We are all watching the news about the COVID-19 pandemic with concern and are aware of the wide range of stringent measures being implemented here and in different jurisdictions around the world in efforts to slow the spread of the virus.
Today the Prime Minister and Chief Medical Officer have made clear that Australia must prepare for six months of disruption, perhaps longer, before the outbreak can be expected to run its course.
Here at Flinders University we are planning on that timeframe, with the aim of ensuring that our students and staff can continue to study and work as effectively as possible throughout this crisis. Further details on these measures will be forthcoming from our COVID-19 Taskforce and implemented through COVID-19 Response Teams in each College and Portfolio.
The safety of our students and staff will always be our top priority and you can be sure that we will not shrink from taking whatever steps are required to minimise the impact on our community.
I would like to acknowledge and thank staff sincerely for the calm, committed and collegial way in which you are approaching this issue. Your contributions are essential as we work through the various challenges but I am confident that we will grow stronger as a result.
Indeed, in that vein, may I say that the response of staff to the shift to online teaching has been overwhelmingly positive. The traffic through FLO has increased markedly and I am already hearing stories of innovative uses of technology and of staff volunteering to assist colleagues in getting up to speed. Again, thank you all for your deep commitment to our students.
Of course, while we are all busy with implementing these various new measures, let us not forget that our students may be feeling a little less connected to the University than usual, and will be facing other pressures including concerns for friends and family and perhaps even increased financial pressures as casual jobs dry-up in parts of the local economy.
Can I please urge all staff to use technology to reach out to your students, as often as possible, to ensure that they feel part of our learning community and are thereby encouraged to continue their studies and realise their full potential.
Finally, I would like to turn to the broader issue of staff working and leave arrangements for the weeks and months ahead.
We can expect that, in the coming weeks, members of our University community will either test positive for COVID-19, or will be exposed to someone who has, and will be required to self-isolate. In an extreme scenario, the University may even be forced to temporarily suspend some or all of our activities.
Not surprisingly, some staff have requested to work from home and we are currently working through some detailed planning for how we might roster staff who work in teams so that some might work from home, while others will work from campus under strict social distancing protocols.
These are stressful times for many and so the purpose of this email is to try to reduce one source of concern by indicating to staff how they will be able to access paid leave in various circumstances.
First and foremost, I am announcing that from today, all staff (including casuals) will have access to up to ten working days of paid Special Leave during the next six months. Such leave can be taken by staff required to self-isolate or during a temporary University closedown.
The arrangements proposed exceed the requirements of our Enterprise Agreement for all categories of employment and are intended to offer some assistance to staff to help them navigate these difficult times.
Categories of paid leave
Continuing and contract staff:
- who have contracted COVID-19 will have access to their accrued Personal Leave as normal. Staff members with insufficient accrued leave may access paid Special Leave.
- who are required by the Health Department to self-isolate will first be considered for their ability to work from home. Those whose duties make this impossible will have access to paid Special Leave.
- who are required to care for a family member who is sick will have access to their accrued Personal (carer’s) Leave as normal. Staff members with insufficient accrued leave may access paid Special Leave.
- In an imposed Shutdown, some staff will be required to work to support essential functions on campus and some will be required to work from home. Staff not required to work will have access to paid Special Leave, Annual Leave or Long Service Leave.
- who have been rostered for work in the coming months will have access to up to ten days paid Special Leave if they are diagnosed with COVID-19, otherwise required to self-isolate, or during an imposed Shutdown.
- who are subject either to an imposed self-isolation period or an imposed Shutdown will first be considered for their ability to work from home. Those whose duties make this impossible may access any remaining Special Leave.
The arrangements will be subject to review with the next review date being 31 March.