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Message from John Brady: industrial action commencing 22 February

UCU strike action update

Industrial action commencing 22 February 2018 – for the particular attention of UCU members

Dear colleagues,

The Vice-Chancellor has today written an open letter to the staff and student community regarding the UCU action. This has been made available on the Staff Portal and through student channels, and has also been provided to RUSU.

I am very aware that the discussions regarding the future of the USS and the forthcoming industrial action are matters of great concern across the University, for staff and students alike. Decisions about the USS proposals were not taken lightly, nor are decisions to take industrial action. The University will continue to respond in a reasonable and proportionate way to the UCU action, remaining aware of our obligation to minimise disruption to our students and other University business.

With this in mind I am seeking to arrange some general information sessions for staff to provide some detailed information about the proposed changes and in particular how Defined Contribution schemes work. More information regarding this will follow.

In the meantime the notified industrial action by UCU members is fast approaching. My message on the staff portal on 31 January 2018 provided initial information.

I am writing now to give you some important new information regarding pension contributions during strike action, and to provide a reminder of key points.

Pension contributions

During previous disputes the University has always constructed deductions from pay in such a way as to protect continuity of pension contributions and therefore preserve death-in-service benefits for those taking industrial action. 

I am now advised by the USS that arrangements have been put in place for the notified period of industrial action to ensure that death-in-service and incapacity cover remains intact even where pension contributions are not made. 

This means that during the period of industrial action, where pay is withheld by the University as a result of your participation in it, the University is required by USS to obtain your agreement in advance to maintain normal pension contributions (by way of a reminder, the University contributes 18% of salary, you contribute 8%). Therefore, if you wish to maintain your pension contributions during any period of industrial action in which you are participating please confirm your agreement by e-mail to j.j.brady@reading.ac.uk no later than 12 noon on Wednesday 21 February 2018 to ensure that your pension cover remains in place during this period. Please note that this requirement is distinct from notification of participation in strike action and action short of strike outlined below.

The USS Trustee has reserved the right to review this arrangement and the right to charge additional contributions if the industrial action is extended beyond February/March 2018, or further action is proposed.

Participation in strike action – a reminder

If you are participating in the notified strike action please note that on this occasion the University will deduct pay for each day at a rate of 1/365th. Relevant deductions will be made from the next available pay-run.

If you do take strike action you are required to declare your participation immediately (and anyway no less than 24 hours) following each period of strike action, even if you provided notice in advance in relation to pension contributions, as outlined above. To do so you need simply e-mail me at j.j.brady@reading.ac.uk. For the avoidance of any doubt there are four notified periods of strike action, as follows:

Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days)

Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)

Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days)

Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days) 

Please also note that on resumption of full duties the University reserves the right to require relevant colleagues to prioritise missed work over other work; there will be no additional pay for doing this.

Participation in action short of strike (ASOS) – a reminder

The UCU notification has described the intended ASOS as consisting of:

  • Working to contract
  • Not covering for absent colleagues
  • Not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action
  • Not undertaking any voluntary activities.

Where the ASOS is limited to working to contract we will monitor this, but there will be no further action. However, colleagues are expected to perform their contractual duties in full. The University does not accept partial performance and reserves the right to make deductions from pay where breaches of contract occur. 

This means that the University is not legally obliged to make payment in these circumstances when only partial performance is rendered and we reserve the right to withhold 100% of pay. However, the University Executive Board has decided that, in the first instance, any such breaches of contract will result in 10% of pay being withheld on each day that such a breach occurs. The payment of the remaining 90% of salary is discretionary and made on an entirely voluntary and ex-gratia basis. 

We will periodically review the effect of the action on our students and its impact more broadly across the University. We reserve the right to increase the percentage of pay withheld up to and including 100%, at any time while the dispute persists and where contractual duties are not performed in full. Where applied, deductions will continue to be made until the union calls off the action or the individual confirms he or she is resuming full duties and does resume full duties.

Members of the UCU are required to inform the University that they are participating in ASOS by 22 February 2018 or, if commencing at a later date immediately on doing so (and anyway after no more than 24 hours); as above to do so you need simply to e-mail me at j.j.brady@reading.ac.uk.

NB: Failure to notify the University as set out in this note that you are taking strike action or action short of strike will be treated as a disciplinary matter.

The withholding of pay is without prejudice to any other right or remedy of the University, including any claim for damages for breach of contract and the University further reserves the right to join you as a party to any claim for breach of contract brought against the University as a result of this action.

Additional information

I have had a number of queries from colleagues, summarised as follows:

  • Some colleagues have enquired with regard to taking annual leave or agreeing to work from home during the strike action. My advice to line managers is that existing annual leave bookings should of course be honoured, and any subsequent requests for leave or to work from home should be considered in the normal way. However, where there are concerns regarding service disruption and/or staff shortages such requests may be refused.
  • Some colleagues have commented about being uneasy about crossing picket lines. If you are not a member of the UCU and are attending work as normal, there should be no reason to be concerned about picket lines that may be in place. During previous disputes UCU colleagues have always conducted themselves in a responsible and appropriate manner. If you are a member of the UCU and have decided not to participate in the strike action you are free to work as normal, and I am sure that your UCU colleagues will be respectful of your personal decision.
  • A number of line managers have enquired about asking other colleagues to cover duties disrupted by the industrial action. I have advised colleagues that while they can agree to re-allocate work to others, they should not do so unreasonably and take care to avoid over-burdening colleagues or asking them to take on duties that they are not competent or trained to perform.
  • Some of our line managers are members of the UCU and will be participating in the industrial action. This is perfectly reasonable, and the University respects the right to do so. It can be difficult to reconcile supporting the action and performing your line management duties, which could include assisting the University with its efforts to minimise disruption. As things stand the notified UCU action does not call for non-cooperation from those with line management responsibilities, so outside the 14 strike days our normal expectations will apply.
  • I have had a number of requests for clarification of the term “partial performance”. The notified UCU action refers to action short of strike including “working to contract”. This is not unreasonable, and adherence with this will not generate further action. However, it is important to understand that there is much that is not stated explicitly that nevertheless would be considered as a contractual obligation, including the customary ways in which people have worked in their Schools or Functions and the implied duties that both they and employers have. For example, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action as instructed by UCU will (where there has been a reasonable request to do so) be considered by the University to constitute partial performance. On the other hand, the instruction not to undertake voluntary activities would not constitute partial performance. If you have any concerns regarding this you can of course seek advice and support from your UCU representatives, or you can forward queries to me. 

Information relating to the proposed changes to the USS, the forthcoming industrial action and responses to questions raised by students can be viewed here.

If you require any further clarification or additional information please feel free to contact me.

John Brady

Director of Human Resources

 

Previous messages 

Forthcoming industrial action: important message for staff (31/01/2018)

Universities Superannuation Scheme - important update (24/01/2018)

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