A message to our members on their return to work

Monday 19 March 2018

Where we’re at

We are returning to work today after 14 days of strike action that have massively dented the employers’ arguments that USS is in deficit and forced the employers to return to national negotiations. Sadly, UUK continues to insist that disastrous changes to our pensions are necessary and so the dispute continues with further strike action planned for next term. But what a difference a strike makes. The ‘revolutionary love’ (as Gary Younge stated in his teach-out on the first day of the strike) has generated an abundance of energy and creativity, expanded and consolidated solidarity between staff and has brought us together like never before. This strike has been a collaborative project par excellence. In this period we have witnessed democracy in action. Our strike committee and branch meetings have been truly amazing. Our branch membership has almost doubled (we now have approximately 825 members although UCU’s membership department is facing a backlog in terms of processing applications) and the branch has shown itself to be one of the strongest and most imaginative in the country. Now we need every member’s input in terms of next steps: how can we make future strikes effective and how can we make common cause with students to protect our pensions and defend public higher education?

Action short of strikes (ASOS)

Action short of strike action (ASOS) will continue now that we are back at work. During ASOS, UCU members:

  • Should not work more than 35 hours per week.
  • Should not respond to work-related emails outside normal working hours.
  • Should not cover for absent colleagues. Unless your job is wholly or predominantly about covering for other staff, you should refuse to provide cover.
  • Should not reschedule lectures or classes. This includes any scheduled teaching activity which would have taken place on one of UCU’s strike days and applies to all UCU members not just those directly responsible for the relevant lecture or class
  • Should not undertake any voluntary activities. This means that where you have a choice as to whether you undertake some work, you should not do it. Unless stated in your contract you have no obligation to work on weekends (including attending open or applicant days) or in the evening. Any external commitments, such as external examining, also fall under voluntary activities.
  • Should officially book all of their annual leave entitlement.

The College has agreed not to deduct salary for ASOS or ‘partial performance’. If you are asked to carry out voluntary duties that go beyond what you would normally do, we suggest that you reply using the following words:

I am supporting UCU’s “working to contract” action. I consider xxxxxxxxxx an additional duty not covered by my normal contractual duties and, having sought union advice, will not be performing it. Please be advised that in line with UCU’s “action short of a strike”, I am continuing to perform my normal contractual duties and therefore no deductions from my salary should be made.

Reimbursement 

We are so grateful to the support given to us both by the Students’ Union and by individual students across the College. As you will know, many students have contacted the College asking that they be compensated for the teaching they missed as a result of industrial action caused by the employers’ failure to protect our pension rights. If asked by students about reimbursement, you should refer them to the Students’ Union ‘Guide to Complaints and Compensation’. We wish to make it clear, however, that while we would encourage students to seek redress, our policy is that we oppose tuition fees in the first place and that we support free education and have campaigned long and hard against a market logic that attempts to transform students into customers and staff into service providers. We will continue to campaign for the abolition of tuition fees, so that students do not have to ask for reimbursement of fees they should not be paying in the first place.

Assessments

Officers will be contacting SMT to request that, wherever possible and appropriate, extensions for examined work should be awarded and that the strike should be considered as valid extenuating circumstances. While we recognise that Departments should be free to make provision at a local level for supporting students during these challenging times, we feel that it is vital that the SMT adhere to some general principles that will guide this action: notably that there should be no pressure on staff to reschedule teaching lost as a result of strike action nor to conduct additional tutorials and workshops in order to mitigate the impact on students.

Tier 2 staff

Staff who areTier 2 visa holders could face sanctions if their days of strike action are counted towards an annual limit of 20 days  “unauthorised absence” by the employer. Officers will approach SMT and attempt to secure a commitment from them that strike days will not be considered as “unauthorised absence”.

Deductions for strikes

Officers have already written to the director of HR asking that any deductions arising as a result of taking strike action should be spread over four months. We will let you know as soon as we hear back.

Petition

Please sign the petition demanding that the Government acts as a ‘guarantor’ for the USS pension scheme. It already has over 10,000 signatures meaning that government has to respond but we need to push it much higher.

Please get involved in the branch in whatever way you can – help us produce communications, liaise with students, suggest ways to take the dispute forward, sign up for positions in the branch. We face enormous challenges and we need all the support we can get!

In solidarity

GUCU Executive

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