It is vital that your strike action is recorded, but please don’t record it in advance (recalling HQ instructions and the [USS Action FAQ]).
HR have required that we report strike action from Thursday 22nd to Wednesday 28th February by March 1st (and so on, each time the first day back after striking). They will no doubt be watching closely to see whether members are observing the strike. So, despite onerous mechanisms, let’s send a clear signal that we are united as a Union in support of our pensions. The clearer and louder this message is, the more likely it is that employers will return to negotiations.
We raised members’ serious concerns over the stipulations made by management that each “batch” of strike action be recorded on the days between those batches (incredibly tight timescales) in a formal letter to HR [click here]. It was addressed today in a meeting with the Vice Chancellor and both the Director and Deputy Director of HR. The Director of HR made it clear that they have put these stipulations in place to make it easier for them to “plan” and that this is nothing to do with the technicalities of making payroll deductions (which are planned for the March payroll). This is very disappointing.
However, we note that HR have also supplied staff with an industrial action email address [industrialaction@
We also note that if you are working offsite, the SAP self-service won’t work (you need to be on a campus networked computer) and that the offsite self-service system (Citrix) doesn’t always work for everyone offsite (especially if using a tablet rather than a laptop or desktop).
We further note that it may be unreasonable to expect members who work part-time to report by the deadlines given, if those deadlines happen to fall on a non-working day. We would expect due consideration to be given in these circumstances.
For example you might wish to email if:
We urge you to only report the strike action you have taken up to each reporting point.
UCU Hardship + Fighting Fund Scenarios:
These scenarios illustrate the ways in which our Local Hardship Fund and National Fighting Fund work together, and should help members resolve most queries they have about these schemes.
Please also read the wording of the motion we passed at the 15 February General Meeting which explains how the National Fighting Fund and the Local Hardship Fund work. That’s here: http://www.leedsucu.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Emergency-motion-hardship-fund-1.docx
The first 3/5th of a week’s pay (so three days for anyone full time / salaried) would usually need to have been lost for someone to claim from the national Fighting Fund. That has a daily cap of £50 per member and £500 over the 14 days of strike. BUT our local hardship fund will also be able to pay out up to £50 per day / £500 overall, kicking in for those worst affected by strike deductions in the first 3 days. So, an hourly paid member (e.g. TA) should make claims from the local hardship fund to begin with, and then the national fighting fund from after 3/5th income has gone. But if you lose more than £50 per day, you then have access to both, starting from Day 4 or the point at which 3/5th has been deducted.
Worked example: Member McStrike is hourly paid as a TA and is going to be deep in the muck if they get all their deductions made unless they get help. This is their usual working pattern in week one of the strike:
WEEK ONE: 2 days of action
Monday: hours to the value of £50
Tuesday: no hours
Wednesday: hours to the value of £50
Thursday: hours to the value of £50 (BUT STRIKE)
Friday: no hours (BUT STRIKE)
Their total weekly pay they’d have been due that week is £150. £50 of that has gone because of strike deductions, so that’s under 3/5th of their weekly earnings. BUT because UCU has prioritised supporting hourly paid and precarious and otherwise financially vulnerable folks, that £50 is covered by the local hardship fund and they should claim, explaining their circumstances. They continue claiming from local funds til they hit 3/5th loss (probably early the following week if their week followed the same hourly pattern). For example—:
WEEK TWO: 3 days of action
Monday: hours to the value of £50 (BUT STRIKE)
Tuesday: no hours (NB STRIKE)
Wednesday: hours to the value of £50 (BUT STRIKE)
Thursday: hours to the value of £50
Friday: no hours
This week they hit the 3/5th of their weekly earnings point at £40 into the first day. So they claim £40 from the local fund and £10 from the national (we will help coordinate this!) on Monday of Week 2 in this example. Then the £50 that is deducted on Wednesday in Week 2 would probably come from the national fund (subject to decisions we may make with HQ about whether it’s easier for us to support that claim if it’s at that level—either way it will be supported, and complicated bits done by branch officers with HQ).
Now we’re heading into Week 3, but Member McStrike was due to have a different work pattern (e.g. because of extra contact time or office hours, etc):
WEEK THREE: 4 days of action
Monday: hours to the value of £60 (BUT STRIKE)
Tuesday: hours to the value of £80 (BUT STRIKE)
Wednesday: hours to the value of £20 (BUT STRIKE)
Thursday: hours to the value of £50 (BUT STRIKE)
Friday: no hours
On Monday and Tuesday of this example week the member would claim from a combination of both local and national funds (again we would help coordinate this). On Wednesday and Thursday it’s probably coming out of national, but again as above, we might make some decisions as we go about the practicalities of getting members the money from these claims from one or the other—but it would be sorted).
