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action FAQs

HE disputes FAQs

26 November 2021

Frequently asked questions on UCU's UCU 'four fights - one union' and USS disputes


    About the disputes and ballots

    Which institutions are participating in industrial action, and when are they happening?

    The first round of strikes took place on:

    • Wednesday 1 December 2021
    • Thursday 2 December 2021
    • Friday 3 December 2021

    33 institutions participated in strikes over both Four Fights and USS, over those three days above. 21 institutions participated in strikes over Four Fights only, over those three days above. 4 institutions participated in strikes over USS only, over those three days above.

    The second round of strikes took place on:

    • Monday 14 February to Friday 18 February 2022 (5 days for USS pension dispute only, 44 institutions)
    • Monday 21 February and Tuesday 22 February 2022 (2 days for both the USS pension and Four Fights disputes, 68 institutions)
    • Monday 28 February to Wednesday 2 March 2022 (3 days for the Four Fights dispute only, 63 institutions)

    You can read the general secretary's announcement of the second round of strikes, and watch a video of her announcement dated Thursday 27 January 2022.

    The third round of strikes in both the USS and Four Fights disputes took place between Monday 21 March and Friday 1 April.

    There were two groups of branches taking action in different weeks and the groups were divided to ensure that branches were taking action during term time. By and large, the first group took a week of action beginning Monday 21 March, and the second group took five days of action beginning Monday 28 March - with some variations.  Check here for a full list of institutions, divided into Group One and Group Two, with full details of strike days.

    You can read the general secretary's announcement of the third round of strikes, as well as UCU's press release.

    In addition, all institutions also started action short of a strike (ASOS) from Wednesday 1 December 2021 (with the original mandate ending on Tuesday 3 May 2022). The first stage of ASOS was decided by UCU's higher education committee (HEC) and the elected officers of the union - the president, the vice-president (higher education) and the two HEC vice-chairs - and involved working to contract and refusing any additional duties. Subsequently, HEC decided to escalate ASOS. Please see below for further details.

    Note that six institutions are participating only in ASOS in the Four Fights dispute (Bishop Grosseteste; Bournemouth; Leeds Trinity; Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts; St Mary's University College; Winchester).

    Updated As of April 2022, the union is waiting for the special sector conferences on Four Fights (20 April 2022) and on USS (27 April 2022) to take place, where delegates from UCU branches in higher education will decide on the next steps of the two disputes. You can read the general secretary's explanatory emails here (dated 13 April 2022 and 21 April 2022).

    What were the plans for the re-ballots taking place in March and April 2022?

    The elected representatives on UCU's higher education committee (HEC) met on 25 February 2022 and decided to immediately renew our mandate in order to be able to take further action after the current ballot mandate expires on 3 May 2022.

    Ballots over USS and the Four Fights were separate but ran at the same time, meaning some members had two ballots to complete, others one. The timetable for ballots on both USS and Four Fights was:

    • Wednesday 16 March 2022: ballots opened
    • Friday 8 April 2022: ballots closed

    Click here for full details on these re-ballots.

    What were the results of the industrial ballots (October-November 2021)?

    In the USS dispute, 76% of UCU members who voted in the October 2021 ballots backed strike action and 88% voted in favour of action short of strike. The ballot on pension cuts covered 68 universities. The overall turnout was 53%, higher than the legally required threshold of 50%. The ballot, in accordance to the decisions made by the democratic mechanisms of the union (namely, the higher education sector conference and the higher education committee), was run in a disaggregated fashion. That means the total number of UCU branches that are currently in a position to take strike action in the USS pensions dispute is 37 out of 68. You can see the full set of USS ballot results here.

    In the Four Fights dispute, the overall yes vote for strike action was 70% and the yes vote for action short of a strike was 85%. The aggregated turnout across branches was 51%. The ballot, again in accordance to the decisions made by the democratic mechanisms of the union, was run in a disaggregated fashion. That means the total number of UCU branches that are currently in a position to take strike action is 54 out of the total 145. You can see the full set of Four Fights ballot results here.

