FAQs for USS Dispute

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FAQs

Frequently asked questions

Answer to commonly asked questions about the USS dispute and the action members are being asked to take.

  1. What action is UCU taking?
  2. Which institutions are affected and when will the action take place?
  3. When will the action be called off?
  4. What am I expected to do during a strike?
  5. Do I have to tell my employer I am going on strike?
  6. Are there any exemptions from having to take industrial action?
  7. Should I reschedule lectures or classes that are cancelled due to the strikes?
  8. Will the union be paying strike pay?
  9. I have external commitments on a strike day – should I fulfil them?
  10. I am a USS member at a non-striking institution. What can I do to support my colleagues?
  11. What can I tell my students about the strike?
  12. I am not a member of UCU, if I join can I then take part in the action?
  13. Am I in breach of my contract if I go on strike?
  14. Can my employer deduct my pay when I take part in industrial action?
  15. How will taking strike action affect my pension?
  16. My employer has told me that I will lose core pensions rights such as death in service if I take part in strike action, is this true?  
  17. What is the law on picketing?  
  18. I am not a UCU member. Can I take part in the strike? 
  19. I am a Research Fellow fully funded by external bodies but I don’t want to cross the picket line. What do I do?  
  20. Will participating in strike action affect my entitlement to statutory maternity pay (SMP)? 
  21. I am a UCU member in a non-striking institution and I have scheduled business at a striking institution, can I be dismissed if I do not cross a picket?

1. What action is UCU taking?

Members voted in overwhelming numbers for both strike action and action short of a strike.

Strike action means not doing any work at all for the whole of the days specified by the union.

Action short of a strike in this dispute means the following:

  • working to contract;
  • not covering for absent colleagues;
  • not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action;
  • not undertaking any voluntary activities.

Working to contract means abiding strictly by the terms of your contract of employment such as where they or other formal documents relating to your employment specify your hours of work; breaks; workload; or other matters.

Not covering for absent colleagues means that unless your contract requires it you should not cover for absent colleagues.

Not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action is self-explanatory.

Not undertaking any voluntary activity means that where you have a choice as to whether you undertake some work, you should not do it.  Contracts differ but, for example, weekend working is voluntary for some staff.

If you are in any doubt about what you are required to do under your contract, check your contractual documents which may include your offer letter, statement of main terms and conditions and any staff handbook and talk to you UCU representative.

Taking action short of a strike does not mean that you can refuse a reasonable request from your employer to undertake something, except those matters (above) which are specified parts of the action.

How reasonable any request is will depend on the terms of your contract and custom and practice. If in doubt or if your actions are challenged by someone senior to you, temporarily suspect your action and contact your branch who will seek guidance from national UCU.

2. Which institutions are affected and when will the action take place?

A list of the institutions included in the call to action is here.

Action short of a strike will commence on 22 February in all the above institutions and continue until further notice.

Strike action will take place on Week one – Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days); week two – Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days); week three – Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days); week four – Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days) except in King’s College London, Queen Mary University of London, University of Edinburgh and the University of Stirling who will not take action in week one. They will start their action in week two on Monday 26 February and then take strike action for a further two days on Monday 19 and Tuesday 20 March.

3. When will the action be called off?

UCU has called the action because of the employers’ failure to reach an agreement with us to protect pensions.  We would prefer a negotiated solution to having to take industrial action.  However, while the employers’ current proposal to end the guaranteed USS pension would mean a loss of around £10,000 a year in retirement, they are not currently prepared to enter meaningful negotiations.  UCU believes that only sustained, disruptive action will bring the employers back to the table.

4. What am I expected to do during a strike?

During a strike you should not do any work that relates to your employment.  If you have more than one contract (eg. with different institutions) you should continue to work normally where the institution is not currently part of the current dispute as set out in Question 2.

While UCU would strongly encourage members to attend picket lines to support each other and provide a visible presence, the most important thing is that you do not undertake any work on strike days.

5. Do I have to tell my employer I am going on strike?

No. You do not have to tell your employer whether you plan to take industrial action in advance of the date when action begins as this will enable them to minimise any disruption the action is aimed to cause.  UCU has already provided your employer with all the information about the action required by law including those categories of members who we are calling to take action.

6. Are there any exemptions from having to take industrial action?

No. All UCU members employed at the institutions affected are asked to take action.

