay until risk from the virus has significantly reduced. 
  • The DfE should issue urgent guidance requiring that all outsourced staff in schools, such as catering and cleaning staff, must receive full pay when they are required to self-isolate, without any impact on their sickness absence record.
  • School staff should not be expected to take on tasks that are beyond their job description or that they are not fully trained and renumerated for. It is unfair to depend on support staff to take on additional work when they have already gone the extra mile to support pupils throughout the pandemic.    
  • UNISON fully supports catch-up programmes, but they must be properly resourced by the government, with full consideration of the existing financial, administrative, and workload pressures that schools face. Any catch-up programmes should not result in additional workload pressures on already overworked school staff. 
  • Apply public transport rules on social distancing and face coverings to all school transport. 
  • Provide additional funding to cover any additional costs incurred by schools to implement these measures. Schools will need additional financial support to re-open safely.

Nursery classes and early years
Although nursery classes have not been formally restricted to vulnerable children and the children of critical workers, many nursery classes have restricted the number of children in classes.

As pupil numbers increase, schools will need to continue to risk assess the impact of increased numbers, particularly around expanding bubbles.

We recognise that social distancing is impossible in an early years settings. When CEV and CV staff are no longer at high risk from community transmission and they choose to continue to work at their early years settings, consideration should be given to finding these staff alternative roles where social distancing can be applied.

Testing Q&A…

Please see the document below for a list of questions and answers relating to COVID-19 testing within schools

Testing_Q&A.pdf

Council Staff Annual Leave…

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Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been numerous discussions and announcements about the use of leave – including where leave has accumulated that would otherwise have been taken in normal times.

We have urged the employer to take a flexible approach on this – of course from the point of view of mental health and wellbeing members should take leave to ensure they get appropriate rest and recuperation. At the same time, it must be recognised that many members are far more restricted in terms of travel and what this leave can be used for.

There is an agreement that some leave can be carried over, but from what members have told us this may be being applied differently across the council.

We have put together a short survey to allow us to get a picture of the situation, and to where necessary to take up the situation. This has been emailed to all Council staff members of our branch. Contact us direct if you have not received this email. We would be grateful if you would take the time to complete it.

Lateral Flow Tests and Vaccinations…

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The number of people taking lateral flow tests over the past few weeks has started to drop significantly. We are clear that whilst lateral flow tests are a secondary part of risk management, they are important for identifying those who may be asymptomatic but still able to pass the virus on. We would urge all front-facing workers to consider getting tested on a weekly basis at least for their peace of mind.

We know that many social care staff and vulnerable staff have now been invited to be vaccinated. We know that people have concerns about the safety and content of the vaccines but we would encourage people to get vaccinated. Coventry City Council have helpfully produced the following guidance:

The government has launched the SHARE checklist to tackle the spread of false information about coronavirus and vaccinations.

Recently there has been a lot of false information about coronavirus and the new vaccines designed to tackle it and it’s not always easy to spot. The SHARE checklist is an easy tool to pass on to people in your community to help them know what to look out for before they like, comment or share information they come across online.

If you are looking for information on vaccination safety, please see the NHS guide on Why vaccination is safe and important.

The independent fact-checker Full Fact is also working to fact check and correct misinformation about vaccines and coronavirus and regularly updates its website to tackle the latest false information.

Mental Health Matters…#mentalhealthmatters

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The branch is concerned that members may be struggling with their mental health through this lockdown and who may have been struggling with other concerns for some time. 

We have seen increasing rates of sickness absence and members struggling with their anxieties.  We don’t want anyone to struggle alone and we are here to help where we can; we aren’t trained counsellors however and below are several ways you can access professional support.  

UNISON’s national charity There For You can be contacted to seek support on – 02071215620

As we said last week many employers may also have their own support services that staff can access to get support.

Here is a list of organisations in Coventry that may be able to help you or a family member:

Mental Health Support Organisations

Samaritans Call 116 123 free 24/7

Safe Havens Safe Havens in Coventry and Warwickshire provide out-of-hours mental health support for people who are feeling distressed and overwhelmed.  

