The University of Sydney Union (USU) has shared its official response regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and what has been affected in its wake.
In a statement made by President Connor Wherrett, the USU has declared it will “scale down our face to face campus operations as far as possible, while endeavouring to deliver as many of our services online as is feasible in the short term.”
An online voting system is “reluctantly” planned to be implemented for the union’s 2020 Board Elections, which must take place in May as per the USU Constitution.
The decision is controversial given it was made without a vote by the USU Board. Previous online elections at USyd have resulted in allegations of election breaches and cheating, and stacking of votes.
A trial period for working from home arrangements for some of the Union’s staff will start tomorrow (March 17), and is likely to become the “dominant mode of work” for staff from next Monday (March 23).
Importantly however, this will not include casual staff employed at the USU’s campus food and drink outlets. Staff at these outlets will be expected to stay on, coming in contact with potentially large numbers of persons in their work.
The USU has also announced that casual staff will be allowed paid sick leave if they are required to self-isolate or are diagnosed with COVID-19, though this will be capped at 10 working days. But that cap could leave many staff without coverage if they are diagnosed. The World Health Organisation estimates it to take 2 weeks to recover from mild variants of the virus, but 3-6 weeks to recover from more serious cases.
Aside from its internal operations, the USU’s course of action in response to this outbreak will see a devastating blow to campus culture and student life.
One of the most significant measures the USU has taken is the cancellation of all 2020 revues. This presumably includes faculty revues, which are traditionally held in August.
Furthermore, the Union has asked that all events hosted by Clubs and Societies be cancelled, echoing the sentiments of Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence in an email sent last Friday, and is “communicating with Club Execs to discourage gatherings.”
Other cancellations include those made to the Easters and Australs Debating tournaments and their trials, as well as the SSAF-funded Know Your Rights and Racism Sux campaigns and the 2020 Palladian Cup.
Numerous USU-associated locations across campus will shut their doors in the coming days, including tomorrow’s closure of the International Student Lounge (ISL).
Furthermore, the ISL Student Info Hub in Wentworth and Manning House Student Info Hub will also be closed from tomorrow, effectively wiping out all opportunities for face-to-face assistance from the USU.
Both Manning Bar and Hermann’s Bar will cease day trade and gigs from next Monday. The USYD Store at Jane Foss Russell Building will remain open, while the store in Holme Building will be shut.
While USU food outlets such as Courtyard Restaurant & Bar and Carslaw Kitchen, as well as the food courts in Manning House and Wentworth Building, will remain open, Engo Grill, Mallett St Cafe and Deck Cafe will be closed from March 23. Additionally, Fisher Kiosk will shutter its doors on weekends.
The USU has promised to keep the Queer, Ethno-Cultural and Wom*n’s Rooms open, as well as the Incubate Hub, which will operate ‘remotely’.
Wherrett’s statement stated the USU will use the coming months as “an opportunity to rebuild, refocus and reimagine what we provide to the student community.”