Covered in these Frequent Asked Questions — click title to go directly to the answer.
- What is happening?
- Why are UCU members doing this?
- What is the strategy to win?
- Remind me again when QMUCU is striking?
- And what other forms of action are happening?
- I heard QMUL has a policy about ASOS… What is going on?
- Wow. This all sounds messy. Should UCU members at QMUL still take part in ASOS?
- How can I (a UCU member at QMUL) help to protect union members from the deductions policy?
- How can I (not a UCU member at QMUL) help to protect union members from the deductions policy?
- I’m a migrant worker and member of UCU. What information do I need before participating in industrial action?
- I’m a student, where am I in all this?
- Is there anything else going on at QMUL I should know about?
What is happening?
UCU, the University and College Union, has achieved an historic mandate for industrial action. The Union has gone through democratic processes and outlined a plan of action:
- Strikes on 24, 25, 30 November
- Marking boycott in the new year
- Escalating strike action from February
None of these dates and actions have to take place. The November days are to show university managements that staff are serious that the current working conditions are unsustainable. Employers, in the case of QMUL, the Principal, now have the opportunity to negotiate meaningfully. The Principal is the one who can stave off disruption.
Why are UCU members doing this?
The dispute ties together a number of problems that are fundamentally reshaping the nature of higher education in the UK:
- Casualisation: many staff are living on precarious, short-term contracts and often don’t know in the summer whether they’ll have an income in September.
- Rates of pay: have fallen steadily in real terms and are now worth around three-quarters of their 2009 value. This makes embarking on a career in universities the privilege of the independently wealthy.
- Systemic inequality, with a particular focus on the longstanding gender, ethnic and disability pay gaps
- Workload and working conditions, with a focus on manageable hours and reducing levels of stress and ill health. Spiralling workloads and out-of-balance staff-student-ratios means students in 2022 do not receive the kind of attention and education staff would want to provide and which they were able to provide a mere couple of years ago.
Technically a separate dispute – but likely to be coordinated alongside the other one – is an attempt to resolve long-running problems with the management of USS, the pension scheme used mainly by UCU members at older universities, including QMUL. That pension scheme has slashed pensions by roughly 35-50% based on a valuation of the fund from March 2020, when the world had crashed. Members have been challenging this sham slashing in multiple ways, including via courts, but USS has refused to reverse its cuts. Thus far.
What is the strategy to win?
The November strike days build towards a rally to coincide with UCEA talks on 30th November. Members from 150 UCU HE branches all over the UK will travel to London that day to tell UCEA enough is enough. If they still won’t listen, UCU will hit employers with a marking boycott and further strike action in the new year.
The pay claim that has been put to UCEA is a joint claim for all workers at UK universities. At many universities both UCU and Unison members will be striking and rallying on these strike days. At QMUL, QM Unison is currently reballoting to join the local action in the new year.
This strategy is very different to that adopted in recent disputes. It combines escalating strike action with a nationwide marking boycott. In addition, as the General Secretary has outlined in a new strategy document, the industrial strategy will be accompanied by a full spectrum of campaigning activity, including media, lobbying, member recruitment, and working with students.
Remind me again when QMUCU is striking?
24, 25, and 30 November.
And what other forms of action are happening?
UCU has also called national action short of a strike (ASOS) commencing 23rd November which entails:
- working to contract
- not undertaking voluntary work
- refusing to cover for absent colleagues
- refusing to reschedule classes cancelled due to strike action
- refusing to upload materials to support classes cancelled due to strike action.
UCU also has indicated that a marking and assessment boycott will commence in the new year unless negotiations have progressed.
I heard QMUL has a policy about ASOS… What is going on?
QMUL have said they will take 100% pay indefinitely for each day that staff refuse to “make up” teaching on timetables agreed with their Head of School/representative. No feasibility study has ever been carried out on the policy, and it was introduced without any consultation with the trade unions at QMUL. The policy is based on the idea that this ASOS is “partial performance” which the employer can refuse to accept and withdraw all pay. In practice, however, Queen Mary has often tended to tolerate partial performance, opening the policy up to legal challenge. The threat of ASOS deductions also represents an attack on the legal right to strike which could also be challenged on other grounds.
