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Working to contract: What action is the union asking me to take?

UCU is calling on all members in higher education to begin working to contract and working to rule from 1 November 2013.

This means that we're asking you to abide strictly by the terms of your contract, so the first thing to do is to dig out your contract of employment and refer to that when reading this advice.

We've put together this advice to help you to understand the kinds of things you should and should not be doing.

In brief, members should

  • to work no more than their contracted hours where those hours are expressly stated, or where they are stipulated in a workload agreement and in any event not to exceed the maximum number of hours per week stipulated in the Working Time Regulations (48 hours a week)
  • to perform no additional voluntary duties, such as out of hours cover, or covering for colleagues (unless such cover is contractually required)
  • to set and mark no work beyond that work which they are contractually obliged to set and/or mark
  • to attend no meetings where such attendance is voluntary on the part of the members
  • to undertake no duties that breach health and safety policies or other significant employer's policies

Some of it sounds simple and basic but we know from experience that Universities run on significant amounts on unpaid labour and goodwill. This is what we are withdrawing in this action.

Below we've worked up a series of frequently asked questions about working to contract. Please refer to these in the first instance, using your contract of employment.


General

Working hours

Additional duties

Setting and marking work

Working in a safe environment

You and your employer

Advice for heads of department


How do I know what are my contracted hours?

Your contracted hours are likely to vary depending on which institution you are in. Wherever you work, your starting point is what it says in your contract.

If you are employed in a post-92 university, for example, your hours will vary according to your institution but they will broadly fall within the national contract. The national contract stipulates that formal scheduled teaching responsibilities should not exceed 18 hours in any week or a total of 550 hours in the teaching year.

Whilst there is no national definition of what constitutes formal scheduled teaching, this is included in many local contracts, and should include lecturing, seminars, tutorials, personal supervision, placements and fieldwork. Moreover in determining teaching load an employer is required to take a number of factors into account such as teaching experience, number of students, number and range of the curricula to be taught, other administrative and research responsibilities. So basically, you should be teaching less than the maximum 18 hours per week.

In other institutions, such as pre-92 universities or more modern institutions, your contractual hours may be contained in either your contract or a collective agreement on workloads agreements negotiated with UCU.

If you have a contract which specifies the number of hours in a working week e.g. 35 or 37 hours per week, then you should not work above this amount (paid or unpaid). This applies equally to our research and academic related staff members, who generally do have a specified working week in their contracts.

In some cases, established hours can be derived from local workload collective agreements. In that case, you should work no more hours than are expressed in this agreement.

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Working hours

What hours should I work if I have no contractual hours in my contract or any local workload agreement?

You should undertake your normal contractual duties and work your normal hours but not take on additional duties. If you are asked to take on additional duties, seek advice from the union. However, under no circumstances should you work more than the average 48 hours in any 7 day working time period laid down in the Working Time Regulations.

The Working Time Regulations (WTR) provide a right for workers to work no more than an average of 48 hours in any 7 day working time period. Unless your contract does or could require you to work weekends, the 7 day period does not include Saturday and Sunday, but a day is a 24 hour period so does include evenings. Surveys indicate that many academic and related staff work substantially more than this.

Our legal advice from Leading Counsel is that UCU member s are covered by the Regulations and therefore that working within its limits is not a breach of contract. Consequently, working to contract is consistent with your contractual obligations as no employee can be required lawfully to work in excess of the WTR's 48-hour limit over a sustained period of time.

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My contract says I must work 'any reasonable hours to perform my duties' - What action can I take?

Even if your contract says this and there is no local agreement that limits working hours, there is still a lot that you can do under the work-to-contract.

If you have a departmental workload management system or agreement that regulates your working hours and the distribution of your duties, observe this strictly.

You should undertake your normal contractual duties and work your normal customary hours but not take on additional duties. If you are asked to take on additional duties, or work extra hours to perform those duties, seek advice from the union. Under no circumstances should you work more than the average 48 hours in any 7 day working time period laid down in the Working Time Regulations, even if it is normally the case that you do so.

You should work-to-rule in relation to your marking . Take due care and consideration when marking work, ensuring that they are precisely meeting the guidelines both from the university itself and from the QAA. Staff are often placed under pressure by their institution to conclude their marking or second marking speedily in on order to ensure internal deadlines are met.

