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Industrial action commencing 25 November - message from HR Director

John Brady

This message from HR Director John Brady about the industrial action commencing 15 November 2019 has gone out to all colleagues at the University

Dear colleagues,

Further to last week’s message from the Vice-Chancellor, I am writing to provide further and more detailed information regarding the forthcoming industrial action.

UCU has given notification of strike action over two periods: 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 November 2019 and 2, 3, 4 December 2019. It has also given notice of continuous action short of strike (ASOS) commencing from 25 November 2019 and finishing no later than 29 April 2020.

The right to take industrial action is acknowledged, but the University is committed to ensuring the quality and value of our students’ learning experience. Recent guidance from the Office for Students has also made very clear our significant obligations to minimise disruption to our students and other University business. With this in mind, we will respond in a reasonable and appropriate way to the UCU action.

The aim of this note is to set out for colleagues as clearly as possible in one place all of the most important implications, including financial and legal, of strike action, but if you have questions or concerns about what this might mean for you, please do not hesitate to contact me at j.j.brady@reading.ac.uk.

Participation in strike action

If you are participating in the notified 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.
  • 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 me at 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 me know as soon as possible.
  • When pay is deducted for strike days the University has to make exceptional arrangements to maintain pension contributions. Your agreement is required to maintain normal pension contributions for those days you are on strike. If you wish to maintain your pension contributions in these circumstances please confirm by e-mail to j.j.brady@reading.ac.uk no later than Monday 25 November 2019.
  • When you return to full duties, the University may require 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.

Participation in action short of strike (ASOS)

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 sharing materials relating to lectures or classes cancelled as a result of strike action; and
  • not undertaking any voluntary activities.

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 2019 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 me at 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 reserves the right to make deductions from pay where breaches of contract occur.
  • This means that the University is not legally obliged to pay you in full if you only partially perform your contractual duties. This could lead to a deduction of up to 100% of pay. However, the University Executive Board has decided that, in the first instance, any partial performance resulting in a breach of contract will result in 25% of pay being withheld on each day that such a breach occurs. The payment of the remaining 75% of salary is discretionary and made on an entirely voluntary and ex-gratia basis. 
  • There may be 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 as well as the express terms of your written contract of employment, there are other implied terms that are also 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, 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 and be a breach of contract. On the other hand, 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. 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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.

Additional information

The following points are based on queries received during the last period of industrial action:

  • Some colleagues may enquire about taking annual leave or working from home during the strike action. Any existing annual leave bookings should of course be honoured. Line managers should 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.
  • UCU colleagues are likely to maintain small picket lines at various entrances to our campuses on the days of strike action. 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, and I am sure that your UCU colleagues will be respectful of your personal decision. 
  • It is reasonable for line managers to ask other colleagues to cover duties disrupted by the industrial action as long as it does not over-burden people or does not require them to take on duties that they are not competent or trained to perform.
  • 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. 
  • If the dispute is prolonged beyond the currently notified dates, it will be even more important for all of us to be respectful of each other’s decisions, whether that be to continue with strike action, to return to work or to have been at work fully during the dispute. By way of a reminder, 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.
  • Equally, colleagues on picket lines can hand out leaflets and ask you not to cross their line; however, they should not make repeated requests or impede you in any way. During the previous period of industrial action I had isolated reports of slightly acrimonious exchanges between colleagues – please don’t forget that we all have to continue to work together during and beyond this dispute. I also had a few reports of colleagues and members of the public finding some banners that had been displayed offensive – please think of the message you want to send out and reflect on how it might impact on others. 
  • 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.

If you have any concerns or require further information or clarification, please contact me or the Human Resources Partner for your area.

John Brady

Director of Human Resources

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