2021-22 Industrial Action FAQs

25 November 2021

Below you can find answers to:

  • Why are we striking again?
  • I am a teaching assistant or a demonstrator, am I eligible to strike? Am I in danger of losing my job if I do?
  • What if I cannot afford to strike for the entire 3 days?
  • I am a teaching assistant or a demonstrator, am I eligible to apply to the strike fund?
  • Has UCU negotiated with Queen’s management to try to resolve the issues underpinning the strike?
  • Is it fair to take this action and damage the education of a cohort of student who have suffered so much because of the COVID pandemic?
  • Who takes the decision to strike?
  • What are the plans for the strike days?
  • What if I cannot afford to strike for the entire 3 days?
  • What should I tell my students?
  • I am about to join UCU, but was not a member when the strike was called. Can I join the strike?
  • I am on probation; will going on strike have a negative impact on me?
  • I am an international staff member on a work visa, will striking jeopardise my visa?
  • Do I strike only on days when I am teaching?
  • My line manager is asking me if I intend to go on strike, how should I respond?
  • I am participating in an event away from the university during the strike days, should I attend?
  • Are UCU members in Queen’s striking despite a response rate in the strike ballot that is lower than those in other parts of the UK?
  • Is this relatively low response rate in the strike ballot any indication of the willingness of members in Queen’s to participate in the strike?

 

Why are we striking again?

You were balloted on two separate issues: the four fights and the dispute around the USS pension scheme. We are striking about both issues. The four fights refer to the problems around excessive workloads, the use of casualised contracts, the fact that there are still substantial gender and ethnicity pay gaps and that pay has not been increased in line with inflation. If you want to get a sense of what your pay would be like if pay had kept in line with inflation you can use the pay calculator here.

The issues on pensions recommenced because of a (questionable) valuation that was carried out on the 31st March 2020 that showed that there was a shortfall in the fund. You can read about how UCU proposed resolving the problems caused here. You will also read how UCU’s proposal were not considered by the joint negotiation committee on pensions. Employers instead forced through a proposal that would see cuts of a third to the average members defined benefits. To better understand the effect these pensions cuts would have on your income in retirement you can use the modeller here.

 

I am a teaching assistant or a demonstrator, am I eligible to strike? Am I in danger of losing my job if I do?

As a Union member you are protected by law from being penalised for striking in any way, except for a deduction of your pay for your strike days. We would strongly encourage you to participate in the industrial action on Wednesday 3rd December. We need to hear from as many members who are paid through the Qwork system about their experience so that we can present the problems with this system to management.

 

What if I cannot afford to strike for the entire 3 days?

We ask all members to support the strike as much as they can and to make use of the Strike Fund if needed. However, if for any reason, you cannot strike for the entire period we ask that you think strategically about when it is that you do strike. The purpose of the strike is to disrupt teaching and university business.

 

Will I be able to get compensation for the deduction in pay for the strike days?

There are both local and national strike funds that offer partial reimbursement for the pay deducted for the days you strike. A relatively low cap is put on claims, as they are in place to alleviate hardship, not to offer full compensation for lost pay. Follow this link for more details on eligibility and application to the national strike fund. Further details regarding how you can apply to the local fund will be circulated in due course.

 

I am a teaching assistant or a demonstrator, am I eligible to apply to the strike fund?

Yes, you are. Also note that if you are on a casualised contract paid through Qwork, you will not need to provide a pay slip in order to obtain money from the strike fund.

 

Has UCU negotiated with Queen’s management to try to resolve the issues underpinning the strike?

Your UCU officers at Queen’s serve on two university committees with management: JCC and JCNC. On JCC we are joined by our sister unions NIPSAA and UNITE. JCNC, meanwhile, is used to discuss matters that affect UCU members but that do not affect the other unions. Your health and safety officer also serves on a number of university health and safety committees. During COVID we have had JCC meetings every two weeks. Management are certainly willing to talk about the issues that affect staff. Meaningful change, however, that addresses issues around workload and casualisation is slow.

