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Information on UCU industrial action

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Overview

Communication to colleagues

FAQs

 

Overview

This page brings together information related to the industrial action and will be updated as more details become available.

The current periods of industrial action notified by the University & College Union (UCU) are:

Action short of strike (ASOS):

  • commencing from 25 November 2019 and finishing no later than 29 April 2020

You can find the advice and frequently asked questions for students on our Essentials webpages: http://www.reading.ac.uk/industrial-action. The page includes copies of all the emails we have sent to students.

Colleagues may wish to read an open letter to staff impacted by the UCU pensions and pay disputes from Universities UK and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association.  


Last updated on: 16 March 2020

Originally published: 20 November 2019

 

Communication to University colleagues

An open letter from Universities UK and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association - 20 February 2020

UCU industrial action: message from the HR Director - 17 February 2020

UCU: update on national pay and pensions negotiations - 04 February 2020

End of strike action message from Vice-Chancellor - 06 December 2019

UCU industrial action: Message from the Vice-Chancellor - 25 November 2019

Industrial action commencing 25 November: message from HR Director – 14 November 2019

UCU industrial action scheduled this term – 6 November 2019

UCU ballot update: possible industrial action – 1 November 2019

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the dispute about?

UCU is undertaking industrial action in relation to two national disputes.

  • The first of these relates to pay. Discussions around university pay are managed through the annual National Pay Bargaining process. A Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff (JNCHES), with representation from both employers and trade unions, facilitates the negotiations and any disputes arising from this. The bargaining process for 2018/19 is now closed, but the UCU did not accept the outcome.
  • The dispute over the sector-wide USS pension scheme relates to an increase in contribution rates, which the USS Trustee has decided are necessary to maintain the existing pension benefits. As a result the University's contribution rates (quoted as a percentage of salaries of USS members) increased in October 2019 by 1.6 per cent and member contributions have increased by 0.8 per cent. The UCU position is that all of the increase should be borne by the employers.

What is the University position on the disputes?

The Vice-Chancellor said in his message to all colleagues in November 2019 that pay and pensions are “matters (that) affect universities across the UK, and the substantive issues on pay and pensions can only be resolved through the appropriate collective negotiations at national level.

The University acknowledges the UCU’s right to take industrial action, but is disappointed that we face industrial action here at Reading for the second time in recent years given that the core disputes cannot be resolved locally

We are committed to ensuring the quality and value of our students’ learning experience, and will work hard to ensure that any disruption to them is minimised as much as we reasonably can.

How many colleagues will be undertaking industrial action?

We cannot know in advance how many colleagues may participate in strike action or action short of strike. Before Christmas around one-third of UCU members locally took part in up to eight days’ strike action. It is unlikely that all UCU members will participate in this industrial action or in every day of the action. As we have seen in the past, impact will also vary across Schools, Departments and Functions.

If I take part in the strike action, what will it mean for me?

If you are participating in the strike action, there are several things you need to know:

  • As with the last period of industrial action, pay will be deducted for each day of strike action at a rate of 1/365th. Relevant deductions are likely to be made from December salaries or the next available pay-run.
  • 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. Following the period of industrial action in 2018 there were claims brought by students against a number of Universities, including Reading. With this in mind, 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 current action.
  • We have never taken this action in the past, and it would be reserved for only the most exceptional circumstances.
  • For clarity, the University has no power to order a staff member to pay damages – that power lies only with the courts.

If I take part in strike action, what happens to my pension?

When pay is deducted for strike days the University has to make exceptional arrangements to maintain pension contributions. Your agreement is needed to do this for any days you are on strike.

Do I need to notify the University in advance of my intention to participate in strike action?

You are not required to inform the University in advance of your intention to participate in the strike action. If you do take strike action, however, you must declare your participation immediately following each period of strike action (and after no more than 24 hours, including non-working days). You can do this simply by e-mailing HR Director John Brady (j.j.brady@reading.ac.uk). If you do not do so, it will be treated as a disciplinary matter.

If there are exceptional reasons why you might not be able to comply with these reporting requirements, please let John know as soon as possible.

Can a line manager ask me to cover duties affected by industrial action?

It may be reasonable for line managers to ask other colleagues to cover duties disrupted by the industrial action if it does not over-burden people or does not require them to take on duties that they are not competent or trained to perform.

What work should I prioritise during industrial action?

Our aim during the industrial action is to minimise the impact on students. For this reason, we ask all colleagues to prioritise, where possible, student-facing activities. Your Head of School, Head of Function or line manager will be able to advise as appropriate.

Where can I find advice to share with students about the impact of the action on them?

We are working closely with Schools to communicate regularly with our student community and provide them with advice about what steps they should take if they are affected by the industrial action. Please refer to our dedicated webpages for further information and frequently asked questions for students.

If I take part in the Action Short of Strike (ASOS), what will it mean for me?

If you are participating in the notified action short of strike, there are several things you need to know:

  • You are required to inform the University that you are participating in ASOS by Monday 25 November 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 e-mail HR Director John Brady (j.j.brady@reading.ac.uk). If you do not do so, it will be treated as a disciplinary matter.
  • 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 and other aspects of ASOS are likely to constitute a breach of contract. The University does not accept partial performance and the University is not legally obliged to pay you in full if you only partially perform your contractual duties. The University Executive Board has initially set this deduction at 25%. We may, in serious cases where the level of disruption warrants it, consider a higher deduction than 25% for partial performance. This could be up to 100% but this would be exceptional.

