College lecturers have voted to "prosecute" post-16 education employers where staff are experiencing work-related stress.
Members of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) last week voted in favour of a motion which stated that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had issued new criteria for investigating cases of work-related stress and announced that it would inspect stress in the workplace if specific criteria were met. "The HSE have stated that stress is a priority area in their strategy, and that it will investigate if it receives evidence that a number of staff are experiencing work-related stress or stress-related ill-health," the motion added.
It said: "Congress resolves that without delay UCU will seek to work with the Health and Safety Executive with a view to prosecuting post-16 education employers where staff are experiencing work-related stress and/or ill-health."
The UCU would also "call on employers to commit to zero avoidable harm in the workplace, and be explicit that this includes mental health as well as physical health, as an essential minimum".
According to an Association of Colleges survey, published exclusively in Tes last month, around 65 per cent of colleges said they had seen an increase in staff accessing mental health services in the past year, with the greatest factors being returning to work post-Covid, the recurrence of existing mental health conditions and workload.
Speaking on the motion at the conference, Sunil Banga, a teaching fellow at Lancaster University, said the uncertainty of Covid was “playing havoc with staff’s physical and mental wellbeing”.
The impact of Covid on the mental health of college stafff
He said: “As educators, we remain committed to doing our best for the students, but you cannot do this in an unsafe environment. The Covid pandemic has really exposed the kind of unsafe working conditions we are all working in. The uncertainty and unpredictable working conditions are playing havoc with staff’s physical and mental wellbeing. Staff are already burnt-out but management are failing to recognise and address work-related stress as a serious health and safety problem.”
Roddy Sloarch, a member of the UCU’s London regional committee, said: “There is the whole issue of us being told by managers that we must look after ourselves with wellbeing, look after our bodies and minds, going for walks and so on. This is being promoted by the same managers who refuse to provide workplace equipment, who harass staff, who put ridiculous workloads on us and, in general, make our lives a misery. “