In February/March 2022, QMUL also threatened to make these deductions, but failed to carry out their threat. This was due to a mix of factors such as huge internal pressure and outrage, QMUCU members threatening to take strike action in the last two weeks of teaching in semester two, a legal letter sent to QMUL on behalf of QMUCU members, and the operational difficulty of implementing the policy.
In July 2022 QMUL did take 21 days of pay deductions for participation in ASOS in the form of a marking and assessment boycott. QMUCU members and UCU officers are now engaged in grievances and legal processes to challenge these deductions. Due to immense fundraising and solidarity from across UCU and beyond, QMUCU members who were deducted were able to access funds to cover the pay deducted.
Wow. This all sounds messy. Should UCU members at QMUL still take part in ASOS?
Yes! The policy is evidence of how powerful this action is. Members must use this mandate to show employers that without pay justice, safe working conditions and secure futures for workers, there will be no work. Past experience shows that the more members who participate in industrial action, the harder it will be for management to implement their threats.
How can I (a UCU member at QMUL) help to protect union members from the deductions policy?
Take part in industrial action and attend our branch meetings to discuss and decide collectively on how to resist and refuse the policy. This year, UCU officers have responded to the deductions policy by supporting branches to call additional local strike days in the event of 100% deductions for ASOS; QMUCU members will be voting on whether to notify QMUL of further strike days at a meeting on Wednesday 16th November.
QMUCU members will also be protected by the scale of the national action to come. In the New Year, escalation to a national marking boycott will likely mean that the implementation of deductions will not be determined by local factors alone, but by the strength of the national campaign.
How can I (not a UCU member at QMUL) help to protect union members from the deductions policy?
The best way to protect members is to make the action strong. The best thing you can do is join the union and take action. If you are not eligible to join the union but still want to help, you can donate to our strike fund which will support members in the event that the deductions are made.
I’m a migrant worker and member of UCU. What information do I need before participating in industrial action?
There are specific issues around industrial action for migrant workers in the UK’s hostile environment. QMUCU recognises this and stands in solidarity and care with our migrant members. We have put together some specific advice relating to visas and industrial action, which we will continue to update.
But striking as a migrant worker is not just about visas and declarations; there is also the financial cost of being a migrant worker in the UK and the financial precarity that might result from strike deductions. The QMUCU strike fund is strong. QMUCU recognises some members will need to draw on the strike fund more than others and to that end we will endeavour to support members in excess of the daily rate and according to need, including claiming the full amount deducted. Where claims for more than the daily rate are made QMUCU will prioritise claims from migrant members, members on fixed term contracts and members in single salary households.
We will be holding discussions on the picket about the realities of work, the financial and psychological costs of visa applications and industrial action for migrant workers at QMUL and in universities across the UK. Come listen, talk, learn. And read more here, here, and here.
I’m a student, where am I in all this?
Staff working conditions are students’ learning conditions. The fight to make UK universities a safe and sustainable place to work is also the fight for higher education as a safe and sustainable place for all. UCU and NUS continue to work together to fight the rampant marketisation of HE that is wrecking the sector.
Speak to staff, visit the pickets, ask what you want to know.
Is there anything else going on at QMUL I should know about?
Yes! QM Unison are currently engaged in a campaign to ensure workers on grade 1 at QMUL receive compensation for years and years of under pay. You can read more here.
And, a recent staff survey at QMUL showed the majority of staff have no confidence in the leadership abilities of senior management. Senior management delayed the release of this data to staff because they thought it would become campaigning material for the campus unions. You can read more here.
As UCU members at QMUL vote for industrial action in ever higher numbers we know that staff want to see change. Be there on 24, 25 and 30 November to make yourselves heard.