UCU members want to be at work, not on strike. The last year has been hard enough for students and staff and UCU members continue to endure spiralling workloads, casual contracts, inequality and stagnating pay, as well as constant risk from Covid-19.
Since 2009, university staff pay has effectively been cut by nearly 20% in real terms, and staff are being asked to work harder and longer than ever before, all while universities’ income continued to grow.
The employers’ own analysis highlights that women, black and minority ethnic, and disabled staff experience significant pay discrimination. Casual contracts remain entrenched, and 3,000 university staff were made redundant during the pandemic. Yet the university employers are refusing to commit themselves to meaningful action on any of these appalling conditions.
Growing inequality affects both students and staff — poor working conditions mean poor learning conditions. We continue to ask management to work with us to end the strikes and avoid widespread disruption, but as long as they refuse we will take industrial action to defend our rights along 67 other institutions across the UK.
Frequently asked questions
- What is happening and when?
- What is the likelihood of it being effective?
- What strike action is planned?
- How do I join in picketing?
- What action short of a strike is planned?
- How do I join in working to contract?
- How do I join in the digital picket line?
- I am not a UCU member — how do I join the action?
- I am a PhD student, research fellow or postdoctoral scholar — how can I join the action?
- I am on study or research leave during the strikes — what should I do?
- I am booked to be on annual leave during the strikes — what should I do?
- I will be working outside the UK during the strike — what should I do?
- How can I build support for action in my team?
- How can I build support for action from colleagues who are not in the union?
- How can I build support for action from my manager?
- How can I build support for action from students?
- Can I announce my support for industrial action in my communications?
- Do I have to tell my manager that I am taking industrial action?
- Can my line manager require me to reschedule my teaching if I take strike action?
- Can my pay be deducted for taking part in industrial action ?
- Will strike funds be available for those who need it?
- Can I be dismissed or suffer repercussions for taking part in industrial action ?
- Will those in more precarious posts have support from the union?
WHAT IS HAPPENING AND WHEN?
Members at our branch have voted to take industrial action in two ways. We are:
- Taking action short of a strike from 7th February to 3rd May 2022. Action short of a strike involves working to contract, refusing to do voluntary duties or work overtime to deal with the unsustainable and dangerous workloads created by management
- Taking strike action from 21st to 22nd February and from 28th February to 2nd March 2022. Strike action involves refusing to conduct any activity which is part of your work, such as teaching, meetings, marking or research dissemination
Depending on the outcomes of negotiation with employers, further dates for action may be set.
WHAT IS THE LIKELIHOOD OF IT BEING EFFECTIVE?
UCU has a recent history of success through strike action. In 2018 the strike over the USS pension fund forced the employers to change their stance and accept the union’s demands.
We can’t know what will happen with this action, but the strong resolve from members expressed in the ballot (and survey) results shows that we have the support we need for a win.
WHAT STRIKE ACTION IS PLANNED?
At Oxford Brookes, we took strike action from 21st to 22nd February, from 28th February to 2nd March 2022 and from 28th March to 1st April.
Strike action involves refusing to conduct any work at all for the employer, whether on- or off-site, during the strike period. This covers both activities that are usually scheduled, such as teaching or regular meetings, and those that aren’t, such as conducting research or writing. It also means not doing any preparation for work due after you return to work.
Strikes are the ultimate action that we take once all attempts to negotiate with the employer have been rejected. To underscore their impact, we ask that every member observe the strike.
If you can, the best thing to do on strike days is to join colleagues at the picket lines scheduled at campus sites to get support for our action from students and other colleagues.
HOW DO I JOIN IN PICKETING?
The union will organise pickets at the entrance of the Gypsy Lane campus, and at the entrance of the Harcourt Hill campus, to provide an opportunity to peacefully persuade members to not to go into work.
Any member can join a picket, and if you are eligible you can join the union from the picket line if necessary. If possible, let us know through this online form what times and dates you are willing to join the picket, so we can ensure a continuous presence throughout the strike.
Picketing is a legal activity; posters will be displayed with the legend ‘OFFICIAL PICKET’ and picketers should wear an armband indicating that they are on duty.
Non-members, including students, cannot lawfully join a picket. However, they can support the strike by refusing to cross the picket line.
Picketers are not allowed to interfere with the activities of those who are not part of the dispute, but the picket line offers an excellent opportunity to educate students unfamiliar with labour disputes or industrial action and to explain the reasons for the strike.
To maintain a COVID-safe picket line, UCU asks all members participating in industrial action to:
- wear a suitable face covering unless exempt, even outdoors
- maintain 2m social distancing whenever possible
- take a lateral flow test each day before joining a picket line or other activity
- self-isolate if manifesting any Covid-19 symptoms unless you have had a negative PCR test
WHAT ACTION SHORT OF A STRIKE IS PLANNED?