On pay and pensions, Queen’s argues that these are a national dispute that the university cannot resolve unilaterally. This statement ignores the fact that our management is represented on the committees that make these national decisions.

If you look at the case of pensions, a number of other universities wrote joint statements with their local UCU branches that sought to challenge the valuation and approach proposed by USS and the pensions regulator. Your local UCU officers tried to issue a similar joint statement with Queen’s management. We sent them a draft statement in mid-August and heard nothing back until after the employers group had forced a proposal through the joint negotiating committee that would cut defined pensions by a third. We withdrew the statement at that point as we felt that the content of the statement was no longer relevant. Similarly, we sent the UCU proposals on the pensions scheme to management at Queen’s on the 12th November for comment. We are yet to hear anything back.

 

Is it fair to take this action and damage the education of a cohort of student who have suffered so much because of the COVID pandemic?

The students union supports our action. They ran a referendum to determine what stance they should take. 84.6% of the students who voted support our strike action. Students understand that our working conditions are their learning conditions and stand with us in wanting them improved.

 

Who takes the decision to strike?

All negotiations with our employers and decisions on industrial action are taken by the UCU Higher Education Committee (HEC). The HEC is a democratically elected committee of UCU. Once a serious proposal for resolving these disputes is presented by the employers, the HEC will consult all members on whether or not to continue with the strike.

 

What are the plans for the strike days?

The theme for the first strike day is the damage that the modern university does to staff and students. The second day will focus on the structural problems with universities and the way that these perpetuate societal inequalities. The final day will focus on the issue of casualisation and will seek to further our campaign on this issue. On each day we will have pickets in the morning and an online session Zoom session with talks and discussion from 14:30 till 16:00 in the afternoon. Please do tell us what you would like to see as we would like our pickets and activities to be as lively as possible. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more details on the program for strike action in the coming days.

 

What should I tell my students?

We will circulate an email you can use as a template for writing to your students. Please ask them to get in touch with the Student Union, as they are having meetings with students and communicating with them about the strike. Most importantly, please be sure to tell your students that we do not consider going on strike lightly and that we are only using this extreme measure as a last resource. You can tell them that we lose pay for every day that we strike (most students are not aware of that), and that we share their frustration. You can also urge them to express their dismay by writing directly to University Management and to the VC.

 

I am about to join UCU, but was not a member when the strike was called. Can I join the strike?

As soon as you become a member you have the right to strike (even if you joined after the strike was called).

 

I am on probation; will going on strike have a negative impact on me?

If you are a UCU member you have the right to strike in officially sanctioned industrial actions. Striking is your legal right and should have no negative impact on your employment or on your confirmation in post.

 

I am an international staff member on a work visa, will striking jeopardise my visa?

According to the new Home office regulations, employers are no longer asked to report on the absence of staff on work visas due to strike days. International staff are therefore not in risk of losing their visas when participating in strike action.

 

Do I strike only on days when I am teaching?

Strike action is not limited to certain activities – if you are striking then you should not be doing any work for the employer. This includes meeting with students, participating in meetings, presenting in seminars/conferences/public talks, answering emails or doing any administrative work.

 

My line manager is asking me if I intend to go on strike, how should I respond?

You are under no obligation to share your plans to strike. The objective of a strike is to disrupt, declaring your intention will reduce the impact and effectiveness of industrial action. You are only obligated to declare which days you were on strike retrospectively.

 

I am participating in an event away from the university during the strike days, should I attend?

If you are representing the university or are attending in your capacity as an academic, then you should not attend.

 

Are UCU members in Queen’s striking despite a response rate in the strike ballot that is lower than those in other parts of the UK?

Yes, the law in Norther Ireland does not condition the ability of unions to strike based on ballot participation.

 

Is this relatively low response rate in the strike ballot any indication of the willingness of members in Queen’s to participate in the strike?

From our experience, the ballot response rates do not serve as an indicator for the willingness of our members to participate in the strike. We had similar response rates in the ballot leading up to the 2018 and the 2019-20 industrial actions, and that did not translate into a low engagement with that strike.