    UCU branches at 42 universities did not meet the 50% turnout threshold in the USS pension and/or Four Fights ballot and were re-balloted between 6 December 2021 and 14 January 2022.

    The results for the USS pension and Four Fights re-ballots were announced on 17 and 18 January 2022. Summaries of the re-ballot results by general secretary Jo Grady are available here (USS and Four Fights).

    After the threshold re-ballots, the total number of UCU branches in a position to take action in the USS dispute increased to 44, and the number of UCU branches that could take action in the Four Fights dispute to 64.

    Overall, 68 universities across the UK face strike action in 2022.

    Updated What were the results of the industrial re-ballots (March-April 2022)?

    The results of the UK-wide re-ballots in the USS dispute are available here, and you can also read the general secretary's announcement (dated 12 April 2022). The overall YES vote for strike action was 79.5%, the turnout was 49.9%, and 24 branches achieved a mandate for strike action and action short of a strike (ASOS) in this disaggregated re-ballot (i.e. each UCU branch must reach the turnout of 50% in order to be able to participate in industrial action).

    The results of the UK-wide re-ballots in the Four Fights dispute are available here, and you can read the general secretary's announcement (dated 11 April 2022). The overall YES vote for strike action was 74%, the turnout was 46.3%. 36 branches achieved a mandate for strike action, and 38 branches achieved a mandate for action short of a strike (ASOS) in this disaggregated re-ballot.

    Who makes the decisions regarding industrial action?

    Delegates at UCU's September 2021 higher education sector conference (HESC) resolved to ballot in time to take action before the end of 2021. The ballot period began on Monday 18 October 2021 and ended on Thursday 4 November 2021; this timetable had been approved by the elected representatives on UCU's higher education committee (HEC).

    Following the announcement of the results of the USS and Four Fights ballots in early November 2021, the HEC met to decide on the nature and amount of the first round of industrial action; UCU branches were asked to feed into that HEC via branch delegates' meeting (BDM) that took place immediately prior to the HEC. For more details on this process please follow this link.

    After the release of the December-January re-ballot results, UCU higher education branches were invited to another set of BDMs which fed into the HEC on 19 January 2022. The elected officers of the union - the president, the vice-president (higher education) and the two HEC vice-chairs - then decided on the dates of the second round of industrial action.

    HEC met again on 25 February 2022 and decided on the third round of industrial action. HEC also decided to immediately renew our mandate (via the March-April re-ballots) in order to be able to take further action after the current ballot mandate expires on Tuesday 3 May 2022. The re-ballot closed on Friday 8 April, and then there are two special sector higher education conferences (SHESC) to determine the next steps: for Four Fights on Wednesday 20 April and for USS on Wednesday 27 April.

    UCU is a member-led union where decisions are made by UCU members themselves. The democratic mechanisms of the union include the annual congress (UCU's supreme policy-making body), the further and higher education sector conferences (FESC and HESC), and the elected members of the national executive committee (NEC) which is also subdivided into the further education committee (FEC) and higher education committee (HEC).

    How long will the disputes go on for?

    The USS and Four Fights disputes are distinct and involve UCU negotiating with two different bodies—UUK and UCEA respectively. Both disputes are kept under constant review by UCU's democratic structures, specifically the elected members of the higher education committee (HEC) as well as the special sector HE conferences (SHESC), who determine UCU's next steps. 

    If either dispute is suspended or resolved for any reason but the other dispute is not, the action in the unresolved dispute will still take place. A positive outcome in the Four Fights dispute does not mean that UCU abandons the USS dispute, or vice versa. Neither dispute will be concluded without a democratic consultation of the members involved in it.

    Taking 'action short of a strike'

    What does 'action short of a strike' (ASOS) mean, and when might we be involved in ASOS?