However staff have a responsibility to ensure that quality standards are being maintained, even if this means deadlines have to slip. If you find yourself falling behind, you should inform your line manager that, in accordance with your contract, you are fully complying with the University, department and QAA guidance and will therefore be unable to complete your marking or second mar king by the required deadline.

You should attend no meetings where such attendance is voluntary on your part.

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What should I do if, in any one week, I have not completed my normal contractual duties within either my contractual hour s or, if I do not have any, the 48 hour limit set by the Working Time Regulations?

If a particular task must be completed by a specific deadline in that week, you should complete the task. However, if this is not the case, you will not be acting in breach of your contract if you stop working and resume the uncompleted task(s) in the following week. If your line manager asks why other duties were not completed you should inform them that you have been unable to complete the remainder of your normal duties within the limits either of your contractual hours or the Working Time Regulations, and that you will resume them in the following week.

It is important that all the tasks and functions you normally carry out are discharged. The work to rule does not mean that duties should not be done - it is simply a question of when you do them, and not exceeding the maximum hours stipulated in your contract or in workload agreements or established practice or, if there are no maximum hours, the WTR. If you believe you are being asked to work too many hours, that is to say if you find that you cannot fulfil all your contractual duties within the hours limit in your contract, or the WTR (if you do not have contractual hours or a workload agreement or established practice) you should also make reference to your institution's occupational stress or workload policies which will set out various duties upon the employer to address heavy workloads.

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Should I do work in my own time?

The union's advice is based on Leading Counsel's opinion that you should 'not going the extra mile' as part of this action. Therefore while you should perform your normal duties if you cannot get them done either within your contractual hours or the weekly hours specified by the working time directive or finishing the task is putting you under considerable stress you should inform management that you have too much work for a normal working week and ask them for a formal, written response setting out how they intend to address the overload.

Where possible, quote from your university's occupational stress policy which management need to honour.

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Should I work at weekends or evenings?

The post-92 national contract states that you are required to work flexibly, therefore your employer can ask you within your contract to work evenings or weekends unless you're local contract contains any limits (for example, no more than 2 evenings a week). If your contract does not contain any limits on weekly hours, then hours of work is still subject to the clause on normal working week i.e. if you are asked to work evenings you should have the equivalent time off during the day.

For all other institutions, refer to your contract in the first instance. If your contract does not or could not require you work in the evenings or at weekends you can refuse to work at those times.

If your contract shows that you can be required to work weekends, you should refer firstly to your contractual hours or any local workload agreement. If you believe you are being asked to work too many hours, that is to say if you find that you cannot fulfil all your contractual duties within the hours limit in your contract, or the Working Time Regulations (WTR) (if you do not have contractual hours or a workload agreement or established practice) you should make reference to your institution's occupational stress or workload policies which will set out various duties upon the employer to address heavy workloads.

If you have no contractual hours or local workload agreement, refer to the WTR. If your contract shows that you can be required to work at weekends, then these weekend days also count for the purposes of the calculation of the average 48 working hours. That means that you should work no more than an average of 48 hours over 7 days.

If you are asked to take on new duties in addition to your normal duties, which involve either evening or weekend working you should refuse citing the UCU working to contract action and pointing out your willingness to perform your normal contractual duties within reasonable weekly limits as set down either by your contract or the Working Time Regulations.

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Additional Duties

What might constitute 'additional duties'?

Only you will know precisely what kinds of duties fall outside your normal duties. In determining whether something you are asked to do is an 'additional duty', our legal advice is that you should ask yourself whether you are being asked to 'go the extra mile'. Ask yourself, have I been asked to do this previously? Was I contracted to do this? Is reasonable account being taken of the additional workload involved? A manager's right to ask you to undertake reasonable duties must be balanced against an employee's reasonable right to refuse if their contract does not make it explicit that they are expected to perform a given duty.

Some examples might be: being asked to sit on a committee that you do not normally attend without account being taken of the extra workload involved; being asked to second mark on a course that you do not normally second mark for, again without account being taken of the additional workload; being given extra administrative responsibilities on top of your normal workload; being asked to teach on a subject that you were not contracted to teach.

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Can I refuse to cover for absent colleagues?

Our legal advice is that unless it is explicitly stated within your contract, you should refuse to cover for colleagues unless this is a clearly established custom and practice.

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Can I refuse to undertake duties associated with my line manager if they are absent?

Yes, unless it is explicitly stated within your contract that you will undertake duties associated with your line manager, you should refuse to do so citing the UCU working to contract industrial action.