PAPYRUS Free service for young people. Call 0800 068 4141 9am-10pm Mon-Fri /2pm-10pm weekends or visit www.papyrus-uk.org

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) Call 0300 111 5065 9am-9pm Monday to Friday or visit www.uksobs.org

MIND Coventry and WarwickshireHelp and support for mental health problems. Call 024 7655 2847 or visit www.cwmind.org.uk

Change Grow Live Coventry Free and confidential drug and alcohol service for adults, families and affected others. Call 02476 010241 9am-5pm Mon/ 9am – 8pm Tue/ 9am – 5pm Wed-Fri or email coventry.info@cgl.org.uk

Compass: Substance misuse service for children and young people in Warwickshire Call 01788 578 227 or email: compass.warksypsduty@nhs.net.  Office hours are Mon-Thurs 09:00 to 17:00 and Friday from 9am to 4.30pm. Visit: https://www.compass-uk.org/services/warwickshire-cypdas/ for more information

The Recovery and Wellbeing Academy: Free courses and workshops to help people in their recoveryCall 0300 303 2626 or visit www.recoveryandwellbeing.covwarkpt.nhs.uk

The KaleidoscopeSuicide Bereavement Support Services call 0121 565 5665 or visit www.kaleidoscopeplus.org.uk

Veterans’ Mental Health TIL Service Call 0300 323 0137 24/7

RISE: Emotional wellbeing and mental health services for children and young peopleCall 0300 200 2021 8am – 6pm Mon-Fri or visit www.cwrise.com


It Takes Balls To Talk: Campaign to encourage people to talk about mental health issues. Visit www.ittakesballstotalk.com

#COVID-19 Update for #UNISON Members. 12/01/21

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Important Information Regarding this Email:
As our COVID-19 Updates contain issues relating to Workplace Health & Safety, we are now sending them out to all members regardless of their communication preferences. If you have not been receiving these emails in the past, it may because your communication preferences do not allow us to email you. The branch only emails members with news and information that is relevant to your membership and if you would like to review your communication preferences, please visit https://www.unison.org.uk/my-unison/

In This Issue…
Non-Council Members
Council Members
Libraries
Passenger Transport
Education

Non-Council Members…
Your employer has a duty to keep you safe, wherever you work and whatever work you do. They need to have updated their risk assessments and talked to you about the risks you are facing. If you are shielding, then they need to honour that and if you are vulnerable but not shielding, they must consider what they can do to keep you as safe as possible.

We know that not all our members are able to work from home and that many are still supporting service users daily; however, your safety must be key in all of this and your employer has a legal duty to ensure that.
We would urge all our members to ask their managers what precautions they should be taking and to raise any concerns.

With the high virus rate in Coventry many more people are now at risk of contracting Coronavirus and we want to support all members to ensure that they are as safe as possible.

Council Members…
UNISON raised our concerns today that this lockdown is not being treated as seriously as the one last March.  In the corporate meeting today, which was supported by other Trade Unions, UNISON called for the employer to go back to the full lockdown that was introduced at the beginning of March last year.  

We also stated that this approach to full lockdown should not be any shorter than 3 weeks so that (a) the most dangerous period that Professor Chris Whitty has referred to will have started to pass and (b) it gives management and the trades unions time to assess the new level of risk and discuss what the most appropriate way of delivering services are.

Without this approach, UNISON is concerned that virus levels in the city will rise and that it will further endanger staff, service users, and citizens of Coventry.  We were clear and unequivocal that with the new strain of the virus the risks currently are too great to do anything but follow the most cautious approach by the employer.

We would advise members to carefully consider any requests to work outside their home and raise directly and urgently with the branch any issues that you believe would put youself at risk of contracting the virus.

Libraries…
UNISON reps met with library management to share concerns regarding the continual operation of services from Central Library. They have shared updated risk assessments with us this afternoon and these should also be shared with staff shortly.

We urge members to tell management individually if you have any concerns about your health and safety in the workplace. This can be done as part of your vera review or as a separate conversation. UNISON is happy to support you in this discussion if required.

We have asked for the number of times click and collect has been used, and management has assured us that they will provide the data but also review demand to inform their decision making.

We have made a number of requests, asking that the airflow report is reviewed in light of the new variant of covid. We have also asked that cleaning regimes be shared and a review of isolating of materials.

Management is reviewing staffing numbers to ensure that no more than the absolute minimum are in work to complete tasks. We have requested that management review their decision to continue with services and we will be meeting them on Monday.

Passenger Transport…
UNISON asked for a meeting on Monday last week because we were in tier 4, with the announcement that we would go into full lockdown on Monday evening it became more urgent that we made sure our members were safe and able to work confidently.  After a meeting early Tuesday with UNITE attending also we gained agreement that the service area would look to reduce service users. 