    While a strike is a concerted stoppage of work, 'action short of a strike' (ASOS) is normally action which affects only certain aspects of your work. Since the changes introduced by the Trade Union Act 2016 we have to determine and ballot members regarding the type of action short of a strike we are calling in England, Wales, and Scotland. In Northern Ireland we may simply ballot without specifying the type of ASOS. Our ballot enabled us to call action short of a strike in the USS pension and Four Fights disputes including:

    • working to contract
    • not covering for absent colleagues
    • removing uploaded materials related to, and/or not sharing materials related to, lectures or classes that will be or have been cancelled as  a result of strike action
    • not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action
    • not undertaking any voluntary activities; and
    • a marking and assessment boycott.

    Updated With the exception of a marking and assessment boycott, all the ASOS listed above is now live (working to contract and not undertaking voluntary activities began on 1 December 2021; not rescheduling classes and lectures cancelled due to strike action started on 21 December 2021; not covering for absent colleagues and removing uploaded materials related to, and/or not sharing materials related to, lectures or classes that will be or have been cancelled as a result of strike action started on 5 January 2022) and has been called in respect of both the USS and Four Fights disputes.

    Until further notice, action short of a strike will last until Tuesday 3 May 2022.

    Decisions over when different forms of ASOS are called are made through the democratic mechanisms of the union, including the elected members of the higher education committee (HEC).

    What does 'working to contract' mean?

    Working to contract means abiding strictly by the terms that your contract of employment (or other formal documents relating to your employment) specifies as your hours of work; breaks; workload; or other matters.

    Reclaim our time

    Most higher education contracts specify a nominal working week of 35-38 hours. In the case of many academic staff there is a further contractual stipulation that staff may be expected work beyond those hours as reasonably necessary to fulfil their duties. 

    As part of this action we are launching 'reclaim our time', a campaign which will expose just how much of our own well-being and free time is regularly sacrificed just to keep the system that exploits us afloat, by simply asking all members to work to contract. Our managers need to be forced to confront the unsustainable and dangerous amounts of work created for us, by making our overwork their problem. 

    Find out how to take part in 'reclaim our time' here.

    See also our FAQs on working to contact.

    What does 'not covering for absent colleagues' mean?

    This means that unless your job is wholly or predominantly about covering for other staff, you should refuse to provide cover. An example of this might be where a colleague is unwell and you are asked to take on their teaching or other work.

    What does 'refusing to reschedule lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action' mean?

    By 'lectures or classes' we mean any activity between any UCU member and a student or group of students which involves any instruction, tuition, communicating or sharing of knowledge or guidance.

    This includes teaching which would have taken place on one of UCU's strike days and covers instructional activities undertaken by UCU members who are professional services staff, as well as academic staff. You should, if asked, refuse to reschedule such sessions, stating that you are supporting UCU's action short of a strike.

    What should I do if I have already rescheduled strike hit classes or if someone else such as my line manager or head of department has already scheduled them? 

    Once the action has started you should not teach rescheduled classes whoever has rescheduled them.

    What does 'not undertaking any voluntary activities' mean?

    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. In some departments, certain roles are also voluntary.

    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 your UCU representative.

    See also: What is and is not 'voluntary'?

    Does participating in action short of a strike mean I can pick and choose what I do?

    No, taking action short of a strike means refusing to undertake the duties/activities specified, it does not mean that you can refuse a reasonable request from your employer to undertake something, unless it is covered explicitly by ASOS.

    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, you should temporarily suspend your action and contact your branch who will seek further advice.

    Can my employer deduct my pay when I take part in action short of a strike (ASOS)?

    Yes, your employer is entitled to make deductions from your pay if you participate in industrial action, including most forms of ASOS.

    If the ASOS called consists solely of working to contract, then an employer cannot impose pay deductions when you are fulfilling your contract; where the union calls action short of a strike that goes beyond working to contract and involves refusal to undertake particular contractual duties, such action involves members breaching their contracts of employment.

    While an employer cannot lawfully dismiss an employee for participating in ASOS where that action and the consequent breach of contract is covered by a legal industrial action ballot, an employer can refuse to accept 'partial performance' of the contract, and to deduct pay in response to that breach of contract.

    Deductions can be up to 100% of pay while you are participating in ASOS (with any work undertaken being deemed to be undertaken on a voluntary basis), although to impose such deductions would be a highly punitive response and the union would consult members over escalating industrial action in response.

