Questions on strike action

What am I expected to do during a strike?

Your union will only take strike action once every other avenue of influence has been exhausted and when your branch officers think there is no other way to make members’ views clear. It is a very serious sanction and that’s 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.

When we call a strike we ask that members do not come into work and do not reschedule their classes. The best possible thing you can do is contact your local rep and volunteer to help out on the picket lines. It isn’t illegal and it isn’t dangerous.

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

It is often the case that managements will send out formal-sounding letters telling you to declare in advance whether you will be taking industrial action. This can have the effect of misleading and intimidating members.

To be clear, 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. In order to fulfil legal requirements, employers have been provided with statistical information about UCU members taking industrial action, but not individual names. However, if your manager asks you after the strike whether you took action, you should answer truthfully.

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What are the exemptions to taking strike action?

All eligible UCU members are expected to participate in industrial action.

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Do I have to reschedule the work that I have missed?

No, the union’s advice is that you do not reschedule work including classes – the point of taking action is to cause disruption in order to persuade the employers to return to negotiations.

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I have external commitments on the day(s) of the strikes, should I cancel?

If your commitments are part of your normal work for the university or college you should not attend them.

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

People can join the union at any point up to and including on the picket line on the day of action and lawfully join the strike.

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How will it affect my pension?

In previous one-day 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. Further, in relation to USS, the current advice from USS to USS institutions is that employer deductions will be made unless the employer advises to the contrary prior to any period of absence. Members are reminded that they 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.

The actuarial impact of taking a day’s strike action in the last year of your service upon your annual pension on retirement is very small and will almost certainly be outweighed by the benefits from successful industrial action, especially in this case where the action is in defence of the pension schemes themselves.

You can find out much more here: Strike action and pensionable salary

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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?

For detailed pensions advice please contact: gegan@ucu.org.uk

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What about my students?

We are a union of professionals and we know that our members don’t like taking any action that affects students. It is the same for many public services. However, when we take action, we are generally making a case for greater investment in or defence of the quality of the service we provide. In the case of job cuts, for example, we 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. Undermining the strike might feel like the right thing in the short term but will only serve to encourage management and we 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 strikes explaining why the union is taking this action.

We will have a leaflet available explaining to students why we feel it is necessary to take action.

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Am I breaking my contract by taking strike action?

All effective industrial action may be a breach of your contract of employment. But because UCU has carried out a statutory 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.

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How much money will I lose?

You should expect to have a day’s salary deducted for taking part in the strike. Some institutions state that 1/260th of your annual salary will be deducted for each day of action. Any loss greater than this may be challenged by the union.

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What if I am part time?

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

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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.

The legal categories of people permitted to picket are:

  • UCU members in dispute
  • former employees who have lost their jobs for reasons connected to the dispute
  • UCU officials and NEC members supporting members in dispute, providing they are accompanying union members who work at the location.

Further detailed advice on the picket lines should be issued separately.

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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 college decides to take disciplinary action against you. However, it is your general support that counts—if you can get permission from your line manager to take annual leave or work from home, this would be support.

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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.

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I am a clinician and a UCU member, and I have clinical commitments on strike day. What can I do?

We fully understand that clinical staff including medics and 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 (eg the GMC) on their behalf. UCU will therefore respect this. 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 s/he is a UCU member.

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What are the guidelines on picketing?

The point of the picket is to peacefully persuade members not to cross our picket lines ie to not go into work. Picketing is a legal activity and pickets should wear an armband indicating they are on duty. Placards and posters should be displayed stating ‘OFFICIAL PICKET’.

Approaching people

All UCU members should be on strike with the exception of members with clinical commitment. You should talk to anyone, a UCU member, work colleague, or member of the public who approaches the picket line. Give them a leaflet and explain the reason for the strike and ask them to support the campaign.

Anyone who decides to cross a picket line must be allowed to do so. But always take the opportunity to talk to them and explain the reasons for the industrial action. Those workers who wish to cross the picket line should be asked not to undertake any duties or responsibilities other than their own ie not to cover for us.

Speaking to non-UCU members

If a member of another union, or someone who’s not a member of any union, wants to support us by staying away from work, you need to make it clear that if their employers decided to discipline them UCU wouldn’t be able to support them. The individual must then make up their own mind. If they are eligible for UCU member- ship, their best course of action is to join there and then: they will then have the full protection afforded to any UCU member. Keep membership forms with you for this purpose.

If they do decide they have to go in to work, but would like to support us, then encourage them to come to the X rally – X date and time.

Speaking to students

Students are not vulnerable to discipli- nary action like staff, so any student who wishes to support us and not cross the picket line should be made welcome. Likewise, any student who wishes to stand near the picket lines should be made welcome, although they would not be legally recognised official pickets (so shouldn’t, for example, be allowed to wear an armband).

We will have a leaflet available specifically for students explaining why we feel it is necessary to take this action.

Speaking to people who are not university staff or students

You can seek to persuade other workers, not employed at the university or college, not to deliver goods or to enter the work premises, eg post, milk, stationery supplies etc (this is the only form of permitted ‘secondary’ action).

Mobile numbers of the picket organisers should be available on the day.

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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.

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If I am a 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.

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How do I claim from the Fighting Fund?

Members who have had a day’s pay deducted for taking two-hour strike action are entitled to claim from the strike fund using our online claim form. The fund will also be opened up to those in all branches in real hardship (eg. hourly contracts/part time) where it can be shown the action being asked of them is having a disproportionate effect comparative to those on full time contracts.

If you think you can claim for a disproportionate effect please tick the box for ‘special circumstances’ and ensure that you upload some documentation to support your claim, such as a payslip or timetable.

Click here to make your claim

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