And so on…
N.B. We have permission from UCU HQ to waive the £50 daily cap for the local Hardship Fund such that we can decide to support a member in hardship who is actually only paid on the day of teaching but does the work across other days and can spread the daily limit to those other days. This means that if you were due to earn over (for example) £150 on one strike day, and have other days where you don’t work, we will be allowed to take the way your “earnings week” is scrunched up in a way that is different for full time, salaried staff.
E.g. WEEK ONE: 2 days of action
Monday: hours to the value of £50
Tuesday: no hours
Wednesday: no hours
Thursday: hours to the value of £150 (BUT STRIKE)
Friday: no hours (BUT STRIKE)
In this situation the local hardship fund could pay you up to £150 for the Thursday. We will still be subject to the overall cap of £500 per member for the local fund, but between that and the fact the National Fund will kick in at the 3/5th of lost earnings point, we hope significant reassurance is there for hourly paid staff. We have also been advised that once the 3/5th of a working week qualifying period ceases to be a factor in agreeing claims (as the strike process extends into the future) there may be more flexibility in the daily cap at national level too, which would allow them to take those “scrunched weeks” into account.
Member O’Union is really worried because they’re on a precarious contract with no guarantee of ongoing employment. They are worried about the financial impact of the strike – while they might just about manage for a bit now, if they don’t get a job offer for after their contract end date, they will be in serious financial trouble.
In this situation: Member O’Union can make claims for days 1-3 locally up to the cap of £50 per day, and they will still be able to claim from day 4 nationally if they need to. Member O’Union will need to make their claim in close communication with the branch officers. The officers, by clearly distinguishing which support is coming from which fund, will be able to confirm that the member is not claiming for the same loss twice.
N.B. If the member can demonstrate that they are in financial dire straits beyond what the national Fighting Fund can cover from day 4 (with a cap of £50 per day) then the branch can assess them for extra provision, but noting this will be capped at £50 per day and can take the member to no more than they would have earned per day (for HMRC compliance), and that there is a £500 overall cap at branch level too.
Member Solidarity will be hit by a combination of deductions that disproportionately affect their overall income, owing to how their part time hours are spread across the week (N.B. this may include members who work compressed hours). Although they have a permanent contract, this leaves them financially vulnerable.
In this situation, the first 3/5th of a week’s pay (three days for anyone full time / salaried, but possibly a different period for part-time Member Solidarity) would usually need to have been lost for someone to claim from the national Fighting Fund. For someone part time, the national fund may kick in before the ‘Day 4’ point that is in place for full-time salaried members. The National Fighting Fund has a daily cap of £50 per member and £500 over the 14 days of strike.
BUT our local hardship fund will also be able to pay out up to £50 per day / £500 overall, kicking in for those worst affected by strike deductions in the first 3 days. So, a part-time member who will be seriously financially affected in the first three days (or 3/5th of weekly earning equivalent) owing to disproportionate impact of deductions can also make claims from the local hardship fund for that first 3 days / first 3/5th of a week’s income lost. Members who would still be disproportionately impacted from Day 4 / after 3/5th onwards may also decide to apply to both.
At Leeds, Member Great-Placards went on strike over the statutes dispute. They are on an ‘ok but not amazing’ salary, but with a permanent contract. Member Great-Placards has already been on strike for 4 days over the local statutes strike in the autumn, and claimed 1 day’s worth of Fighting Fund provision (at that time £75). However, looking at #StrikeForUSS, Member Great-Placards is in a panic because of childcare costs that can’t be refunded even if the places are cancelled during the strike. They are worried about whether those kinds of concerns will be taken into account by the national UCU Fighting Fund because they understand precarious folks will be prioritised and they have a permanent contract. They are aware their branch may be able to look at their situation.
In this situation: Member Great-Placards can make claims for days 1-3 locally up to the cap of £50 per day, and they will still be able to claim from day 4 nationally if they need to. Member Great-Placards will need to make their claim in close communication with the branch officers who, by clear separation of which support is coming from which fund, they will be able to confirm that they are not claiming for the same loss twice.
N.B. If the member can demonstrate that they are in financial dire straits beyond what the national Fighting Fund can cover (with a cap of £50 per day) then the branch can assess them for extra provision, but noting this will be capped at £50 per day and can take them to no more than they would have earned per day (for HMRC compliance) and that there is a £500 overall cap at branch level too.