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Can I refuse to undertake cover work for which I have no expertise or which is not mentioned in my contract?

Yes. A recent Employment Appeals Tribunal case looked at whether someone who had been engaged as a lecturer in Theatre Studies could be asked to undertake teaching on an English course. It found that 'a management instruction [like this] to carry out duties which the Appellant was not contractually obliged to perform is unlikely to be reasonable.'

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What freedom do management have to ask me to perform other duties which are not expressly set out in my contract?

There is a general duty upon employees to be cooperative and you should continue to be so. However, a recent EAT case states that 'in our judgment whilst it may be necessary to imply a term of co-operation to govern performance of contractual duties it cannot be relied upon in this case to enlarge those duties.'


Setting and marking work

How should I approach setting and marking of work?

Staff are often placed under pressure by their institution to conclude their marking or second marking speedily in on order to ensure internal deadlines are met.

However staff have a responsibility to ensure that quality standards are being maintained, even if this means deadlines have to slip.

Academic staff should therefore take due care and consideration when marking work, ensuring that they are precisely meeting the guidelines both from the university itself and from the QAA.

Second marking or blind marking should be undertaken with similar due care and consideration, with staff again ensuring that they are precisely meeting the guidelines both from the university itself and the QAA.

Under no circumstances should staff allow themselves to be rushed by their institution to the extent that they are unable to fully meet the terms of both the university and the QAA guidelines.

It is clear that the volume of academic workloads is forcing many members to mark students' work outside normal hours in order to meet internal feedback deadlines. In this case, our advice is that you should mark or second mark all scripts thoroughly and properly and to the letter of your department or QAA guidelines and that you should do this within your normal working patterns.

If you are pressured to cut corners or work extra hours to meet the deadlines report this to the union immediately and ask your line manager to put their instruction in writing including which of your other duties you should not do in order to complete marking; which aspects of the marking process they wish you to cut corners on in order to speed up; and also what they intend to do to meet their obligation to ensure your health, safety and wellbeing with particular regard to realistic workload and deadlines for tasks.

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What do I do if I fall behind with my marking or second marking as a result of working fully to the university's and QAA's guidelines?

You should inform your line manager that, in accordance with your contract, you are fully complying with the university, department and QAA guidance and will therefore be unable to complete your marking or second marking by the required deadline.

If staff within a department take a consistent approach to this, and submit similar messages to the line manager this will have a substantial impact.

Where can I get further information about the the Quality Assurance Agency's Code of Practice for the Assurance of Academic Quality and Standards in Higher Education?

The Code of Practice recommends that all institutions should have transparent and fair mechanisms for marking and moderating marks and can be read here (pdf).

This may normally be determined in relation to different programmes at department or faculty level.

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How do I know whether I am contractually obliged to mark work or not?

In determining whether setting and marking given pieces of work are beyond your contractual obligations, you should ask yourself these questions

  • Is marking and setting work part of your job?
  • Is what you are being asked to set or mark consistent with your contract and your area of expertise?
  • Are you following to the letter the marking or second marking protocols in place in your department or institution?

If you are doing (3) and are asked to speed up, respond that you are following your appropriate policies and procedures as laid out in your institution's policies here. Ask your head of department or line manager to put in writing that they want you to speed up and request that they highlighting which parts of the protocols governing marking you should disregard.

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Working in a safe environment

What are my duties in relation to healthy working?

Your legal duties as an employee include:

  • taking reasonable care for your own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by what you do or do not do
  • co-operating with your employer on health and safety
  • correctly using work items provided by your employer, including personal protective equipment, in accordance with training or instructions; and
  • not interfering with or misusing anything provided for your health, safety or welfare.

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How do I know that I am working in a safe workplace?

Every employer must have conducted a risk assessment on your job and must have recorded significant points. Regulation 10(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 stipulates that your employer has a duty to provide you with this information.

Your institution will have a health and safety policy that lays out the responsibilities of employees and various layers of management for dealing with health and safety issues.

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What should I do if I do not have or have not seen a copy of a recent risk assessment on my job?

You should request a copy of the risk assessment on your job and workspace. Your institution has a legal duty to provide you with a copy of this risk assessment document. This will probably sit with your line manager or the university's safety office. You should write to your line manager or head of department in the first instance.

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What should I do if I do NOT receive a copy of my risk assessment?

