What does 'action short of strike' mean for academic-related and professional services staff?

What does action short of strike (ASOS) mean for you as a member of academic-related and professional services staff (ARPS) staff? It means you can incorporate action into your daily, working life outside of any strike days we may take.

Trade union legislation requires unions to describe the ASOS they intend to take on ballot papers. You will generally see on your ballot paper that UCU list the following as ASOS:

  1. working to contract
  2. not covering for absent colleagues
  3. not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action
  4. not undertaking any voluntary activities
  5. a marking and assessment boycott.

Here's some guidance on how ARPS staff can participate in the varying types of action short of a strike.

Working to contract

This means being very strict in working exactly to the minimum required by your own contract. Your contract stipulates working hours; it allows you a lunch break and allows most of us a weekend. If your working hours start at 9am and finish at 5pm, then do exactly that. Do not start early and do not work late.

Make sure you take your full lunch break, every day.

If your contract allows breaks, take your breaks.

Do not check or respond to emails outside of working hours. If you have a work phone, leave it at your desk when you leave for the evening.

Take the time you need to complete your work during any action short of a strike.

Not covering for absent colleagues

If a colleague is off sick or on leave during the live action period, do not help management by picking up their work. Remember you are working to the minimum required by YOUR contract.

You can say NO!

Not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action

If your role involves timetabling or scheduling, or room bookings, or other support for the scheduling of classes or lectures, you can refuse to undertake that work as part of the action.

Not undertaking voluntary activities

Do you voluntarily attend meetings that you are not contracted to? Do you undertake support work on a voluntary basis? Have you been asked to complete a survey, consultation or a questionnaire? Are you asked to volunteer at open days or away days? Are you asked to volunteer to attend meetings or events outside of your working hours or during your lunch hour?

You can say NO to all of the above and anything else which does not form part of your formal roles and responsibilities.

Marking and assessment boycott

If your role involves administration relating to marking and assessment, you can refuse to undertake that work as part of the action. Examples might include the preparation of examination board materials, the allocation of marking and moderation duties, or any other administrative tasks related to assessment or marking.

How to say NO!

You can politely and professionally decline work/volunteering as part of ASOS or you can send an email stating:

'I am currently engaged in action short of strike to defend [eg] pay, equalities and pensions which includes working to my contract. All UCU members are advised not to cover for absent colleagues or undertake voluntary activities as part of this action. For this reason I am unable to...'

If your manager raises a concern about this, inform your local branch officers immediately.

Why do we do this?

The intention of ASOS is to legally slow down productivity. We all give additional hours to our roles which our employers benefit from. Working to contract, refusing to pick up colleagues' work or volunteer our time shows employers just how much they rely on our goodwill.

ASOS allows us to withdraw our goodwill in a way which legally protects us from reprisals.

ASOS can be extremely powerful when enacted properly and can add strength to the strike mandate period. This is the period in which we are allowed to schedule any industrial action, and it runs from 14 days after the ballot closes and can continue for up to six months.


When asked on your ballot paper please VOTE YES to industrial action AND YES to action short of strike!

Last updated: 30 September 2019