University support staff left carrying the can for chaotic start of term

Workers are angry at being left to manage the fallout, threats and abuse

University support staff are calling for managers and ministers to step in to end the Covid campus chaos that’s left them dealing with weeks of sometimes violent disruption, says UNISON today (Tuesday).

Workers are angry at being left to manage the fallout, threats and abuse from frustrated students​ in isolation, with no extra support or recognition, the union says.

Security officers at one university report regularly risking their own safety to break up rowdy groups of students angry at lockdown restrictions, says UNISON.

At the same university, staff had to fight their way through hundreds of students – including Covid-positive cases – heading for fire exits as alarms were intentionally set off in accommodation blocks, the union says.

To keep students safe and fed, cleaners and catering staff are working extra hours to meet ​the huge increase in demand. Kitchens, corridors and communal areas are regularly deep cleaned, while some catering workers are clocking up 16-hour shifts to make and deliver three meals a day to thousands of students in their rooms, adds UNISON.

UNISON senior national ​education officer Ruth Levin said: “Support staff have been caught in the crossfire in a totally avoidable situation.

“​Local or mobile testing units ​are needed on every campus and the ​government has got to get to grips with the test-and-trace system.

“If the ​testing system was working properly, healthy students wouldn’t be locked down and staff wouldn’t have to deal with violence, abuse and ​huge increase​s ​in workloads, with little extra support​ from university managers.

“Staff have been working flat out to keep universities going and, considering the pressures they’re under, they’re doing a remarkable job.

“​But without proper funding for universities​, many ​are at risk of losing their jobs.”

Notes to editors:
– University support staff shared their experiences ​(names have been changed​):
– Dan, a security officer said: “We’ve had to pick up drunk​en students who’ve passed out and take them back to halls. ​There are Covid cases on campus, but we’re not told which block they’re in. We could be exposed when we take students back. Some students are aggressive, they just want to have parties. The vice chancellor only cares about the lecturers, but we’re on the frontline dealing with the mess.”
– Catering worker Hayley said: “Catering staff are driving around delivering meals to students in pairs, which is against the rules and ​is putting our health at risk. ​This is just so we don’t get parking tickets. The university wants us to get food to students who can’t go out, but they haven’t sorted out parking exemptions with the council. We’re taking risks every day.”
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sector​.

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