It was confirmed yesterday, after UNISON’s request, that the new risk assessment ensures that no more than 4 pupils will be on a bus and that the manifest should be consistent. There has also been, at our request, a firm commitment to encouraging the use of hand gel and masks where appropriate.

Education…
UNISON intends to respond to the new DfE guidance for schools in England on restricting attendance during the national lockdown. There will be a new risk assessment checklist this week.

Maximum class and bubble sizes
We are urging school leaders and headteachers to implement the following measures to protect pupils and staff from the new COVID strain, to reduce community spread and protect our NHS:

• Limit bubble sizes to a maximum of 15 pupils per class or 50% of the school’s usual class size, whichever is smaller, and ensure 2m social distancing
• Staff to remain within their bubble at all times with no crossover working.

Special schools and Alternative Provision
In special schools and alternative provision, it will not be possible, or even appropriate, for every child to receive face-to-face provision every day. We are therefore calling for schools to be given the flexibility to establish which vulnerable learners could be offered time in schools.
Additional guidance for special schools/colleges and alternative provision is on the national website at the bottom of this page: https://www.unison.org.uk/at-work/education-services/key-issues/covid-19-closures/

Early years and Nurseries
The government has decided early years settings should remain open to all children.
UNISON is campaigning for them to be treated in the same way as schools. Support this petition: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/566718.)
The government is refusing to publish the scientific evidence for the different treatment of early years despite calls from across the sector.
If settings do remain open, we believe that they must;

• Undertake revised risk assessments, taking into account the increased transmissibility of new variant and the move to COVID alert level 5.
• Restrict numbers of children and ‘bubble’ sizes to 8 children, as was the case when settings re-opened after the first wave of the pandemic.

Section 44
In parliament last week Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, said that UNISON and the NEU had accepted that the advice we gave members about their health and safety rights was ‘incorrect’.
We believe it was the right advice to give at the time and we made this clear in our response to the government. After the government directed the closure of schools, NEU and UNISON removed the advice from our websites because the situation had changed.
But this emphatically does not mean we believe face-to-face work with full or near-full classes in schools is safe in the current circumstances. UNISON and the NEU have written to schools, setting the record straight and responding to messages coming out of the Department for Education. Members’ individual rights under health and safety law have not changed – see our health and safety guidance.

However, unlike last week, the risks facing members may differ between workplaces and therefore we are now asking them to speak to their branch first if they have serious health and safety concerns about being in the workplace.
Petition: Shut all nurseries and early years settings during lockdown

Urgent call for the government to close all nurseries and early years settings considering the new lockdown to protect early years staff.

Please sign the petition…
https://petition.parliament.uk/

UNISON Coventry City Branch

Call us on 02476 550829
email us at office@unisoncoventry.co.uk

#COVID-19 #Coventry #City #UNISON Update 08/01/21

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All Members…

The branch is starting to receive numerous queries from staff who under previous lockdowns have been directed to work from home but are now being told that they are “key workers” and should be coming into office locations.  UNISON is clear that this lockdown is even more serious than the November lockdown given the new strain of the virus.  If your manager is now insisting that you come into the office, please re-iterate to them the advice given by the government that if you can work from home then you should.   Then get in contact with us and ensure that we are aware of what your service area is proposing.

Adult Social Care Members…
UNISON is aware of the issues arising in day ops and are discussing with management ways in which risks are managed and minimised for you. Please check with your manager that risk assessments have been reviewed to reflect risks posed by the new variant of Covid 19. Please get in touch if you have any concerns.

Library Members…
We are due to meet the management team on Monday to discuss the level of service being offered during this latest lockdown and the issues raised by members as a result of this.

Due to the level of concern raised, the advice of UNISON nationally and CILIP we have written to the head of service today, copying in the Kevin Maton, the Cabinet Member for Education and Skills. We have requested that Libraries cease services from Central Library as is their plan and enable staff to work from home or remain home if this is not possible.

Are you a key worker? Can you request your child goes to school because of your role?

This question has been raised because of verbal information received from Libraries management by some staff. To date, the critical worker list on the government website does not specify that Library staff are key workers.

Management has confirmed that the DCMs guidance has not been updated to reflect this. Therefore we would not advise members to exercise a right to a place for their child on this basis at the moment

We will update you as soon as we receive a response.

Schools Members…

Do all staff need to be at school during lockdown?

No. Schools and colleges should ensure they have sufficient staff on-site to operate safely and support the on-site provision but all other staff should work from home where possible. A rota system would be the safest and fairest way to implement this. Some employees may prefer to work on-site – that’s a reasonable request. Despite the requirements for remote learning provision, it is not sensible to expect all staff to be on site.