If you do not receive a copy within two weeks, you should complain to your line manager in writing to the effect that you are concerned that no assessment has been undertaken and that you do not wish to become complicit in your employer failing in a legal duty by working in a potentially unsafe environment. You can use the template text below:

Dear xxxxxxxxx

As an employee of xxxxxxxxxx, I am aware that I have the following rights in relation to Health and Safety regulations,

  • as far as possible, to have any risks to my health and safety properly controlled
  • to be provided, free of charge, with any personal protective and safety equipment
  • to stop work and leave your work area, without being disciplined if I have reasonable concerns about my safety.

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Employment/HealthAndSafetyAtWork/DG_4016683

I am concerned that my employer is not currently fulfilling its duties in respect of these rights in the following ways______

I am mindful of my duty to work safely and my right to stop work and leave my work area. Unless my concerns are immediately dealt with, I will consult my union about further steps.

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What if I do receive a copy of my risk assessment?

If you do receive a copy of your risk assessment, you should assess it, preferably in conjunction with your local UCU Health and Safety Representative or branch Health and Safety Officer. Identify whether or not the risk assessment is 'suitable and sufficient': have all hazards been identified; is the assessed level of risk appropriate; are the proposed control measures effective and operational; does the risk assessment need to be reviewed?

If you and your safety reps are satisfied that there are hazards in your workspace that are not identified in the risk assessment, you should immediately demand that another is conducted by a competent person, stating that you are concerned about safety in your job using the following wording:

Dear xxxxxxxxx

As an employee of xxxxxxxxxx, I am aware that I have the following rights in relation to Health and Safety regulations,

  • as far as possible, to have any risks to my health and safety properly controlled
  • to be provided, free of charge, with any personal protective and safety equipment
  • to stop work and leave your work area, without being disciplined if I have reasonable concerns about my safety.

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Employment/HealthAndSafetyAtWork/DG_4016683

I am concerned that my employer is not currently fulfilling its duties in respect of these rights in the following ways______

I am mindful of my duty to work safely and my right to stop work and leave my work area. Unless my concerns are immediately dealt with, I will consult my union about further steps.

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What should Health and Safety reps do to help ensure that my workplace is safe?

  • Write to the university's Health and Safety office requesting in writing, copies of all risk assessments requested by members of staff for which they have responsibility.
  • Complain in every case where these are not provided, citing the legal duty on the employer to maintain and provide such records.
  • Assess whether or not these are adequate risk assessment documents, using our guidance here.
  • Call for the establishment of a joint committee to monitor and control all risk assessments in the college/university.

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Am I protected in my use of Display Screen Equipment?

As the HSE says, 'Computer workstations or equipment can be associated with neck, shoulder, back or arm pain, as well as with fatigue and eyestrain. Surveys have found that a high proportion of DSE workers report aches, pains or eye discomfort. These aches and pains are sometimes called upper limb disorders (ULDs), which can include a range of medical conditions such as RSI. Most of these conditions do not indicate any serious ill health, but it makes sense to avoid them as far as possible. The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 aim to protect the health of people who work with DSE. The Regulations were introduced because DSE has become one of the most common kinds of work equipment.'

UCU believes that most members fall under the category of DSE users. That means that they are covered by these Health and Safety regulations.

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Does my employer have to do ensure that I am safely using Display Screen Equipment?

Yes. The Regulations do not contain detailed technical specifications or lists of approved equipment. Instead, they set more general objectives. Employers have to:

  • analyse workstations, and assess and reduce risks - Employers need to look at the whole workstation including equipment, furniture, and the work environment; the job being done; and any special needs of individual staff.
  • ensure workstations meet minimum requirements
  • plan work so there are breaks or changes of activity
  • on request arrange eye tests, and provide spectacles if special ones are needed
  • provide health and safety training and information

Every employer will have a DSE policy.  (.pdf) file type icon Find out more details about what your employer should be doing here (.pdf) [112kb].

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How do I request an eye test, a risk assessment or other support from my employer?

Your institution will have a specific policy which will tell you how they propose to comply with the regulations and how you can request an assessment of your work station and access eye tests and other remedial actions and resources. Every member should make use of this policy.

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How can my employer help me avoid injuries at work through manual handling?

Manual handling is one of the most common causes of injury at work and causes over a third of all workplace injuries which include work related Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) such as upper and lower limb pain/disorders, joint and repetitive strain injuries of various kinds.

Your employer must abide by the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992. These apply to a wide range of manual handling activities, including lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling or carrying.

