Tales From The Safe Space, Part 31 – Snowflake Students Are Now Being ‘Harmed’ By Their Own Activism

NUS Conference 2016 - Brighton

Coddled student demands that his entirely voluntary extra-curricular activities conform to the EU Working Time Directive

Prior to this year’s NUS Annual Conference in Brighton, now just concluded, one poor precious snowflake of a student was weighing up whether or not he would be able to attend conference for the third consecutive year, because the process of getting on a train and then sitting through three days of speeches was simply too draining.

Here is the weepy missive from Alasdair Clarke, Vice President of Education at Fife College Students’ Association, in full:

After two years of making the annual trip to Liverpool for NUS National Conference, I’ve left feeling exhausted and been unable to go back to work after it. If this is the effect on me as someone who has no access needs, I know that we’re further shutting out those who do.

But for two years I’ve also sat and listened to DPC speech after DPC speech telling me conference is inaccessible and that we “must do something about it now”, and I’m told this isn’t new. So what has been done?

Well in truth, I’m not sure anything has been. This year, it’s been decided that National Conference will be held in Brighton – I understand well the need for NUS to keep the costs of these events as low as possible whilst finding hotels and venues for a huge amount of delegates and meeting as many access needs as is humanly possible, but I absolutely refuse to believe that the only place they could find this year was Brighton. The very bottom of the United Kingdom.

This piece could be about cost, and believe me this weighs massively on my mind. We already pay thousands to be a part of NUS and the prospect of paying another few thousand pounds to take part in its democracy isn’t one that is all that appealing – especially when we’ve seen examples already this year where that democracy can be over ridden by the National President – but there is something much more important we need to start seriously talking about beyond tired old platitudes from election candidates and NUS Officers.

Brighton is a 16 hour round train trip from my home in Fife, which is relatively central in Scotland – it’s a 22 hour round trip from Aberdeen – this coupled with 3 days of conference will be absolutely draining. I’m worried that for Scottish delegates it will just be too much, and many will just not come.

Conference itself already breaks the EU Working Time Directive, with the majority of the ‘breaks’ disguised as Fringe sessions you already have to choose between eating and resting or missing out on important sessions for the majority of the conference. The working time directive also includes travelling time, this huge increase in delegates travel time will further break this law – and let’s be clear it is a law and employers can be prosecuted for allowing, or forcing, employees to work for extended periods over it. That’s why I would never ask our unions staff to attend. If we heard that our institutions were abusing staff like this we’d quite rightly have something to say and we’d be doing something about it. So where is the anger at NUS?

However, as a sabbatical I don’t just have myself to think about. The majority of our delegation is made up of students, people who give up a week of their Easter Break to come and take part in NUS. We tell them it’s really important, and we tell them how much we value their engagement with their Union and with NUS. We thank them by putting them into a situation which is dangerous to their health and then send them back to complete their final exams the week after. This isn’t fair of us, and it’s time we done something about it.

It is probably too late to change the location this year. So I hope that within the governance review we get to talk about how we do conference, and next year we see it extended or split into two sessions throughout the year. I understand there are pros and cons to each of those but let’s stop kidding ourselves that what we have just now is ideal.

NUS Conference needs to be as central in the UK as possible, and NUS needs to start putting delegate’s health over cost, and unless I see a solution to these issues proposed – I’ll be suggesting my union doesn’t attend in 2016.

Just to be clear – Alasdair Clark specifies that he is not disabled and has no “access needs” which might make travelling and attending a conference away from home particularly challenging, and yet on both prior occasions attending conference he has been “unable to go back to work after it”.

Ladies and gentleman, that makes Alastair Clark lazy. L-A-Z-Y. It is not the fault of the NUS Conference that there is a lot of work to get through in a short space of time, or that conference might sometimes be held in an inconvenient location. Those are the realities of organising large scale national events, which by definition cannot be conveniently situated for all attendees.

In my professional life I cannot count the number of times I have been required to get on a train or a plane and travel to meetings, often at short notice, often involving very early starts, very late finishes and precious little time for relaxing in between. On one two-week trip to Beijing I saw only the airport, the hotel, the taxi and the office for the entire time, with a mere 45 minutes carved out at the end for a frantic sightseeing dash before returning home and immediately continuing with the day job. And at the other end of the spectrum, I have taken the first train from London to get to meetings in Newcastle for a 9 o’clock start, arriving back home close to midnight. And my jobs have all been relatively easy compared to some others.

That is the reality of professional working life. That is the reality of working for a company where things need to get done, employees are expected to deliver, and where feeble cries of “but it makes me feel tired!” are not looked upon kindly when there is no underlying medical excuse.

Consider just how self-entitled one would have to be to angrily demand that the NUS re-work their entire conference so as to ensure that nobody has to work or travel for more than eight hours per day in compliance with the EU Working Time Directive, while still somehow getting through their agenda within three days, all because doing more than the bare minimum for a few days of Conference sounds a bit too much like hard work. Everybody would have to talk at two hundred words per minute just to stay within time, and even then Alasdair Clark would complain that the fast paced speeches were giving him a headache or somehow contravening his human rights.

If this mentality is widely shared among student activists, none of them have a hope in hell of surviving in the corporate environment. For many, this will not be a problem – they could not handle a really demanding job in a million years, nor do they aspire to one, and so will gravitate to the woollier parts of academia or activism and become Social Justice professors or bitter, moralising benefit claimants. But those who want to have their cake and eat it – to get a well paying job and still insist that employers bow and scrape to their every delicate sensibility – will find themselves justifiably cast on the unemployed scrapheap.

So in addition to its many other flaws, the NUS is now apparently an organisation comprised of delicate students who believe that attending a three-day conference as part of their entirely voluntary student political activism is a grave contravention of their human rights, and that their own union is “putting them into a situation which is dangerous to their health” simply by asking them to put in three days of moderately hard work once a year.

This is not going to do wonders for Britain’s productivity gap.


Safe Space Notice - 2

Top Image: Huffington Post

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