    Updated February 2022: UCU has produced new guidance for branches in response to threats of ASOS deductions (100% deduction or partial deduction). You can read this guidance here (requires UCU membership number to log in).

    My employer has made deductions for 'partial performance', can I claim from the UCU fighting fund?

    In February 2022, UCU's elected national officers (the president, president-elect, vice president and honorary treasurer) decided that the fighting fund would be available to all members subjected to 100% action short of a strike (ASOS) deductions. Click here for further details on the UCU fighting fund and click here for guidance on eligibility and claiming from the UCU fighting fund.

    Do I have to tell my employer that I am taking action short of a strike (ASOS)?

    It is often the case that management will send out emails/letters demanding that you declare in advance whether you will be taking industrial action, including the various forms of ASOS currently being called. This is intended to minimise the effect of the action and can have the effect of misleading and intimidating members.

    You are under no obligation to inform your employer / manager in advance as to whether you will be taking part in strike action or action short of a strike. UCU will have provided your employer with all the information about the action required by law.

    If you are asked about whether you are participating in ASOS you should respond only in terms of what action you have taken/are currently taking, but not answer about future intentions regarding ASOS. This will mean that managers will need to keep checking for confirmation as to whether or not you have participated in ASOS and what forms of ASOS you have participated in and when. If you are asked directly whether you participated in ASOS in the past, or are participating in it now (whatever the timeframe, be it last week, yesterday, or today) you should respond truthfully, but you should not declare your intentions regarding future action.

    Taking strike action

    When we take industrial action, what am I expected to do?

    Your union only takes strike action once every other avenue of influence has been exhausted and when the democratic decision-making bodies of the union believe there is no other way to make employers change their position.

    It is a very serious sanction and that is why we ask that every member observes the strike. Every member who does not observe the strike is directly undermining the union's bargaining power and making it harder for the union to protect all its members. Every member who does observe the strike is helping to advance the interests of all staff throughout the sector.

    When we call a strike, we ask that members do not do any work for all of the days specified by the union. This includes, for instance, time before 9am and after 5pm, and includes any activity which is part of your work such as teaching, administration, meetings, emails related to work, marking, research or conferences where you are directly or indirectly representing your employer. It also means not doing any preparation for work that you are due to do when you return to work after you strike. In a nutshell, if you are employed at one of the institutions on strike, do not do any work at all on strike days.

    On strike days, the best possible thing you can do is contact your UCU branch and volunteer to help at the picket lines - and ask colleagues in your department to join you. Picketing is a vital opportunity to demonstrate to the employer the scale of the disruption that the union is able to cause, and get support for your action from students and other colleagues.

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

    No. It is often the case that management will send out emails/letters demanding that you declare in advance whether you will be taking industrial action. This can have the effect of misleading and intimidating members, and will enable your employer to minimise any disruption.

    You are under no obligation to inform management in advance as to whether you will be taking part in strike action or action short of a strike. UCU will provide your employer with all the information about the action required by law including those categories of members who we are calling on to take action.

    Once you are back to work following the strike action, you should respond truthfully to any query from your employer as to whether you have taken or are taking industrial action. You should not, however, respond to any such query while you are on strike.

    What about my students?

    The president of the National Union of Students (NUS), Larissa Kennedy, has made the following statement in relation to UCU's 2021 industrial action ballots:

    'As students, we regularly witness how staff and students' conditions are intertwined. University management forcing staff onto casualised contracts, cutting their pay, and now trying to cut thousands of pounds from their pensions cannot be divorced from the fact that one in 10 students has needed to access a foodbank to survive the pandemic—these are not the actions of a university leadership or an education system that have the interests of staff or students at heart.

    'Staff working conditions are student learning conditions and we stand shoulder to shoulder with our educators in fighting for a more just education system. We demand fully funded, accessible, lifelong education where our spaces of teaching and learning belong to the students, staff, and communities they exist to serve. Until then, it is entirely in the gift of vice chancellors and employers to come to a negotiated settlement and address the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by staff. If they do not, students will hold employers responsible.'