The regulations require employers to:

  • avoid the need for hazardous manual handling, so far as is reasonably practicable
  • assess the risk of injury from any hazardous manual handling that can't be avoided; and
  • reduce the risk of injury from hazardous manual handling, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Your employer will have a specific policy adapting these regulations for your workplace. Your employer has an obligation to undertake manual handling risk assessments and ensure that employees receive manual handling training.

All employees covered by a risk assessment - including generic assessments should be told about the risks it identifies, so you should ask for a copy of the manual handling risk assessment on your job and workspace.

Your institution will have a specific manual handling policy that will tell you more about your and your employer's responsibilities.

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What should I do if I think that I have identified hazardous handling activities?

Employees have duties too. They should:

  • follow appropriate systems of work laid down for their safety
  • make proper use of equipment provided for their safety
  • co-operate with their employer on health and safety matters
  • inform the employer if they identify hazardous handling activities
  • take care to ensure that their activities do not put others at risk.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg143.pdf

You should avoid and report any high risk activities in your working processes to your management. Examples of high risk activities are twisting the trunk; stooping; reaching upwards or forwards from the trunk; considerable lifting and lowering distances and any combination of the above movements.

It is then your employer's responsibility to modify your work activities or workplace to minimise these risks.

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Should I undertake work which I have not been fully trained on?

Under no circumstances should you operate equipment upon which you have not been properly trained and for which there has not been a recent risk assessment.

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You and your employer

Do I have to tell my employer that I am taking action?

The working to contract action begins on 1 November. You should NOT tell your employer about your participation in this action BEFORE that date. Once the action has begun, if you are asked in writing by an appropriate person (Line manager, HR etc), you should answer truthfully that you are participating as follows:

I confirm that I am participating in current industrial action organised by UCU, in the form of 'working to contract'. UCU advises me that because I am fulfilling all reasonable contractual duties, the employer should not make any unauthorised deductions from my salary.

When members in pre-92 universities took this action in 2011, many put automatic signatures onto their emails explaining that they were taking part in this industrial action and therefore there might be a longer delay in responding to emails, queries and other demands.

We recommend you use a version of the following and set your email to auto-respond with the following message: 'PLEASE NOTE: There may be a delay in me dealing with your email as I am participating in UCU industrial action by 'working to contract' in support of the union's campaign for fair pay in higher education.'

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What do I do if my manager puts me under undue pressure not to follow the work to contract action?

The action UCU members are taking is perfectly legal. If you are put under undue pressure or coercion by line managers to withdraw from the action, you should ask the manager concerned to put their instructions in writing and tell UCU immediately. UCU will not hesitate to launch collective grievances or institute further industrial action in support of members who are bullied while taking part in lawful industrial action.

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I have been invited to an interview to discuss my participation in the action, what should I say and do?

If you are invited to attend an interview, ensure that you take a UCU representative with you. In the interview, which should take place only between yourself and a line manager with a UCU representative present, the manager instructs you to complete a task you should agree to carry out the task. The instruction applies only to you.

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Can I have my pay deducted when I participate in the UCU action?

If you are performing your normal duties but not undertaking activities over and above that, the employer has no justification for deducting your salary. UCU will challenge any attempts to make deductions from staff who are following the work to contract.

Advice for Heads of Department

I am a head of department, line manager or other senior academic/related role. How can I best support the action?

Many of the union's strongest members are in senior roles as heads of department or schools.

Senior staff can play an active role in the dispute by working to contract just like everyone else and also as follows:

  • Working within your own contract and not acting up for other staff.
  • Encourage your staff to seek clarity from yourself on an individual basis on whether they should be performing any given tasks in relation to the dispute.
  • Make sure that you always refer a query from a UCU member related to the dispute to your senior managers before responding.
  • Make sure that you refer each individual query and avoid issuing blanket guidance.
  • Ensure that you support your staff who are following to the letter the quality guidelines in place for marking and second marking and as far as possible shield them from pressure.
  • Boost morale in the department by making it clear to all that you are supporting the union's work to contract action.

For example, one Head of Department wrote to their members of staff the following:

'Being in a managerial position, I expect that colleagues will bombard me with requests. UCU's advice is that I should forward these requests to my Head of School. In principle, if enough requests are generated, decision making will become paralysed. In practice, many managers will try to issue guidance covering all situations. UCU's advice is to ignore blanket guidance and to ask about every single piece of activity that has not been agreed in advance with a manager and which is not clearly covered by the standard contract.'

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