With another round of UCU Strikes scheduled, we've put together a (hopefully) helpful fact sheet of FAQs.
Seventy-four UK universities will be hit with 14 days of strike action in February and March, UCU have announced. The action will start on Thursday 20 February and escalate each week, culminating with a week-long walkout from Monday 9 to Friday 13 March.
The disputes centre on the sustainability of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and rising costs for members, and on universities' failure to make significant improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads. The full strike dates are:
Week one - Thursday 20 & Friday 21 February
Week two - Monday 24, Tuesday 25 & Wednesday 26 February
Week three - Monday 2, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 4 & Thursday 5 March
Week four - Monday 9, Tuesday 10, Wednesday 11, Thursday 12 & Friday 13 March
Who are UCU and why are they striking?
UCU is the University and College Union, a trade union that represents over 120,000 academic and other staff in higher and further education across the UK. There are currently two disputes affecting UCU members involved in higher education: one in relation to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension fund and the other regarding pay and working conditions.
In November and December 2019 staff across 60 UK institutions took part in strike action and actions short of a strike (ASOS) in relation to the above disputes. Strathclyde University UCU member took strike action and ASOS in relation to both disputes.
UCU voted again to take further strike action in February and March 2020. Members in 52 institutions voted to take actions related to the USS dispute. Members in 70 institutions will be taking action about pay and working conditions. Members in 74 institutions in total will be involved. The list of all affected institutions is here.
Strathclyde University members are taking strike actions and ASOS in relation to both USS and pay and working conditions.
Why is there a dispute?
A number of changes made to USS have had a damaging effect on members’ pensions, seeing them paying a significant amount more into the pension across their career, but receiving a significant amount less in retirement. For more information on the USS dispute, see here.
There is a gender and ethnicity pay gap in higher education with analysis showing that women and black and minority ethnic staff experience pay discrimination, casual contracts (non-permanent, hourly, and fixed-term) are commonplace, and workloads are continuously increasing in size, expectations, and pressure linked in many cases to league tables and targets.
UCU members previously also took strike action in relation to pension changes in February and March 2018 and November and December 2019.
What is involved in strike action and action short of a strike?
Strike action means that members will not do any work for the days included in the strike (see below). This includes lecturing and teaching, attending meetings, research, administration, sending or replying to work-related emails, and marking.
ASOS means that members are asked to work to contract, not to reschedule lectures or classes that have been cancelled due to strike action, not to cover or replace colleagues taking strike action, and not to participate in any additional voluntary work-related activities. Staff working to contract will firmly adhere to the terms of their contract of employment, including working hours.
What does Strathclyde Students’ Union think?
The Union stands in solidarity with UCU and members taking strike action and ASOS. We believe that higher education staff are being mistreated by their institutions, that working conditions are untenable, and that pensions should be secured for retirement. Our full statement is available here.
The National Union of Students is also in support of UCU and has provided resources on the issues and action that are available here.
When are strikes taking place?
Strike action that has been called by UCU will take place across four weeks, starting on Thursday 20th February 2020 and escalating across each week. The strike dates are as follows:
- Week 1: Thursday 20th and Friday 21st February
- Week 2: Monday 24th, Tuesday 25th, and Wednesday 26th February
- Week 3: Monday 2nd, Tuesday 3rd, Wednesday 4th, and Thursday 5th March
- Week 4: Monday 9th, Tuesday 10th, Wednesday 11th, Thursday 12th, and Friday 13th March
Please note that members at some institutions are taking action on different dates, so if you don’t attend Strathclyde, we would encourage you to check here for the dates for your own university.
How will the strike affect students?
73% of balloted UCU members at Strathclyde voted in support of strike action in relation to the pensions dispute and 72% backed action on pay, workloads, equality, and casualisation. Members who are striking will not work on the dates listed above and so students should expect that lectures, tutorials, classes, labs, and other academic activities may be cancelled without prior notification.
The University emailed all students on the 14th February with guidance for students. Each school/department will review the impact of the strike action on teaching and are putting contingency plans into place where required. Your department/school will keep you updated on anything you need to know, including any changes to class schedules, etc.
The University has advised that it expects students to attend all classes, assessments, and examinations as usual, and submit all assignments according to planned deadlines.
Guidance has been issued available through the following MyPlace link including assessment, feedback, and Personal Circumstances. Students are encouraged to refer to this with any initial questions.
Will students be informed when classes are being cancelled?
It’s not possible to inform students ahead of time that classes will be cancelled as the University does not know which members of staff will be striking until the action starts. Members are not required to inform the University if they will be taking any action; UCU advises that they do not give advance notice of intention to strike to their employer. Individual staff members may (but are not obliged to) inform their students of their intention to participate in strike action.
What can I do if my studies are impacted by the strike?
There are a number of options for students who feel that their studies have been affected by the strike action and ASOS. If you wish to voice support for those taking action, please see below for how to do this.
If you feel that your academic performance (including your ability to complete course work, your performance in exams or other assessments, or your ability to study generally) has been detrimentally affected by the strike, you can ask for this to be considered through the Personal Circumstances procedure.
If you wish to formally raise your concerns, you can follow the University’s Complaints Procedure. There are two stages of complaint and it is expected that students follow the first stage (informal) before escalating a complaint:
- Stage 1 (informal): you should contact, ideally in writing, your academic department to raise your concerns about the impact of the action on your studies and how you wish the department to respond. Your Head of Department/School would be an appropriate person to raise this with. Normally, informal complaints are expected to be responded to within 5 working days, but this may not be possible during strike action and ASOS.
- Stage 2 (formal): If you would like to escalate your complaint to the second stage following the completion of stage 1, you can submit a complaints form to your Faculty Office who will conduct an investigation into your complaint. Stage 2 complaints are usually responded to within 20 working days but this may not be possible during strike action and ASOS.
For advice and support on submitting Personal Circumstances and complaints, get in touch with the Advice Hub.
We will update this page if and when the University releases further information about measures that may be put in place to support students and mitigate against any potential negative impact on studies.
Can I support the action being taken by UCU members?
Yes. NUS have produced a template letter that you can send to the Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor Sir Jim McDonald, to express your support of UCU and staff taking action. The email address to send this to is firstname.lastname@example.org
Students who wish to support UCU may also make a decision not to cross picket lines – the boundaries set up by workers on strike at key entrance points on campus – or to join staff outside buildings where those on strike are maintaining picket lines. You can talk to staff about why they are striking to understand their concerns and action.
For up to date information on how you can show support or be involved, check out Strathclyde UCU’s twitter page at www.twitter.com/strathclydeucu or Strathclyde Students in Solidarity’s page at www.twitter.com/strath_occupied