    You can also read this press release from NUS. NUS's latest research showed that '73% of students said they supported the university staff taking part in the [Four Fights and USS pension] campaign[s] and strike action'.

    UCU is a union of education professionals and we know that our members do not relish taking any action that affects our students, to whom you have dedicated so much of your energy, even during extremely challenging conditions like the Covid-19 pandemic. It is the same for many public services—doctors and nurses for instance.

    However, if you take action, you are making a case for greater investment in or defence of the quality of the education and research you provide. In the case of job cuts, for example, the union will rightly argue that our students will be hurt far more by management's actions than by our own. Observing the strike is defending the interests of staff and students alike—staff's working conditions are the students' learning conditions. Undermining the strike might feel like the right thing in the short term, but will only serve to embolden management and staff and students will all suffer more in the longer term.

    Formally, it is management's responsibility to explain to students if classes are to be cancelled on strike days. However, you may wish to talk to your students before the industrial action, explaining why the union is taking this step and asking them to write to university management to voice their concerns. Your students can also sign this petition hosted by NUS. You may also wish to discuss some of the practicalities which your students may not be familiar with: in particular, the fact that when you go on strike you will not be paid by your employer.

    Updated You can also ask your students to write to their vice-chancellors, using UCU's tools: 'Email your VC about USS' and 'Email your VC about our Four Fights disputes'.

    If I have external commitments on the day(s) of industrial action; should I attend them?

    If your external commitments arise from your employment with the institution where a strike is taking place, whether they are offline or online, then you should not fulfil them. For example, if you were due to attend a conference in your capacity as a lecturer at a strike-bound university you should not go.

    Participating in strike action

    I am not a UCU member; can I take part in industrial action?

    We would like everyone to respect the picket lines and not go into work. Non-UCU members who take part in legal, official industrial action have the same rights as UCU members not to be dismissed as a result of taking action. However, our strong recommendation is that you join UCU so that you have the protection of a trade union before you take part in industrial action.

    If you have provided the details requested on the UCU member application form, your membership will be active from the date of application. This means that you are able to take part in any strike action while awaiting your membership number.

    How late can someone join the union and still take part in strike action?

    Individuals can join UCU at any point up to and including on the picket line on the day of action and lawfully participate in the strike.

    I am not a UCU member; can I refuse to cross the picket line?

    We would like everyone to respect the picket lines, whether they are a member of UCU or a member of another union. If you are eligible to join UCU we recommend that you join the union, on the picket line if necessary, and do not cross the picket line. We will support any member who is subject to disciplinary action for refusing to cross a UCU picket line.

    I am a researcher and my salary is fully funded by external bodies but do not wish to cross the picket line; what should I do?

    If you are a researcher—for instance a postdoctoral research assistant (PDRA), research associate or research fellow—although your funding might be from an external body, your contract of employment is usually with the university or college. In this case, if your branch is one being called out on strike and taking action short of a strike (ASOS), you should join the industrial action. If you are directly employed by an external funding body or with a body that is not part of the USS or Four Fights dispute, you should not take action but try to arrange to work from home. If you need further advice, contact your regional office.

    I am a PGR/PhD student but do not wish to cross the picket line; what should I do?

    You can legally take part in industrial action (striking or action short of a strike) for research, teaching, and other paid work that you do outside of being PGRs/PhD students (e.g. if you do paid work as a graduate teaching assistant, research assistant, or professional services at or above grade 6). If you do not undertake such work for your institution, you cannot legally take part in industrial action from your postgraduate research work, however you can and should still support this action and work from home if you can. Further guidance for PGRs and the strikes can be found at Postgraduate researcher guide to strikes [327kb].

    I am a clinician and a UCU member, and I have clinical commitments on strike day; what should I do?

    We fully understand and respect that clinical staff including medics, psychologists have professional commitments to provide clinical cover. Clinicians are advised not to withdraw from any commitment to direct clinical care and activities in support of such. Any clinician concerned about the definition of these terms is advised to contact their own professional defence organisation, and ask them to contact the relevant professional body (e.g. the General Medical Council) on their behalf. A clinician who intends to strike should be aware that this will only count as lawful action as part of the UCU strike and if they are a UCU member.