5. But how do I apply?
The portal for the national fund will look very similar to the last time we had access to it for our Autumn strikes. Remind yourself of the basic processes [here] but bear in mind that HQ will have altered some of the text in light of the decisions taken about how to operate it this time. Read the explanation above for the principles and guidance this time round.
Applications to the local hardship fund will be via a form that will be posted on this website very soon.
You will need to provide evidence:
- That you took strike action (screenshot of HR self-service system / email sent to email@example.com)
- The amount of money deducted from your salary / lost through not logging hourly-paid hours (copy of pay slip for salaried staff / a rota / timetable / other document confirming what you would have otherwise worked for hourly paid staff).
- Any circumstances you would like taken into account (e.g. disproportionate impact on part time hours (including compressed hours); hourly-paid; precarious contract; financial vulnerability)
Note: hourly paid staff should include hours they would have otherwise spent doing prep/marking/other paid activities built into their contract on strike days.
6. But when do I apply?
a) If you are on a salaried contract, you will see deductions made from the March payroll. This means you will be able to supply evidence of the deductions made using your payslip when it is issued in advance of the pay going into your account. We will make sure to remind all members multiple times leading up to this point, and we will be working closely with you and HQ to ensure everything makes sense.
b) If you are hourly paid, meaning you submit a weekly time sheet, you may need to submit two waves claims to the relevant funds: one for February and one for March.We will make sure to remind you lots, and again, we will be working closely with you and HQ to ensure everything makes sense.
Although much normal teaching will be cancelled on the USS strike days, Leeds UCU are once again delighted to offer a range of brilliant educational opportunities, which will be critical, engaging, and FUN. Staff will be offering sessions on a very diverse set of topics, giving up their time for free whilst on strike because we really love teaching, We’re greatly looking forward to welcoming everyone – strikers, students, supporters and the general public.
The full programme is here: https://tinyurl.com/y7hbouhd (keep checking back because details may change)
The sessions will be held from 1-3 pm on each of the strike days except the first (22nd February) when we will be having a march and rally instead. The venue is the Quaker Meeting House on the edge of campus (188 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2 9DX) unless otherwise stated. The Meeting House offers disabled access.
Here are 5 empowering and useful things you can do to make the strike massive + effective:
[Bonus points if you’ve already remembered to email the Vice Chancellor (copy us in!) and to email your MP about defending our livelihoods in retirement!]
Reactions to management communications
Many, many emails continue to land in our inbox from you, from members of other unions, and from students. They all have a common theme: how shocked people have been at the hard line and tone taken in the letters you have all received from senior management in the past days and weeks. In the words of one member, “it beggars belief that they would treat us with such contempt.” We reiterate our deep sadness that the senior management of the University of Leeds – one of the largest UK universities, and a recent “University of the Year” – continues to deny that their voices might hold some sway in getting their own representative body (UUK) back round the negotiating table. We note that the Vice Chancellor used to be Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) from April 2009, having come to Leeds in 2013, and that he regularly talks about how he tries to influence policy via his contacts from that time.
Another member’s email points out, very shrewdly, that an email from 2015 [click here for text] to all staff contained “justifications” for the last round of pension “reforms”. This now makes for interesting reading in the current context. The previous alterations to the scheme were clearly billed as changes that would safeguard USS in the face of falling income from bonds, and yet we’re now being expected to move more of the fund into those same bonds. Remember when UCU warned of this before [click]? Us too.
The rest of this email will take a moment to offer all members some basic points of reassurance and information, and asks all members to focus on what we can all do together to make this strike absolutely massive!
The UCU USS Action FAQs are our friend – many questions are answered [here] – recently updated!
We are in a serious fight, and we are already making an impact. We now need to hold fast to our huge mandate for the industrial action that we voted for: strike, and action short of a strike (ASOS). Please read the FAQs, and remember:
We know that the idea behind the letters we have recently received is to worry staff and to undermine our action. The same is true of inducements offered to register strike action in advance – the intention here is to dilute the impact of our action and this is why we urge all members to observe all aspects of the action as mandated.
