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sophie atherton

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ucu strikes: all your questions answered

uea-ucu strike action - november 2019

ucu strike guidance

frequently asked questions

introduction

On 1st November 2019, University and College Union (UCU), which is the largest University Staff Union in the UK, voted in favour of 8 days of strike action to protest against the changes that are to be made to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme, which the majority of University staff are enrolled in.

Further details can be found here. UCU have also developed a helpful video here.

The University should communicate with you about disruption to your classes via schools and will update the Portal with information.

Students’ Union staff are not affected and the SU, including the Shop, will be open as usual.

uea students’ union position

Is uea(su) supporting the strike?: As a Union we back UCU members who did not choose for this dispute and must now engage in industrial action. The proposed changes will disproportionately affect young, new career starters; people like our students hoping to become academics and administrators. Some of our PhD students who teach,will be out on strike and will not be paid during that time, and these students are our members. Not all academic staff will be engaging in strike action, but those who are will also be unpaid during that time. 

What are the specific changes to the pension scheme?: The changes to the USS pensions scheme will involve a switch from a defined benefit scheme, where a set income in retirement is guaranteed, to a defined contributions scheme where income will be dependent on how your ‘investments’ perform. 

How did the SU decide? The SU has decided to support UCU's cause; to support any postgraduate students participating in strike action (many students are also UCU members that act as associate tutors); and to lobby to ensure that during periods of action, the University makes arrangements that ensure maximum communication with students that might be affected, and maintenance of delivery of services for students. 

This decision was taken by Union Council in 2018, when it passed policy to support UCU in its pension dispute. Council contains student reps from across UEA from Schools, Faculties, Sports Clubs, Societies and other student groups.

What exactly does it mean that SU supports the strike? In practice, this means that the SU:

  • WILL provide information and guidance to students about the ways they can support the strike.
  • WILL encourage our student members that are also employed by the university to become members of UCU.
  • WILL urge the senior management team at the University to put pressure on Universities UK to negotiate with UCU.
  • WILL work with the University to ensure that they communicate with students regarding impact on students’ academic study; e.g. recommending the postponement of deadlines where appropriate.

what does the strike look like?

How does a strike take place in practice? A strike involves the workers withholding their labour. They lose their pay as a result. In this case it may mean disruption to teaching and research within departments. There will be picket lines outside university buildings during the strike. Find out more here.

Who are the people that are striking? The members of UCU are typically academics and postgraduate students that teach. Not all academics and postgraduates are members of UCU. Some UCU members may also decide that they don’t want to join the strike. The academics and postgraduates that aren’t joining the strike will continue to carry out their normal work.

What does action short of a strike mean? Action short of a strike is when the employees of an organisation engage in an action that cannot be classified as a strike nor is it the work that the employee is hired to do, but it is somewhere in between these two. Workers engage in action short of a strike to interrupt the normal flow of business and functions in the workplace or department so as to make the employer realise that they are dependent on the employee’s goodwill to run the business and hence they should not engage in practices which are against the interests of their employees like job cuts and pay cuts. When an ‘action short of a strike’ is designed it includes maximum number of people possible so that the impact is strong.

How long is the strike going to be on for? Staff at UEA will participate in 8 days of strikes. The SU will continue to monitor the situation and will update this page if there are any changes to these plans.

What can I do if I want to support the strike?

  • Talk to your tutors, lecturers and supervisors to understand why they are striking.
  • Ask them whether they would like you to join them at the picket line or help in other ways.
  • You can write to University Management to make a complaint, urging them to ask their national representative body to return to the negotiating table.

Can I go past a picket line and into University buildings?

You may go past a picket line. A picket line is where workers and union reps (‘picketers’ or ‘pickets’) stand outside a workplace to convince other people not to work.

Pickets may also ask other staff not to:

  • do some of their usual work
  • go into work

Pickets must not prevent people from going to work or doing their usual work if they want to do so.

We would advise against asking your tutors, lecturers and supervisors directly to compensate the teaching you have lost due to the strike- any requests or complaints of this sort (see below for detail re complaints) should be directed through the formal complaints process. Any general comments on the University management's failure to resolve the strike and encourage neotiation should be directed at the Vice Chancellor, David Richardson – D.Richardson@uea.ac.uk

effect on students

What impact will the strike have on students?

  • Foundation Year / Undergraduate It may affect teaching in departments, such as lectures and classes. Depending on the length of the strike this could also mean that there will be an impact on marking. At this stage, we cannot say which departments will be affected as it depends which staff decide to participate on the day(s). Teaching will not be rearranged.
  • Postgraduate Research Your supervision may be affected by the strike. Please contact your supervisor or the leader of your research group to get more information about the impact on your research.  
  • Postgraduate Taught Students should contact their department if they are worried about the impact the strike will have on their course of study. The University has said that some departmental teaching may be affected and this may include PGT students.

Should I still show up to the lectures, tutorials and exams I have scheduled? We would recommend that students attend their scheduled activities as normal unless they have specifically been told otherwise.

Do my deadlines still stand? Deadlines may be moved, but we would advise working to all deadlines you have unless you hear otherwise from your School.

Can I use the libraries and other facilities as normal? Check with the University for updates on disrupted services. They will update on the main University portal.

what about my tuition fees? can I make a complaint?

appeals/extenuating circumstances

Extenuating Circumstances/Appeals: If your ability to study, complete coursework or exam performance is negatively affected by external factors outside your control this is known as an “extenuating circumstance”. As a UEA student, if your performance is, or is likely to be affected by extenuating circumstances, you have the right to ask for those to be taken into account  when your work is being assessed. It is essential to let the University know as soon as you can about any issues so that they can be taken into account when decisions are made about matters such as time extensions, academic results or progression.