    I am on study or research leave during the strikes; what should I do?

    If your leave is unpaid, you have no labour to withdraw and cannot join the strikes. If your leave is paid, you should join the strikes.

    I am booked to be on annual leave during the strikes; what should I do?

    If your annual leave is essential, you should take it as planned and consider donating to the fighting fund. If your leave is not essential, you may wish to move it so that you can participate in industrial action alongside colleagues.

    I will be working outside the UK during the strike; what should I do?

    While the legal position varies, UCU's advice is that, if you are working outside the UK on a strike day, you should work normally and donate to the fighting fund. If you are due to travel as part of your work on a strike day, you should not do so.

    I am a postgraduate researcher; how can I take part?

    We believe postgraduate researchers should be considered as staff for all their work. Please read the guide produced by the PGR as staff campaign, which is intended to enable you to properly engage in and support the action: Postgraduate researcher guide to strikes [327kb]

    I am precarious employed or on a casualised contract; what should I do?

    UCU has produced guidance to strike and action short of a strike (ASOS) for members on casualised contracts. This guidance looks at how our members who are precariously employed can support the current industrial action in higher education, but it is aimed at all members and branch activists.

    I am a member of staff applying for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) or a Tier 2/5 visa holder or a Tier 4 visa holder. What is the law regarding industrial action for migrant workers?

    In recent years, UCU won important protection for staff on visas so that they could take lawful strike action without affecting their visa status. However, we recognise that many members who want to support the union have ongoing concerns about the issue and so we have produced a separate briefing which explains your legal rights if you are a staff member or student on a visa or who may apply for an indefinite right to remain in the UK. UCU is committed to supporting all our members in industrial action so if, having read the briefing, you are still concerned about the impact of the strikes upon your immigration status, please contact Jenny Sherrard for further advice.

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

    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 any members from other institutions who refuse to cross official picket lines.

    Picketing

    What is the law on picketing?

    Peaceful picketing is entirely legal. 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. Please be sensitive towards students who may not be familiar with trade unions, industrial disputes, or picket lines. Note that it is a criminal offence for pickets to use threatening or abusive behaviour to people crossing the picket line. Read our picketing guidance here. [184kb]

    What are the guidelines on picketing?

    The purpose of the picket is to persuade members peacefully not to cross our picket lines i.e. not to go into work. Picketing is a legal activity and picketers should wear an armband indicating that they are on duty. Placards and posters should be displayed stating 'OFFICIAL PICKET'.

    Covid-19 health and safety picketing advice

    With regard to the Omicron Coronavirus variant, UCU has issued the following guidance to members participating in pickets and other activities linked to the industrial action.

    UCU advises all members involved in picket lines and other similar activities to:

    • wear face coverings. Face masks can significantly reduce the risk of close contact aerosol transmission and can reduce far field airborne transmission risks. UCU have provided branches with a supply of triple layer cloth face masks for use by pickets. Please also note that FFP2 or FFP3 masks will offer improved protection to the individual in higher risk situations
    • practice social distancing of 2m where possible; and
    • anyone with Covid-19 symptoms should self-isolate unless they have had a negative PCR test. We recommend pickets make use of rapid lateral flow tests (LFT) each day before engaging in picketing to prevent any asymptomatic transmission. You can order rapid flow lateral flow tests online here.

    In addition, we expect all employers to work with recognised trade unions and their health and safety reps to update risk assessments and ensure all possible mitigations are in place to keep staff and students safe on campuses. 

    If using indoor venues for strike-related events, members should be aware of the ventilation control measures in place at each venue. Members should observe the maximum occupancy levels permitted within indoor spaces to ensure there is a sufficient supply of fresh air to reduce Covid-19 transmission risks.

    We would expect the needs of those who are extremely clinically or clinically vulnerable to be prioritised.

    UCU will also provide pickets with hand sanitiser to reduce any fomite transmission risks.

