COVID-19 and Workplace Equity


As the COVID-19 crisis hit the response of university management has had immediate and significant impacts for the equitable workloads of academic staff.

As campuses were closed and courses migrated to online teaching, an enormous amount of labour was required to ensure that remote delivery was successful. Although some universities suspended classes for a week, or commenced the teaching year later, in order to enable staff to prepare, many did not.

In addition, staff found themselves doing significantly more affective labour to provide added pastoral care to anxious students, not to mention supporting other colleagues, including early career researchers and casual staff, at a time of great uncertainty and precarity. They further found themselves having to organize and equip home offices for the online delivery of teaching and services. While these pressures were experienced by all academics, migrating to a home working environment has had particular consequences for those with family and caring responsibilities.  

We offer a number of practical suggestions to meaningfully support academic staff with family responsibilities during the COVID-19 crisis and in its aftermath:

1. Replacement of the language of ‘working flexibly’ with messaging that acknowledges the added pressure on staff, particularly those with caring responsibilities. This will mean adjusting expectations of productivity to realistically reflect what is possible under the circumstances. For instance, instituting a 25-hour week (pro-rata for part-time staff) that is considered a full working week for pay and performance assessment purposes may be a reasonable way forward.

2. An immediate suspension of performance management and evaluation exercises for all staff in 2020, and a revision of targets in teaching, research and administration for 2021 and 2022.

3. Revision of publication expectations for future applications for study leave and for promotion, as per ‘performance relative to opportunity’ guidelines.

4. In 2020, provision of teaching support for academics in need, especially those with high teaching loads and with carer responsibilities, in the form of, for example, marking assistance, sessional relief for class teaching, or the option to run fewer online classes for a unit.

5. Provision of a loading for all casual academics who have been delivering online teaching in 2020, in order to both recompense their added work and provide financial support for the unexpected added cost of running a home office (including internet costs).

6. In 2021, provision of a time loading to academics for all teaching and teaching-related tasks such that the expectations of a ‘full’ teaching load are lowered, providing staff with time to re-establish their research.

7. Consideration of the possibility of lengthening the midyear winter recess period, with a later start to second semester..

University staff have admirably responded to the call to move teaching online, to deal with an increase in student queries, and to adapt all administrative processes. We ask that university managements respond to the need to recognise these additional demands, addressing these workload concerns.

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