Like many workplaces, university bosses have come under fire for their slow and inadequate response to the coronavirus crisis. In Southampton, all three campus trade unions wrote to the vice-chancellor outlining our concerns about insufficient information and advice, including on home working and pay for casual staff.

We pushed for an urgent meeting, but initially, they did not respond to our requests. Our union branch unanimously passed a motion, taking a position that there should be no financial disadvantage to any employee, regardless of contract type, as a result of the virus.

The University and College Union (UCU) has recently taken 14 days of strike action. Part of the ‘four fights’ dispute is over excessive workloads and the use of exploitative, casualised, hourly paid contracts. Both issues have the potential to be exacerbated by this crisis, with cancelled teaching and classes moved online.

As a postgraduate research student, all the work I do teaching undergraduate seminars is hourly paid. I have no guaranteed hours or access to sick pay.

University central communications announced on 13 March that the Easter term would be brought forward by a week, with all scheduled teaching the following week cancelled. We received no confirmation on where that would leave precariously employed staff like me.

The following Monday, I received an email from my hiring manager stating we would not be paid for cancelled teaching. In addition, students received an email stating all assessments would be conducted remotely, before the staff had been told or asked if this was possible!

As a result of the trade union and student union working together to put pressure on university management, the university has now confirmed that casual workers will be paid in full for any scheduled teaching cancelled anytime up until 19 April.

However, it should not have been so hard. I see trade unionists up and down the country putting forward ideas for continuing to operate in a way that is fair and safe for all. But at the same time, I see incompetent management giving outdated advice which puts people at risk, as well as policies entirely unworkable on the ground.

The battle continues within the higher education sector for the proper equipment to work from home, appropriate processes for those with caring responsibilities and other issues.

We also face widespread cuts and redundancies if overseas student numbers fall. But while we have much bigger battles ahead, our union has shown this week that if you fight you can win. Collectively we can push back against any attacks to working people as a result of this crisis!