At Oxford Brookes, we are taking action short of a strike (ASOS) from 7th February to 3rd May 2022.
Action short of a strike can take many forms. In this dispute, members have voted to:
- work to contract
- not undertake any voluntary activities
- not cover for absent colleagues
- not provide any materials for classes cancelled as a result of strike action
- not reschedule any classes cancelled due to strike action
- hold a marking and assessment boycott
We are engaging in all these forms of action (except the marking boycott) from 7th February. If a marking boycott is called, it will be announced in advance.
In a nutshell, our ASOS involves refusing to conduct any activities that are not explicitly part of our contracts of employment and sticking rigorously to the terms and conditions specified in them.
HOW DO I JOIN IN WORKING TO CONTRACT ?
Academic contracts are often vague, and it can be difficult to tell exactly what their requirements are. The union has prepared general guidance to help you understand what this involves. For members at Brookes, this can include:
- if your contract stipulates working hours, to work no more than those
- if your contract does not stipulate working hours, to work no more than 48 hours per week as specified by the Working Time Regulations
- to not answer emails out of working hours
- to do only work that is specifically stipulated in your contract or for which time has been specifically allocated in your workload, as applicable (for example, to refuse to staff subject booths at Open Days, unless this is specified in your contract of employment or you have been allocated time in your workload plan specifically for this purpose)
- to attend no meetings, training sessions or other events where your presence is voluntary (for example, steering committees, working groups or research network events ; the union has further guidance on determining what duties are voluntary)
- to not reschedule any lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action
- to not catch up with any class preparation that you were planning to do on days you took strike action
- to not share any materials that would have been covered in those lectures or classes (for example, by not uploading recordings, slides or exercises to Moodle or removing them if they’ve been uploaded already)
The most important keep in mind is that we are all generally working to capacity (as acknowledged in our workload plans), and so cannot take on additional work — because then we would be working more than our contracted hours.
This means that if you are asked to reschedule work that was expected to be conducted during strike days, such as for example marking, then you can legitimately claim that this is only possible if other already-planned tasks are removed from you.
Any work that was due to be carried out at least in part during the strike will necessarily be delayed, because you cannot reasonably be expected to complete all such work after you were on strike. We suggest you do not simply ask for an extension on this work, because in that case you are undermining the effect of your strike action, losing pay and increasing your stress level.
Instead, you should ask for additional time and for an equivalent amount of already-planned work to be removed. This is important because refusing to do work which would put you over your contracted hours is reasonable and legal even without a strike mandate. This is confirmed by recent advice from our regional UCU full-time representative:
Under current mandate any duty not carried out during a period of strike action that involves assessment or marking can lead to a request for rescheduling which we can’t refuse per se. However that rescheduling can only be timetabled within the confines of the work loading agreement and given workloads are already intolerable at Brookes it is highly likely that some other duties will have to be de-prioritised to accommodate. (Nick Varney, Regional Official for SW England)
Using this approach, one Brookes member who cancelled an assessment due to the Week 6 strike and was asked to re-implement it, was successfully able to argue that dissertation marking be removed from their upcoming tasks, in order to accommodate rescheduling of the assessment.
It might feel difficult for some members to take this hard (but legitimate) line with their managers, but we need to do this or else our strike risks being much less effective. We suggest that any negotiation with line managers about such rescheduled work is undertaken collectively by teaching teams. If management attempts to isolate individual members, or you can’t find other teaching team members in the same position, ask for your faculty rep to be present at a meeting with your manager.
HOW DO I JOIN IN THE DIGITAL PICKET LINE?
A digital picket line is a stoppage of digital communications as part of industrial action. It can be particularly effective because of how much of the work we do for the university is carried out by email and other forms of digital communication, and how important these are to the university’s public profile.
During strike action, the digital picket line should mean a complete boycott of all work conducted electronically. Members taking strike action should completely avoid answering work email, logging on to any work-related sites or services, or communicating about work-related matters (including research) on social media.
During ASOS, the digital picket line should mean refraining from any work-related communications that are not contractually obligatory, or that relate to voluntary activities.
Students and colleagues who cannot lawfully take part in industrial action can show their support by avoiding crossing the digital picket line, avoiding any communications with or related to institutions whose workers are on strike.
I AM NOT A UCU MEMBER — HOW DO I JOIN THE ACTION?
Every employee is entitled to join in legal, official industrial action regardless of their union membership.
However, our strong recommendation is that you join UCU so that you have the protection of the union throughout.
Your union membership will be active from the date you complete the online application form, even if you haven’t received your membership number yet.
You can join UCU at any point — up to and including on the picket line itself — and lawfully participate in the strike.