If you feel the industrial action is negatively affecting your ability to study, complete coursework or exam performance you may therefore want to go down this route. You can get professional, independent, confidential advice on this process from the SU Advice Centre- email advicecentre@uea.ac.uk

complaints

Complaints: If you want to raise the issue formally and wish to seek redress (which can include financial redress) you can also make a complaint. In communications to students he University has suggested that if you meet your ‘learning outcomes’ then there would not be a problem. However, the University has legal duties to provide your programme and infrastructure / services around it that are contractual. In the Terms and Conditions you agreed to when you became a student at UEA there is then a disclaimer which protects UEA from liability for non performance or late performance of its services when events outside of its control take place:

Neither party shall be liable to the other for any loss arising from matters outside the party’s control which could not have been foreseen or prevented even if the party had taken reasonable care. This includes (but is not limited to), strikes or other industrial action (within the University or at third parties) staff illness, severe weather, fire, civil commotion, riot, invasion, terrorist attack or threat of terrorist attack, war (whether declared or not), natural disaster, restrictions imposed by government or public authorities, epidemic or pandemic of disease, or failure of public utilities or transport systems.

However in order to use this clause as a defence, the University has to demonstrate that

  1. it has taken all reasonable steps to avoid the strike; and
  2. it has taken all reasonable steps to mitigate its effects on students.

The SU is currently exploring whether the arrangements the University has for negotiating the strike- it uses national bodies like “Universities UK” and the “Universities and Colleges Employers Association”; are sufficient for them to demonstrate all reasonable steps.

When it comes to whether the University has taken all reasonable steps to mitigate effects of industrial action, this will depend on what happens during the dispute/strike. If you would like to discuss these issues complaints further- email union.info@uea.ac.uk

In any event, complaints should be used to encourage David Richardson, Vice Chancellor, to bear pressure on UUK to renter negotiations with UCU and consider their demands.

For further advice on making a formal complaint you can get professional, independent, confidential advice on this process from the SU Advice Centre- email advicecentre@uea.ac.uk

information for postgraduate associate tutors:

uea(su) has provided the following information based on our understanding of the current situation. Postgraduate Associate Tutors are represented by uea(su) in their capacity as students, and not in relation to their employment as a member of university staff. For issues relating undertaking strike action as a university employee, Postgraduate Associate Tutors should contact UCU directly. It is important to remember that you if you choose to strike, you will not be on strike as a student. Any study deadlines that you may have (such as, for example, your thesis submission date) still stand and you are still expected to work on your own research.  

If you are a member of UCU

and employed by the university, you should contact UCU to get more information about your rights and duties. If you are a member of UCU they expect you to strike regardless of how you voted in the ballot. You may be asked by your school to report in advance that you intend to strike, but you are under no obligation to do so. When you return to work after the strike you will be asked to report whether you took strike action. You are legally required to do answer these questions, and failure to do so could lead to your dismissal. It is your legal right to strike and the university cannot take punitive action (beyond deducting your pay for the days that you did not work) against you for striking. It is important to remember that you are not on strike as a student. Any study deadlines that you may have (such as, for example, your thesis submission date) still stand and you are still expected to work on your own research.  

If you are not a member of UCU 

but you are an enrolled postgraduate student contracted to teach in UK higher education institutions, then you are entitled to free membership of UCU. You can join here. If you join during industrial action, you will become protected to take part in industrial action. You are allowed to join strike action if you are employed on a teaching contract at UEA, but you will not be protected by UCU if you run in to difficulties. If you decide to undertake strike action, it is important to remember that you are not on strike as a student. Any study deadlines that you may have (such as, for example, your thesis submission date) still stand and you are still expected to work on your own research. It is important to remember that you would not be on strike as a student. Any study deadlines that you may have (such as, for example, your thesis submission date) still stand and you are still expected to work on your own research.  

Should I tell my students that I intend to strike? This is personal preference and a judgement call to be made by each striking member. There are advantages to doing so, and we would encourage dialogue between you and our undergraduate members, but you may decide not to. If you do wish to inform your students, it may be better to do so in person. The university reserves the right to monitor your uea email usage and could use this information to mitigate the strike. 

Will I lose pay if I strike? As things stand, yes. During last year’s strikes the university took the decision not to deduct money from striking AT staff, but this is not the default position.  UCU, however, maintain a strike fund to cover money lost by striking member. For the vast majority of AT staff this will cover up to £75 a day from the second day of the strike, and, because of how UEA processes contracts, this means on average an AT staff would lose about £12. This money has to be retroactively applied for if deductions have been made from your pay cheque. In order to claim from the strike fund you will need to be a standard (free) member of the union rather than a student member. You can change your membership type on the UCU website.

questions and updates

I’ve still got questions If you have questions not answered in the FAQs or if want to give feedback to the Students’ Union about the strike you can contact union.info@uea.ac.uk

Where can I get updates about the strike?

  • From UCU - through their website locally and nationally
  • From the University - they should communicate with you about disruption to your classes via schools and also with updates to the Portal.
  • From the SU - we will update our information on the strike as and when we get it on this page and via our Facebook and Twitter pages. If you would like to discuss the complaints process, you can call in to the advice(su) office to make an appointment, or attend an advice drop in (11-1 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays).
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