Friday 15 November saw the biggest QMUCU branch meeting in many years, in anticipation of the forthcoming industrial action.

Staff at QM are angry. They are mobilised. And they are prepared to fight.

The branch committee is working hard to organise the strike, but we need your help. Below is further detailed guidance about the industrial action. Please read it carefully. National-level guidance will also be circulated on 25 November.

QMUCU Calls on Principal Colin Bailey to Push for Fresh Talks

At the branch meeting on Friday, QMUCU passed the following motion:

The Queen Mary branch of the University and College Union requests that Prof Bailey asks UCEA and UUK to resume meaningful national negotiations with UCU with a view to resolving the disputes, thereby enabling students to get the education they deserve.

QMUCU also urges everyone to contact the Principal, Professor Colin Bailey (principal@qmul.ac.uk) to ask him to do everything he can to facilitate renewed negotiations through the employers’ groups, Universities UK (UUK, for the USS dispute) and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA, on pay and conditions). Professor Bailey cannot hide behind these organisations, claiming that they will not budge. They are employers’ representatives. If enough university leaders demand it, they will move. And other University vice-chancellors are already speaking out: at Essex, for example, where the VC has broken ranks and called for higher employer contributions if necessary. The Principal of Queen Mary should exercise leadership at this moment of crisis for UK Higher Education.

Strike Action

All UCU members should take strike action on the following dates: 25, 26, 27, 28 and 29 November and 2, 3 and 4 December.

When you are on strike, you do not work. This includes time before 9am and after 5pm and includes any activity which is part of your work, including teaching, research, administration, meetings, emails relating to work, marking, events, or conferences where you are directly or indirectly representing your employer. Don’t do ANY work!

QMUL will deduct pay at the rate of 1/365th of your annual salary per strike day, as it did during the 2018 strikes. We will be pressing QMUL to spread the deductions over several months, as other universities did in 2018. In the past, deductions have gone into the student hardship fund.

We don’t yet know what arrangements will be in place to ensure continuity of service in USS. We’ll update you when we have that information.

Research-only contracts:

If you are on a research-only contract and you are taking strike action, you should not work and should follow all other advice.

Research-only externally funded contracts:

If you are employed by the University on an externally-funded contract and you take strike action you should not work and should follow all other advice. However, if your employment contract is with an external funding body, or any other body or agency, you should not strike.

Associate Lecturers/ Teaching Assistants

If you are employed on an hourly-paid contract and you take strike action, you should not work and should follow all other advice.

IMPORTANT: in order to be eligible to claim from the fighting fund, all Associate members must ensure that you have ‘standard free’ membership, not student membership. This is essential. You can update your membership via MyUCU (you will need your membership number, which you can find in the email welcoming to you to UCU).

Research leave:

If you are on research leave and you take strike action you should not work and should follow all other advice.

Annual leave/parental leave/sickness absence:

If you are not at work for these reasons during strike action, you cannot strike. This is the only ‘dispensation not to strike’ that our members have, and we encourage you to donate any earnings to the local hardship fund if you can.

Pickets and Teach Out Programme

We ask all members to join our picket lines for at least two of the eight strike days, and ideally all eight days if you can. Please sign up for particular days here:

Members normally based at other campuses should volunteer to attend pickets at our two main campuses, so we can maintain solid picket lines at all times.

Participants in the 2018 strike will recall that our pickets were scenes of fun, creativity, performance, music and fancy dress. We had a rare chance to meet and talk to colleagues from across the university, understand the challenges we face, and build a sense of solidarity and collective power, including with supportive students.

We will not ask students not to cross our picket lines. Many students live on campus, and others will need to access support services, e.g. counselling. We will instead try to engage students to educate them about the reasons for our action and encourage them to take supportive steps, e.g. writing to the Principal, wearing a badge, etc. We will explain actions they can take at https://qmucu.org/strike.

We would like to put together a programme of alternative events for strike days, such as teach outs or creative performances. If you’d like to volunteer, please contact angus.mcnelly@gmail.com.

These events will take place in St Benet’s Chaplaincy, which has also very kindly agreed to provide a space for picketers to warm up and use the loo, as they did last year. We are incredibly grateful for the chaplain’s kind hospitality. Please be sure that we repay this kindness by keeping the Chaplaincy clean and tidy and not disturbing the students who use it.

Making picketing more accessible:

We appreciate that being outside for extended periods of time, often standing up, and holding placards can be challenging. Here’s some advice on how to make that process easier:

  • Organise picketing groups within your department and sign up collectively, so that not everyone needs to be there for the whole period.
  • Feel free to bring along a small camping chair or similar if you need one, but do take care not to block the pavement or prevent anyone else’s access to the building.
  • If you have a medical condition that might require immediate access to a toilet, feel free to use the one closest to you, regardless of whether or not it is behind a picket
  • Remember that the Students’ Union and Chaplaincy are ‘neutral spaces’ that you are free to use throughout strike days.
  • Feel free to take a break from the picket if you need one.
  • Please read and familiarise yourself with UCU’s guidance on picketing.
  • We also have a WhatsApp group for picketers which everyone is encouraged to join. Please email angus.mcnelly@gmail.com.