I AM A PHD STUDENT, RESEARCH FELLOW OR POSTDOCTORAL SCHOLAR — HOW CAN I JOIN?
We believe postgraduate researchers should be considered as staff for all their work. Doctoral students employed to do teaching or research work (for example, as associate lecturers, research assistants or professional services above Grade 6) can legally take part in industrial action regarding this employment.
You cannot legally take part in industrial action by withdrawing your doctoral research work, but you can still support the action by refusing to cross the picket line.
If you are a research fellow or postdoc fully funded by external bodies and your contract is with Brookes, you can take part in the industrial action. If your contract is with an institution that is not part of the dispute, you should not take action but you can still support the action by refusing to cross the picket line (for example, by arranging to work from home).
I AM ON STUDY OR RESEARCH LEAVE DURING THE STRIKES — WHAT SHOULD I DO?
If your leave is unpaid, you have no labour to withdraw and cannot join the strikes.
If your leave is paid, you should join the strikes.
I AM BOOKED TO BE ON ANNUAL LEAVE DURING THE STRIKES — WHAT SHOULD I DO?
If your annual leave is essential, you should take it as planned and consider donating to the fighting fund.
If your leave is not essential, you may wish to move it so that you can participate in industrial action alongside colleagues.
I WILL BE WORKING OUTSIDE THE UK DURING THE STRIKE — WHAT SHOULD I DO?
UCU’s advice is that, if you are working outside the UK on a strike day, you should work normally and donate to the fighting fund.
If you are due to travel as part of your work on a strike day, you should not do so.
HOW CAN I BUILD SUPPORT FOR ACTION IN MY TEAM?
If you feel confident contacting members of your team about this, it can be as easy as sending a group email to arrange a meeting and coordinate plans for action. This gives all colleagues a space to share their own reasons for striking and build critical mass across the team.
If you do not feel safe doing this, contact your faculty rep, who should be able to put you in touch with other members willing to take action .
HOW CAN I BUILD SUPPORT FOR ACTION FROM COLLEAGUES WHO ARE NOT IN THE UNION ?
Union action works because we are stronger together. The most effective way to get reluctant colleagues on board is emphasising that action is in the best long-term interests of everyone involved, both in terms of the working conditions of staff and the learning conditions to students.
For example, one of our reps wrote to team members that “I really hope that […] any colleagues who are not joining the strike, limit the extent to which they take on additional work to compensate for the strike and ASOS. I hope this not only because compensating diminishes the strike impact but also for your own well-being (overloaded as we all are, one reason for the strike) […] I hope colleagues who are not part of the strike can at least respect the reasons for it and avoid undermining it, in whatever way they feel comfortable with.”
HOW CAN I BUILD SUPPORT FOR ACTION FROM MY MANAGER?
Our line managers typically know all about the reasons we have for striking and may sympathise more strongly than we guess. Many of them are union members themselves.
If you have a good relationship with your manager, it can be a good idea to communicate to them explicitly that your personal loyalty to the University’s mission is precisely what motivates you to take action now so we can ensure good working conditions for staff and good learning conditions for students.
Do not hesitate to let your manager know that our action is motivated by institutional policy and the actions of senior management rather than personal animosity. One of our reps wrote to their manager that “my personal sympathies are with middle managers such as yourself who are caught in the middle of this dispute”.
HOW CAN I BUILD SUPPORT FOR ACTION FROM STUDENTS?
Students know that our poor working conditions mean poor learning conditions, and as a group they are with us in this fight. The latest research from the National Union of Students shows that 73% of students said they supported staff taking industrial action , and NUS has called a one-day student strike for 2nd March to join in UCU’s demands for a fully funded, accessible, democratic, lifelong further and higher education system.
If you take action, you are making a case for greater investment in or defence of the quality of the education and research you provide. It can be a good idea to talk to your students before the industrial action, explaining why that the union is taking this step for the benefit of students as well as staff. Campaign materials available explaining why we feel it is necessary to take action are available from the national UCU website.
You may also wish to discuss some of the practicalities which your students may not be familiar with: in particular, the fact that when you go on strike you will not be paid by your employer.
Your students can also sign this petition hosted by NUS or write directly to management to express their support.
Locally, we are in communication with the Brookes Union and expect to have their support.
HOW CAN I ANNOUNCE MY SUPPORT FOR INDUSTRIAL ACTION IN MY EMAIL?
If you want to let students and colleagues know that you are supporting the action, it can be useful to add a note to your email signature or your automatic reply.
Branch members have put together the following text:
I am currently taking industrial action as part of the University & College Union’s Four Fights against pay cuts, unmanageable workloads, inequality and casualisation. It can take longer for me to reply, especially outside of normal working hours. Read more about why we are taking action.
On Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 February 2022 I will be on strike as part of the University & College Union’s Four Fights against pay cuts, unmanageable workloads, inequality and casualisation. I will deal with emails on my return. Read more about why we are taking action.
DO I HAVE TO TELL MY MANAGER THAT I AM TAKING INDUSTRIAL ACTION?
If you are a contracted employee, you do not need to tell your manager in advance that you will be taking industrial action.
Management will often try to mislead and intimidate members by demanding that they declare in advance whether they will be taking industrial action. As an employee, you are under no obligation to respond , and withholding this information reduces management’s ability to plan around the disruption. UCU will provide the employer with all the information about the action required by law, including those categories of members who we are calling on to take action.
If you are asked directly whether you participated in ASOS in the past, or are participating in it now (whatever the timeframe, be it last week, yesterday, or today) you should respond truthfully, but you should not declare your intentions regarding future action.
Once you are back to work following a strike, you should respond truthfully to any query from management about whether you have taken strike action. You should not, however, respond while you are on strike.
CAN MY LINE MANAGER REQUIRE ME TO RESCHEDULE MY TEACHING IF I TAKE STRIKE ACTION?
One of the forms of ASOS members have voted to take is refusing to reschedule lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action.
This includes any activity involving instruction, tuition, communicating or sharing of knowledge or guidance with students that would have taken place on one of UCU’s strike days.
If asked to reschedule such sessions by management, members taking action should refuse stating that they are supporting UCU’s action short of a strike.
CAN MY PAY BE DEDUCTED FOR TAKING PART IN INDUSTRIAL ACTION ?
The employer is entitled to make deductions from your pay if you participate in some forms of industrial action, including strike action, but not for working to contract .
When ASOS consists solely of working to contract and refusing voluntary duties, then an employer cannot impose pay deductions, because you are fulfilling your contract.
When the union calls for action that involves refusing to undertake specific contractual duties, such as a marking boycott or strike action, this involves members breaching their contracts of employment. In that case, the employer has the right to refuse to accept ‘partial performance’ of the contract and to deduct pay in response.
For strike action, the union contends that any deduction should be at 1/365th of any annual salary or equivalent. For part-time staff or those employed on a session-by-session basis, deductions should only reflect the pay normally due for the work not undertaken and no more.
WILL STRIKE FUNDS BE AVAILABLE FOR THOSE WHO NEED IT?
The national officers have authorised payments from the UCU Fighting Fund in support of members taking industrial action. Any member can apply for the Fighting Fund if they:
- have participated in official strike action;
- provide evidence of salary deductions for strike action; and
- are up to date with their union subscription payments at the appropriate rate.
Guidelines for applying to the Fighting Fund are available at the national UCU website.
If you are in a position where you can go without making a claim or you feel able to claim for a lesser amount please consider doing it, so we can prioritise members undergoing particular hardship. The Fund will be able to support more members for longer if you can contribute in this way.
You can make a donation to the Fighting Fund online or by sending a cheque payable to UCU and marking the back of the cheque ‘donation to UCU fighting fund’. Please send cheques to UCU, Carlow Street, London NW1 7LH.
CAN I BE DISMISSED OR SUFFER REPERCUSSIONS FOR TAKING PART IN INDUSTRIAL ACTION ?
The employer cannot lawfully dismiss you for participating in industrial action that is covered by a legal ballot, as is this case, even if that action results in a breach of contract.
Because UCU has carried out a statutory ballot and the action has been formally called, the law protects workers from dismissal while taking part in lawful industrial action or at any time within 12 weeks of the start of the action and, depending on the circumstances, dismissal may also be unfair if it takes place later. This kind of dismissal has never happened in higher education.
Non-UCU members who take part in legal, official industrial action have the same rights as UCU members not to be dismissed as a result of taking action. However, our strong recommendation is that you join UCU so that you have the protection of a trade union before you take part in industrial action.
WILL THOSE IN MORE PRECARIOUS POSTS HAVE SUPPORT FROM THE UNION?
Yes. Dedicated actions and guidelines for members in precarious posts will be drafted in order to enable you to participate in the strike regardless of your type of employment.
It is your legal right to take strike action, and it is illegal for any employer to use strike participation against you in any way, but it can be hard to feel safe about your future employment prospects if you take action that management does not like while on a casual or fixed-term contract,
As a union, we are doing everything we can to make sure that no one can be singled out and suffer repercussions. In particular
- we will be communicating to management to remind that it is unlawful to use any intimidating practices towards staff in order to prevent them from industrial action
- we will be monitoring how management treat staff who take part in industrial action
- we will act collectively if any evidence arises of differential treatment of staff who took part in strike action, including future contract renewals
The more of us that take strike action, the less likely it is that individuals can be victimised. Building support within your team will make it difficult form management to retaliate.