What would the University consider as “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 as well as the express terms of your written contract of employment, there are other implied terms that are also binding contractual obligations, including the customary ways in which people have worked in their Schools or Functions and the implied duties to follow lawful and reasonable instructions.

For example, the instruction not to undertake voluntary activities would not constitute partial performance, for those activities are genuinely voluntary and do not form part of the reasonable expectations for your role.

On the other hand, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action as instructed by UCU will (where there has been a reasonable request to reschedule) be considered by the University to constitute partial performance and be a breach of contract.

This point about reasonableness is important. Now that the period of strike action is complete, it will be reinforced to Heads of School and Function that they need to consider workload and other priorities in making these requests. For clarity, a request to prioritise lost teaching over other activity is likely to be reasonable but requiring staff to work excessive hours to do so would not be.

If you have any concerns regarding this you can seek advice and support from your UCU representatives, or you can forward queries to HR Director John Brady (j.j.brady@reading.ac.uk).

Can I be asked to prioritise missed work when I resume full duties?

When you return to full duties, the University may ask you to prioritise missed work over other work during your working hours. The University is entitled to do this, as it is a lawful and reasonable instruction to staff. There will be no additional pay for doing this work.

Can I work from home or take annual leave during industrial action?

The University will honour any existing annual leave bookings. We have also requested that line managers consider any new requests for leave or to work from home in the normal way, but where there are concerns about service disruption or staff shortages such requests may be refused.

What is a picket line? Can I cross it?

UCU colleagues are likely to maintain small picket lines at various entrances to our campuses on the days of strike action. This may involve small groups of staff with banners and placards speaking to people about the dispute and handing out information about the strike. This is perfectly legitimate.

The law requires picketing to be conducted peacefully and lawfully, and no-one should be harassed when entering the campus. We have never experienced any difficulty locally in the past and have no reason to expect anything different on this occasion.

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. 

What will the University do with the salary deductions from staff participating in the industrial action?

It is our responsibility to limit the impact of industrial action for our whole community as far as we reasonably can. This means that money deducted from the salaries of staff who participate will be used to pay for activity to mitigate the effect of action in the first instance. For example, this would cover the University appointing temporary staff to support processing student 'Impact of Strike Action on Academic Performance' forms to ensure decisions can be made quickly.

Once these costs have been met, we will use remaining funds on projects and initiatives to support our students and staff.

This year, the University Executive Board has allocated a significant proportion of the funds to install additional study space in the URS Building. Study@URS will provide more than 250 new quiet and group study spaces from 2 March for the dissertation and exam season. The building will be open from 8am to 6pm on weekdays, as well as over the Easter weekend from Friday 10 to Monday 13 April, when the Library is closed.

Using the funds in this way means our current students will benefit immediately, including those preparing for their final exams and dissertations, as well as enhancing the experience for returning students next year.

We are discussing options with colleagues and with RUSU to identify how remaining funds can be best used to deliver maximum benefit for our community and we will keep you updated.

Will you be offering to cover the costs of Graduation gown hire this year?

Following industrial action two years ago in spring 2018, once the costs of mitigation had been met, we identified a number of projects and initiatives to sponsor in consultation with colleagues and RUSU. These included refurbishing study space in Palmer and Chemistry, installing new student consultation pods in the Carrington Building and a contribution to RUSU’s One World One Reading campaign.

In recognition of the fact that these projects could not be completed in time to benefit undergraduate finalists and postgraduates finishing their studies that year, we used the remaining funds to waive the cost of Graduation gown hire for these students as a gesture of goodwill to acknowledge the disruption. This accounted for almost half the funds following the 2018 strike period.

Some students have requested for the funds to be used in a similar way this year, a point which RUSU has also brought to our attention. After careful review, including discussions with RUSU, we have agreed that prioritising study space and other agreed projects delivers better long-term value for a larger group of students than paying for Graduation gown hire. It is also fairer considering the impact of the industrial action has varied significantly across different Schools, with many students experiencing little or no disruption. Students graduating this year have benefited from the improvements introduced following the 2018 strike, in a way that those graduating soon after that period of industrial action could not.

We acknowledge, however, that some students have expressed concern about the costs of graduation. To assist those who face particular hardship, we are pleased to confirm that this year we will be allocating additional funds to our Graduation Bursary. This covers the costs for robe hire and a photograph for those students for whom participating in their graduation ceremony may be impossible without assistance. If students think they may be eligible for this, they should contact graduation@reading.ac.uk to find out more. 

Advice for line managers

Can I ask someone I line manage if they are going to be on strike?

It is permissible to ask a colleague if they are going to be on strike but they are under no obligation to offer this information in advance; repeated requests are unnecessary.

I am a line manager and UCU member. What is the advice for me?

Some line managers are members of the UCU and may be participating in the industrial action, and the University respects their 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 8 strike days our normal expectations will apply.

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