Action Short of a Strike

Members should also take action short of a strike (ASOS) starting Monday 25 November and continuing until further notice. Fuller guidance will follow from UCU HQ shortly.

ASOS is likely to include:

  • Working to contract, i.e. abiding strictly by the terms of your employment contract, e.g. instead of working 50+ hours per week, working the hours specified in your contract. If your contract does not specify working hours, note that QMUL Human Resources’ calculation of annual, monthly and daily pay rates assumes that staff work 35 hours per week over 52 weeks. If you’re in any doubt about what you are required to do, check your contractual documents – your offer letter, statement of main terms and conditions and/or any staff handbook. Contact us for further advice if you need it.
  • Not covering for absent colleagues unless your contract specifies that you must (e.g. being asked to cover classes or teaching for a colleague who is unwell).
  • Not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action. The principle is that no labour withdrawn during the strike should be performed after it. This includes any scheduled teaching activity which would have taken place on one of UCU’s strike days and applies to all UCU members, not just those directly responsible for the relevant lecture or class. You should refuse to reschedule this activity when asked, stating in response that you are supporting UCU’s action short of a strike. You should also not share materials, e.g. lecture notes, that would have been covered in a lecture or class cancelled due to the strike.
  • Not undertaking any voluntary activities, that is, work you have a choice about. This will differ by contract but, for example, working on a Saturday is voluntary for many members. The University relies on staff goodwill to function, relying on us to constantly take on extra work. ASOS means we stop doing this.

Marking and assessment

We are not yet begun an assessment boycott. However, if you have a marking period which includes the strike days, you should not mark or assess during that time. This will mean the assignment grades etc, will be handed back later than the published dates. If an assessment is scheduled for a strike day, you may wish to reschedule this, but this should come at the expense of normal teaching after the strike. Schools and Institutes should have released guidance on this. If you have any concerns about this guidance, please contact QMUCU.

If you are a professional services member of staff, you are also covered by ASOS and working to contract. There is specific guidance for PS staff from UCU nationally available here.

Taking ASOS does not mean that you can refuse a ‘reasonable’ request from your manager to undertake something that isn’t covered by the examples above. 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, temporarily suspend your action and contact us for guidance.

Notifying the University

You are NOT required to formally notify anyone in advance of 25 November that you are intending to take action, and we advise you NOT to do so. If your manager asks you in advance, you can reply that your union has advised you that you shouldn’t answer this. If your manager asks you whether you are taking strike action or ASOS on or after 25 November, you should answer them truthfully, but do not reply while you are undertaking strike action.

If you experience problems or need guidance on notifications, get in touch and we’ll help.

Financial Support for Strike Action

UCU Fighting Fund

Members earning over £30,000 per annum can claim strike pay after the third day of action for up to £50 per day. Members earning below £30,000 per annum can claim £75 per day from the second day of action. Financial support will be prioritised to lower-paid members and those on insecure contracts. Full information and details of how to apply will be circulated as soon as we have them.

We strongly encourage you to apply to the fighting fund if you need to. If you can manage without, or claim a lower amount, please do so.

Full guidance on how to apply to the Fighting Fund is here. You can apply here.

QM UCU Hardship Fund

Your first port of call should be the central fighting fund – UCU nationally has vastly more resources than we do locally. We recognise, though, that national strike pay may still leave some members experiencing hardship, either because of the level of deductions or because of their personal situation. For that reason, QM UCU established a Hardship Fund. Resources are limited. We will prioritise members who are sole-income households, or are on hourly-paid/ part-time/ temporary contracts, in that order. To apply for help, please contact the branch treasurer, Julian Holmes. We also encourage members who are able to donate to the hardship fund to do so.

Information for Migrant Members

Members on Tier 2 migrant visas can take part in the action. Since the UCU industrial action in early 2018, changes to the immigration rules make explicit that unpaid leave for the purposes of industrial action is exempted from the reporting duties for sponsors of Tier 2 and Tier 5 visas. The change was announced in July 2018 by Sajid Javid (see full statement here): “It is not the Government’s policy to prevent migrant workers from engaging in legal strike action; and, to date, I am not aware of any case where a migrant worker has had their leave curtailed, or been removed, as a result of having engaged in legal industrial action. However, to put the matter beyond doubt, I will be making changes to the guidance and Immigration Rules for migrant workers (under the Tier 2 and 5 immigration routes) and their sponsors.” Strike action has been added to the list of exceptions to the rule on absences from employment without pay. 

You can view the updated rules here, and the updated guidance for sponsors here.

Student Support for Strike Action

UCU and the NUS are sister unions, and we have support for this action from them both nationally and locally. We released a joint statement in early September.

