2022-23 Industrial Action FAQs

18 November 2022

  • New to industrial action? Please find an introduction prepared by the officers here: UCU new member strike advice
  • Are you a PGR or TA at QUB? Please find specialised information prepared for you here: UCU PGs TAs

 

UCU at QUB local FAQs:

Below we have developed some answers to questions that local members often ask:

  • 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 students 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?

 

Why are we striking again?

In the HE “UCU Rising” dispute, you were balloted on two separate issues: pay & working conditions, and cuts to pensions. We are striking about both issues. Problems around excessive workloads, the use of casualised contracts, the fact that there are still substantial gender, ethnicity, and disability pay gaps and that pay has not been increased in line with inflation, including during the current severe cost of living crisis. 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. Employers forced through an average 35% pension income cut. To better understand the effect the 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. We still need to hear from as many members who are paid through the Qwork system as possible about their experience, so that we can continue to present the problems with this system to management.

QUB UCU will make up 100% of TA pay lost during the strike. Please email UCU-Officers@qub.ac.uk regarding lost TA pay.

 

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 in order to get employers to negotiate meaningfully.

 

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.

 

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 (Joint Consultative Committee) and JCNC (Joint Consultative and Negotiating Committee). 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. Management are certainly willing to talk about the issues that affect staff and the joint agreement negotiated with management by UCU and agreed on July 1 2022 has been helpful to this end. Meaningful change, however, that addresses issues around workload and casualisation, is still 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 2021 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 2021 for comment. The joint agreement of July 1 2022 sets out the current state of affairs on the pensions issue.

 

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

The Students Union at Queen’s supports our action, and recently passed a motion declaring support for the 2022-23 action by UCU. We are grateful to the Student Union for their support.

In 2021, the SU ran a referendum to determine what stance they should take on that year’s industrial dispute. 84.6% of the students who voted support our strike action. Students understand that staff 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?

On all three days our action will draw attention to the ways in which staff working conditions, and thus student learning conditions, are being harmed by pay and pension injustice, casualization and precarious employment practices, and dangerously high workloads.

On each day we will have pickets in the morning from 8am and a rally. On Wednesday 30th November we plan to hold a joint Alternative University event with the Student Union.

Please do tell us what you would like to see – we would like our pickets and activities to be as lively as possible. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more details on the programme for strike action in the coming days.

 

What should I tell my students?

We will circulate an email that you can use as a template for writing to your students. Please ask students to get in touch with the Student Union about this 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 resort. You can tell them that striking staff lose pay for every day that we strike (most students are not aware of that), and that we share students’ frustration. You can also urge students 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. If you have any concerns, please email UCU-Officers@qub.ac.uk

 

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. We recognise that maintaining visa status is an important concern for international staff and postgraduate students – please email questions UCU-Officers@qub.ac.uk

 

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. Some staff share information with their students as a courtesy to students.

 

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.