The Director of HR’s email contains phrases such “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”. This sounds scary, but is actually a pretty standard HR line which has appeared in previous emails of the same kind. It is designed to intimidate members. However, be assured that it is perfectly normal to refer to taking industrial action as a potential “breach of contract” – it’s basically the point! When industrial action is properly called (as ours has been) we are protected in taking that industrial action. UCU has conducted very close legal scrutiny at every stage of this dispute: the action is properly called, based on a legal ballot. See [here] for more detail on your rights, and the USS Action FAQ:
22. Am I in breach of my contract if I go on strike?
Yes, all industrial action is a potential breach of contract. However, UCU has carried out a legal ballot and the action has been formally called, the law protects workers from dismissal whilst taking part in lawful industrial action or at any time within 12 weeks of the start of the action and, depending on the circumstances, dismissal may also be unfair if it takes place later. This kind of dismissal has never happened in higher education.
If the university was to sue for breach of contract it would have to prove its financial loss. As the only loss in these cases is usually the value of the work (for which the employers will be deducting wages), the loss equals nothing. In the incredibly rare case where loss was the result of something not done, if our employers sued they could look forward to no one ever wanting to apply for a job at Leeds ever again. Reputational damage is a significant risk to any employer considering this, and it is what means employers just don’t do it.
The action our union has called clearly includes working to contract, and not rescheduling classes of teaching activity (as above). For a moment, let’s put to one side the insulting suggestion that trade union members participating in properly called industrial action on the basis of a legal ballot are somehow at odds with concepts of professionalism for defending their professional sector and thereby the education it facilitates. There are some questions to explore around the actual practicalities of management’s assertion that teaching activity missed due to strike action ought to be rearranged.
Those of us who have even a passing familiarity with the timetabling and room bookings systems know that rescheduling would not be simple, even if we were to agree to do it (noting, again, that our mandate is that we do not reschedule). We have already heard of at least one department where the decision has been taken that rescheduling classes cancelled during the strike would be impractical, so it’s not happening. So there is a marked difference emerging between the official line in the Deputy Vice Chancellor’s email and the reality of what other managers have decided to do on the ground.
With some of the workloads members are reporting, rescheduling could indeed take almost the full working week with only passing capacity to walk between teaching venues / check emails. Of course, our action entails not rescheduling.
Our task now is to focus on defending our pensions.
We must prevent the USS scheme from becoming decimated further still for new and future entrants to USS. We need to stick together: all members are asked to observe the action to the fullest extent, particularly with respect to striking and refusing to reschedule. As the FAQ makes clear, this is part of the ASOS that applies at every level, including Heads of Department.
We have been completely *inundated* with students copying us into their letters to the Vice Chancellor. On Thursday night “Leeds Students Support UCU” created an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor regarding the upcoming strike action, which asks him to use his position and influence to call on UUK to return to negotiations. It’s gathering student signatures apace – if you want to take a peek, and especially if you want to share it on with students and/or on social media, it’s here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1vnCsfv12Y-NNAMFGsfcLdm3n-epIdB3szvd90EQRZ38/edit
Our lovely students specifically wrote to the UCU committee yesterday to let us know they have done this “to show and confirm that you have a strong student backing, should you currently feel disheartened (particularly following the email you received from HR yesterday afternoon.)”
If you feel you will be hit disproportionately by the deductions, and especially if you are concerned about your ability to observe the strike, please be reassured that your personal situation will be taken into account. The National Fighting Fund was tasked by the HEC to prioritise members on hourly paid and other precarious contracts, and to support people who would be left financially vulnerable after deductions.
On 15 February, our branch agreed to set up a local branch Hardship fund to supplement provision from the National Fighting Fund. The local Hardship fund is designed to complement the provision from the National Fighting Fund, and where possible to fill in any potential “gaps”. Its remit includes consideration of the impact made by any ASOS deductions.
The full text of the motion is [here] and associated guidance from HQ can be found [here] and [here]. We are pleased to report that the relevant bank account now exists as “UCU Leeds LA29 Hardship Fund”. Please do read the motion text – it’s long, but it sets out the remit of both quite clearly. We’re working on a page of the website to take members through the process as clearly as possible, and to provide some worked examples.
Some members have written to ask where they can donate to the Fighting Fund and/or local Hardship Fund, as they feel able to weather the deductions and want to help others. This is the biggest action our union has ever taken, so if you (or people you know) are able to donate to either fund, please do – it will make a difference.
To mark the first day of our massive strike in defence of our pensions we’re having a big march and rally on 22 February.
We’ll be assembling from 11.30 on the Parkinson Building steps, setting off at 12pm, and marching to outside Leeds City Art Gallery (Victoria Gardens), where the rally will start approximately 12.30pm (depending on how long the march takes!).
If you’re on Facebook you can sign up to this Facebook event
We hope to see as many members, students and supporters there as possible!