7. Should I reschedule lectures or classes that are cancelled due to the strikes?

No.  This is part of the action short of a strike that members voted to undertake. Rescheduling classes will dilute the impact of the original strike action.

8. Will the union be paying strike pay?

Yes. The union has agreed to provide strike pay based on £50 per day.  Priority will be given to those on insecure contracts and/or low earnings. More details are available here [127kb].

9. I have external commitments on a strike day – should I fulfil them?

If the external commitments arise from your employment then you should not fulfil them.

10. I am a USS member at a non-striking institution. What can I do to support my colleagues?

You can donate to the UCU fighting fund to provide direct support to striking members here.

11. What can I tell my students about the strike?

You can tell them that NUS is fully supporting UCU.  We have produced a video for you to share with your students here and a letter to students which you can download and hand out here [147kb].

12. I am not a member of UCU, if I join can I then take part in the action?

Yes, if you join UCU you will be able to participate in the action as soon as you are signed up. Please do not join the action until you have joined UCU.

13. Am I in breach of my contract if I go on strike?

Yes, all industrial action is a potential breach of contract.  However UCU has carried out a legal ballot and the action has been formally called, the law protects workers from dismissal whilst 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.

14. Can my employer deduct my pay when I take part in industrial action?

Yes, your employer is entitled to deduct your pay if you participate in industrial action. 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.

For action short of a strike, your employer has the right to refuse to accept the partial performance of your contract and to deduct up to 100% of your annual pay while you are participating in the action. In recent years, most employers have not deducted salary in respect of action short of a strike.

15. How will taking strike action affect my pension?

In previous strikes it has been the experience of UCU that most employers do not withhold superannuation contributions and therefore participation in strike action has not generally affected pensions. Also, institutions that do choose to withhold contributions often make provision for members to make up pension and AVC deficits from their pay. In terms of your final pension, the impact of participating in the industrial action called by UCU is minute compared to the annual loss which members face if the employers’ proposals are imposed. For example, a member earning £50,000 and supporting all fourteen days strike action would see a reduction of less than £200 in their annual pension as a direct result of the strikes. This compares to a loss of £10,000 a year from the employers’ proposals for the typical UCU member.

16. My employer has told me that I will lose core pensions rights such as death in service if I take part in strike action, is this true?  

From time to time, individual employers seek to bully staff by saying that if they should die while taking strike action they will not receive a death in service payment.  You should notify UCU if you are threatened in this way and our local branch will take the issue up on your behalf.

17. What is the law on picketing?  

Peaceful picketing is allowed. Picketing should be carried out at or near an entrance or exit from a site at which the pickets work. When others who are not in dispute come into work or use these entrances or exits, pickets must not interfere with them. UCU’s picketing guidance is here [184kb]

18. I am not a UCU member. Can I take part in the strike?

We would like everyone to respect the picket lines and not go into work, but if you are not a UCU member we will not be able to support you if the institution decides to take disciplinary action against you.

19. I am a Research Fellow fully funded by external bodies but I don’t want to cross the picket line. What do I do?  

If you are a UCU member please join the picket line! If you are not, try to arrange to work from home.

20. Will participating in strike action affect my entitlement to statutory maternity pay (SMP)?

You are entitled to SMP (subject to fulfilling the other statutory requirements) if you have been continuously employed for 26 weeks ending with the week immediately preceding the 14th week before the expected week of confinement (EWC).  The calculation of continuous employment does not, however, include any week during which you participate in strike action. So, if you take strike action and have worked for your employer for less than 26 weeks up to and including the 15th week before your EWC you will lose your right to SMP. If you are in this situation, please advise your branch officers immediately.  Or put another way, a woman needs 26 weeks of continuous service going into the qualifying week (15 weeks before the EWC), but a week in which she is on strike does not count (though it does not break continuous service). So the woman needs an extra week’s service before the 15th week (assuming the strike does not affect more than one week of service, otherwise she will need more service to compensate).  It will usually only affect recent employees, because if a woman has, for example, two years of service the issue would only arise if her service is broken for some other reason. There is further explanation and useful diagram on the Department for Work and Pensions website.

21. I am a UCU member in a non-striking institution and I have scheduled business at a striking institution, can I be dismissed if I do not cross a picket?

The position of UCU members who decide not to cross the picket line is that while it is possible you could be disciplined or dismissed these are very rare occurrences and the dismissal may, in certain circumstances, be deemed to be an automatically unfair dismissal. UCU will support members who refuse to cross official picket lines.

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