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UCU industrial action - staff FAQs

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  • Overview
  • Communication to University colleagues
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Advice for line managers
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    Overview

    The University & College Union (UCU) has notified the University of industrial action consisting of:

    • Strike action: 1, 2, 3 December 2021
    • Action short of strike (ASOS): commencing from 1 December 2021 and finishing no later than 3 May 2022.

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

    Advice and frequently asked questions for students is available on our Essentials

     

    Communication to University colleagues

     

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is the dispute about?

    UCU is undertaking industrial action in relation to a dispute in respect of proposed changes to the sector-wide USS pension scheme. The University has supported changes to the scheme's benefit structure in order to avoid significant increases in contribution rates for both scheme members and employers.

    What is the University position on the disputes?

    The Vice-Chancellor said in his message to all colleagues in October 2021:

    “In respect of the USS our genuine, albeit reluctant, view is that the changes proposed are necessary to avoid increases in the contribution rates that would price many members (and prospective members) out of the scheme. The increased costs for the University would also threaten our ability to invest in colleagues, the student experience and the general good-running of the University. 

    “The University has always respected the right of our union colleagues to engage in industrial action, but we are also obliged to do all we reasonably can to avoid disruption.”

    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.

    What form will the industrial action take? 

    UCU has notified the University that it will ask its members to take strike action from Wednesday 1 December to Friday 3 December 2021.

    UCU has also informed us that this will be accompanied by a request that its members take Action Short of Strike (ASOS) from 1 December 2021 until 3 May 2022 at the latest. This consists of only working contracted hours and duties and not volunteering to do more. It should be noted that for colleagues on Grade 6 and above there are no specified hours of work but you are required to work such hours as are necessary and reasonable for the proper performance of your duties.

    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. For reference, out of the approximately 730 UCU members eligible to vote, 228 voted in favour of strike action. This was the lowest level of support for strike action in any balloted institution. To put this into context, around 4,300 people work at the University. 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 notified strike action, there are several things you need to know:

    • As with previous periods of industrial action, pay will be deducted for each day of strike action at a rate of 1/365th. Relevant deductions will be made from 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 previous periods of industrial action there were disputes raised 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.

    Will this deduction affect my pension?

    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 HR Director John Brady (j.j.brady@reading.ac.uk) no later than 1 December 2021. 

    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 day 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 1 December 2021 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. In certain circumstances ASOS may 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. The University Executive Board has initially set this deduction at up to 50%. We may, in serious cases where the level of disruption warrants it, consider a higher deduction than 50% for partial performance. This could be up to 100%.

    What would the University consider as “partial performance”?

    The notified UCU action comprises only working contracted hours and duties and not volunteering to do more. For the most part this is not unreasonable (but noting the contractual position in respect of specified hours of work as indicated above), 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. These include the customary ways in which people have worked in their Schools or Functions and the implied duties to follow lawful and reasonable instructions. Therefore, the instruction not to undertake voluntary activities may constitute partial performance, for those activities which are not genuinely voluntary and form part of the reasonable expectations for your role.

    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 (generally acknowledged to be no more than 6 persons at any given time) 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 or intimidated 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 have decided not to participate in the strike action you are free to work as normal. 

    Students, other than those who are also workers employed by the University and party to the dispute, are not entitled to participate on picket lines and should not be induced to do so.

    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 3 strike days our normal expectations will apply. 

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