Why are nurseries still open?  

UNISON is continuing to press the government to treat nurseries the same as primary schools.  We have seen a copy of the letter sent to Gavin Williamson on this matter.  It notes that SAGE member Prof Semple is on record as saying he couldn’t explain why nurseries were open and the decision was not a scientific one.

What are doing about the wide definition of vulnerable children? 

Nationally UNISON is arguing that only those children assessed as vulnerable in their COVID EHC plan should be attending school.  Employees should be asking for individual pupil risk assessments for all SEN pupils who have a EHC.

What’s happening with risk assessments?  

We’ve had very clear advice.  We cannot tell you a school is safe if we have not seen and agreed a revised risked assessment. Employers must communicate changes to RAs to you as a matter of urgency.

Why did I get an email from the NEU?  

NEU sent emails to all who signed its petition asking for school closures, asking them to join NEU.  If you received such an email, contact us.  You should have received an apology from the NEU for this misuse of data.

Why is my head saying UNISON has retracted the section 44 advice?  

The DfE sent a letter to the director of education telling them we had done this.  We haven’t.  We expect a national statement from UNISON on this.  It appears Gavin Williamson is misrepresenting UNISON views.  We have informed the local authority of this.

My head is saying that DfE has now given clearer advice on how to manage the risk?

The DfE did issue new guidance yesterday.  UNISON has stated nationally that they are dismayed that is does address our concerns about the definition of vulnerable children, keyworker children.  

The current advice is:

1 – Limit bubble sizes to a maximum of 15 pupils per class or 50% of the usual class size, whichever is smaller.
2 – Staff should remain within their bubbles at all times with no crossover working.
3 – In special schools and alternative provision, it will not be appropriate or possible to give every child face to face provision every day.

What happens if the school isn’t following UNISON advice?  

Contact us. Tell us. We have received further advice from head office on escalating issues which we are currently considering.

Clinically Extremely Vulnerable staff should be working from home.

UNISON Coventry City Branch

Call us on 02476 550829
email us at office@unisoncoventry.co.uk

SCHOOLS: URGENT: Section 44

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The DfE has informed the LA that UNISON has withdrawn section 44 advice to its members. We’ve seen a copy of this letter. (Section 44 is the legislation on the statute books that gives employees the right to withdraw from an unsafe workplace without detriment, as used in our model letter for school employees).

We have been told by national UNISON that Gavin Williamson has misrepresented UNISON’s views.

The LA has advised schools earlier today that the section 44 advice has been withdrawn.

The branch has received no advice from head office that our section 44 advice has been withdrawn.

We expect that UNISON will make a national statement on this later.

COVID-19 Update for #UNISON Members in #Coventry City Branch

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In light of the Prime Ministers’ announcement of the latest lockdown, we would like to update you on what we are doing to support you in the workplace.

For Council employed staff we have requested an urgent meeting to discuss with the employer steps that need to be taken to keep staff safe during this lockdown.

We intend to review by service area management expectations but we would ask that members update us regarding any communication and response that may have been received in response to these new concerns.

With the development of the new strain of COVID all risk assessments and VERAs should be reviewed to ascertain what additional steps may need to be taken.  The key message is if you can work from home you should do so.  We will support any member, wherever they work, who wishes to raise concerns about being asked to attend an office location unnecessarily

For non-council members, we are aware that many of you continue to work in front-facing roles that do not allow working from home. Your employer should be reviewing risk assessments in the workplace and sharing them with you to ensure your safety. If you are a vulnerable employee who has concerns about shielding we urge you to talk to your employer about furlough and if you need further support to get in contact with us.

Our national website is regularly updated with information and advice for all members in all sectors and is well worth checking if you have a query.

For school-based staff, we continue to meet with the local authority on a regular basis and keep raising our concerns over safety and workplace practices. The new lockdown comes in no small part due to the activity of our trade union and others over the past week. There is a further guide available for those who work in special education.

Should any member be struggling financially during the period please do get in touch; however, we will be sending out further communications in the next few days about the support you can get from UNISON.

We have proved this week that together we are stronger and the activities of our members can and do effect positive change. If your colleagues are not members then encourage them to join now at https://joining.unison.org.uk or if you know of any members who have not received this email please ask them to get in touch and update their contact details with us.

 

UNISON Coventry City Branch

Call us on 02476 550829
email us at office@unisoncoventry.co.uk