    February 2022: Updated despite the removal/relaxation of public health measures across the United Kingdom, UCU contines to advise the above protective health and safety measures to prevent transmission of Covid-19.

    Strike action: impact on pay and pensions

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

    If you are on maternity, paternity, or long-term absence, please contact your UCU regional office.

    How will it affect my pension if I participate in industrial action?

    Teachers' Pensions Scheme (TPS) - Usually strike days are counted as 'days out' meaning that they, in effect, become invisible. You don't accrue reckonable service for that day neither will you pay contributions for that day, but your pensionable service isn't broken.

    It is not possible to buy back those days lost but members may wish to increase their pension by buying 'additional pension' or AVC arrangements.

    Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) - Members taking strike action will see their scheme membership 'paused' but the scheme rules allow for members and employers to keep paying in to the scheme for these affected days. In previous strikes it has been the experience of UCU that most employers do continue to make pension contributions and therefore participation in strike action has not generally affected members' pension benefits. Should the employer choose to withhold contributions, the scheme rules are clear that continuity of membership is not broken but pension benefits will not accrue for the days in question when membership is paused.

    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 intimidate staff by saying that if they should die while taking strike action, they will not receive a death in service payment.

    Teachers' Pensions Scheme (TPS) regulations are explicit on this matter and do not allow for this to be case. In fact the TPS website clearly says "you will remain covered for the 'in-service' death grant if you die while on strike."

    The situation in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) is different and if your membership is 'paused' (as above) you will be classed as a leaver for life cover and ill-health retirement. This means what you, or your loved ones, get will be based on what you have built up (without any enhancements). You can choose to pay a special contribution to keep your full life cover and ill-health benefits while your membership is paused. This would mean you will be entitled to these as if you were still paying in to USS. If you wish to do this you will need to speak to your employer and arrange with them how to make the payment.

    You should notify UCU if you are threatened in this way and our local branch will take the issue up on your behalf.

    Am I breaking my contract by taking strike action?

    All industrial action is a breach of your contract of employment. Because UCU has carried out a statutory ballot and the action has been formally called, the law protects workers from dismissal while 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.

    Can my employer deduct my pay when I take part in industrial action, and how much money will I lose?

    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 and no more.

    If the democratic decision-making bodies of the union decide that members will 'work to contract', your employer cannot impose pay deductions when you are fulfilling your contract. Should the union escalate 'action short of a strike' (ASOS) to boycotting particular activities, your employer can refuse to accept the partial performance of your contract, and to deduct up to 100% of your pay while you are participating in the action so long as they make their intentions clear.

    What if I am part-time?

    UCU believes that any strike deduction must be pro-rata for part-time staff. The deduction must only be for your contracted hours. Please contact your UCU branch for support in challenging any greater loss.

    Will the union be offering strike pay?

    The UCU's elected national officers (the president, president-elect, vice president and honorary treasurer) had determined and authorised the level of payment from the UCU fighting fund. You can find further details and make a claim here. You can also help by donating to the fighting fund.

    UCU is also a partner of Education Support, which offers counselling, support, financial assistance to UCU members.

    February 2022: Updated UCU's elected national officers decided that the fighting fund would be available to all members subjected to deductions for strike and/or 100% action short of a strike (ASOS) deductions. Click here for further details on the UCU fighting fund and click here for guidance on eligibility and claiming from the UCU fighting fund.

    Other

    I am a UCU member in a non-striking institution; how can I help?

    There are many ways that you can help—you can raise awareness of our disputes by disseminating our campaign materials to your colleagues, you can send messages of solidarity to the UCU branch of a striking institution or to campaigns@ucu.org.uk or on social media using the hashtag #OneOfUsAllOfUs, and you can also make a donation to our fighting fund to provide direct support to UCU members at striking institutions.

    If your branch has missed the anti-union threshold of 50% in the Four Fights and/or USS ballots, and is participating in re-ballots, then please make sure that you vote and participate in your branch's GTVO activities.

    Note that it is against the law to take part in 'sympathy action' or 'secondary action' (going on strike in sympathy with people who work for a different employer).

    Last updated: 13 May 2022