The Council of the QM Students Union will discuss adopting a motion supporting the strike on 19 November at 6pm in the Blomeley Room, QMSU. If you are a member of QMSU (as all PhD students are), please consider attending the meeting to support the motion.

Do communicate with your own students about the reasons behind the strike. We have provided some crucial facts and figures in a separate document that you can use in your communications.

Further Information and Resources

Upcoming meetings

We’ll email you about these and publicise them on Twitter – please do come along. Please consider organising a departmental UCU meeting to build for the strike. If you’d like a branch officer to come along too, get in touch.

Background to the dispute

There is an enormous amount of information now in the public domain about our ongoing disputes over both the USS scheme and pay and equalities. There’s lots of information at the UCU website on pensions here and on pay here. There are also valuable resources (including draft out of office messages –see below) at Branch Solidarity Network’s site.

Email auto-responses

We recommend that you set up an out of office reply, starting from 25 November and leave it on until the dispute is over. Note that this does not state that you are personally participating in the industrial action.

Please note that my capacity to respond to your email is likely to be severely impaired from 25 November to 4 December when UCU members at Queen Mary, along with dozens of other universities, will be taking strike action in response to: rising pension costs; declining pay; pay gaps relating to gender, ethnicity and disability; casualisation and precarity; and spiralling workloads. My availability will also be affected by Action Short of a Strike from 25 November onwards. If you would like more information about the dispute, please go to https://www.ucu.org.uk/uss-explained and https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/10335/Pay-and-equalities-not-enough-already. If you would like to take action to support the strike, please see https://qmucu.wordpress.com/strike.

FAQs

Why are we striking on pay when the employers have offered a 1.8% pay rise? 

The employers’ offer is below inflation, meaning yet another real-terms pay cut for staff. The value of pay in higher education has fallen by 20.8% since 2009, judged by national RPI – in London the cut is even deeper. Meanwhile, employers have failed to take effective action to tackle persistent gender and race pay gaps. At QMUL, women are paid 13% less than men, while BAME staff are paid 21.9% less than white staff. We must send a strong signal that we won’t tolerate continued pay erosion or inequality. 

Why are we linking pay, workload and casualisation in one dispute? 

Our action is about demanding fair treatment for staff across the sector. The combination of pay erosion, unmanageable workloads and the widespread use of insecure contracts has undermined professionalism and made the working environment more stressful for staff. The average working week in higher education is now above 50 hours, with 29% of academics averaging more than 55 hours. Meanwhile more than 100,000 teaching staff on casual contracts report that they are only paid for 55% of the work they do. We need to ensure that careers in higher education remain attractive for the future – that means taking a coordinated approach to tackling these problems that affect staff across the sector. 

Why is tackling casualisation a priority for the pay ballot? 

Casualisation is rife within higher education: 70% of researchers in HE are employed on fixed-term contracts, while many more have contracts which are dependent on funding. A whopping 37,000 teaching staff are employed on fixed-term contracts, and a further 71,000 teachers are employed as ‘atypical academics’. The use of casual contracts erodes the rights, protections and security that should be afforded to all employees. Casualisation also makes it much more difficult for staff to challenge employers about key workplace issues, because staff are often reluctant to ‘rock the boat’ and risk their employment being terminated. Finally, casualisation has real material consequences for staff – UCU’s research showed that 42% of staff on casual contracts have struggled to pay household bills, while many others struggle to make long-term financial commitments like buying a house. 

Won’t industrial action cause unnecessary disruption to my students? 

The decision to take industrial action is never taken lightly, but the stakes in this dispute could not be higher. Staff are undervalued, overworked, and close to burn-out. This is not good for our students, and it’s not sustainable. We are fighting to save our university. We are pleased that NUS has also issued a joint statement with us, offering support and solidarity from students in both the USS and HE pay disputes. 

Questions Students May Ask

Q: Will classes be rearranged? 

A: No. UCU has instructed members not to cover any lessons affected by strike action or rearrange lessons to non-strike days (this would negate the effect of the strike day).  A strike is meant to be a disruption, and to be as impactful as possible, we need students to join striking staff on the picket lines – standing up in defence of education. The bigger splash we make early on, the better chance we have of victory!  

Q: I’ve asked my tutor if they will be striking and they have not responded.  

A: There are several different reasons why this might be the case. Staff do not have to indicate in advance if they are striking and can refuse to answer when asked by their university. This is because a staff member might not have decided yet or it might be that they intend to give the session, but on the day decide they cannot cross a picket line.  

Q: Can students conduct their own seminars when staff are striking? 

A: We ask students not to come onto campus during strike days. If students want to convene informal seminars on non-strike days, that is up to you.

Q: If we support your strike, what should we do?

A: On strike days, do not attend your classes, and do not go on campus unless you absolutely must. Please join us on the picket lines instead, and attend our teach-outs in the Chaplaincy! Check the QMUCU website for details: https://qmucu.org. The website also has more details about what you can do, including asking the Principal to get the employers’ groups to resume negotiations with UCU, and participating in our days of action.