Durham University will not reinstate the key worker allowance for staff working on campus during lockdown.
The University told the Durham branch of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) that it is unable to reinstate the key worker allowance for “financial reasons”.
In response, Durham UCU stated that they are “extremely disappointed” by the decision.
During the spring lockdown, which ran through Easter term, staff in grades one to eight who continued to deliver face to face teaching on campus for at least 3.5 hours every week received a flat rate of £75 per week.
Durham UCU delivered a series of letters to the University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge, asking that all face to face teaching be suspended until it is deemed safe by scientific advisory bodies.
Durham UCU also requested that all staff across the University and colleges who are delivering in-person support and teaching are provided with a key worker allowance. The University told Durham UCU that the contribution of staff who are working to support students and essential in-person activities on campus is being recognised in “other ways”.
Joanne Race, Director of Human Resources & Organisation Development, told Palatinate: “During the first national lock- down, the University remained open but was operated by a much reduced skeleton staff on site. In accordance with Government Guidance at the time, these colleagues were considered to be key workers and were paid a special allowance for a short period to recognise the exceptional circumstances at the early stages of the pandemic.
“The University is now working much more normally, with many more students and colleagues on site. The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to be with us for some time and we expect this to be our normal operating practice for the foreseeable future. Colleagues whose role requires them to be on site are therefore operating under their (new) normal working conditions and so, in line with many other universities, key worker payments are no longer applicable.”
Mrs Race said the University had recognised the contribution of staff in a number of ways, including by encouraging nominations for the University’s Merit and Discretionary Awards.
The University has also added two extra closure days to the Easter break, and three extra days to the upcoming Christmas break. Any staff member who may need to work on these days can take additional leave at another time, with many also receiving premium rate payments. Staff members are also allowed to carry forward some of their annual leave to 2021.
Mrs Race also told Palatinate that the University has doubled the annual emergency leave provision to help staff to juggle caring and personal responsibilities.
However, some staff members have not felt adequately supported by the University throughout the pandemic. Durham UCU told Palatinate: “Members of staff across the University, especially those in Colleges providing front-line care and support for students, are working under extremely difficult and stressful circumstances, and without their presence ‘on the ground’ the university would not be able to function.
“We asked the management to reinstate the key worker allowance from spring in recognition of the central and integral role that these workers are playing in the present crisis, and the added stress and burden that it causes.
“We have regularly raised issues of stress and anxiety that come from not only living and work- ing in a pandemic, but also due to the added workload that blended learning and online teaching necessarily generate, and requested the University management for an institution-wide response to the stress caused by Covid-19, including a thorough stress risk assessment for all employees.
“Durham was happy to recognise the key worker status of this subset of its employees in spring and there is no reason for them not to recognise it now.”
Image: Beatrice Law