Advice on refusing to reschedule lectures and classes during industrial action short of a strike (ASOS), from branch president Vicky Blake’s email 9 March 2018
Do not reschedule your teaching, do not provide any replacement materials!
While back at work, we are observing Action Short Of Strike (ASOS) which specifically includes not rescheduling any teaching activity, and not rescheduling any activity connected with rescheduling or “making up” work connected to missed teaching. This, like taking strike action, is technically a “breach of contract”. Do not allow language like that to frighten you because it is a protected form of action under our legally called ballot. As a reminder, from the [FAQ] our ASOS means:
- work to contract;
- do not cover for absent colleagues;
- do not reschedule lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action;
- do not undertake any voluntary activities
Under the University’s punitive ASOS policy, management have decided to withhold 25% of pay for those who observe the specific parts of ASOS relating to a refusal to reschedule teaching, and a refusal to provide cover for absent colleagues. The local hardship and national fighting funds are being extended to cover those who would be tipped into financial problems if these deductions are made. Many other universities who began with position have rescinded their punitive policies under pressure, and some have even agreed to spread the load of deductions made for industrial action across several months.
The Vice Chancellor’s email yesterday, and the Director of HR’s email on 15 February framed the 25% deductions being made for not rescheduling teaching and refusing to provide cover under ASOS as if this is a reasonable thing to do. Be very clear: we cannot remember a time when such deductions have been made for ASOS, and the coordinated action among several employers to do this is unprecedented. It is “legal but nasty” and considered inadvisable by many precisely because it poisons relations with staff. Remember our previous advice [as on Monday with update here] and note that we are calling on all External Examiners and Alumni, or others connected with the University of Leeds to consider their position.
Do not waver – hold the line. We are winning ground in this dispute. It is essential to keep up the pressure presented by industrial action because it is driving our negotiations forwards. Every one of us that holds the line over strike action and ASOS is a direct support to the negotiators in the room with UUK and ACAS, fighting for a decent quality of life in retirement. We are entirely reasonable and justified in mounting this defence of our pensions, and as a result, of the quality of higher education.
Queries over “providing cover”
Refusing to provide cover is a breach of contract, if providing cover would normally be in your contract. It is protected by our legal and properly called ASOS in this dispute. Most of us have a clause around performing “duties commensurate with the role” or similar wording in our contracts. Our ASOS protects us from disciplinary action if we breach our contract by refusing to reschedule teaching missed during strike action (and related activity) if instructed / asked, and also if we refuse to provide cover for someone’s teaching activity missed during strike action. It also covers us for refusing to cover an absent colleague. Here is an example of how to observe ASOS:
In my job, as an academic related member of staff in widening participation, I could be asked to organise a school visit day for someone else if they were unable to do it. Under ASOS, I would say no (refusal to provide cover for an absent colleague). However I could not be reasonably asked to fix the plumbing (I would say no – this is not a breach of contract because it’s not in my contract and I am not qualified). I might be asked to reschedule the organisation of some recruitment interviews as part of my role, because it would normally have been done before but I was on strike. As I am observing ASOS I would say “ok, that’s fine but please tell me what to drop in order that I can prioritise that”.
Under ASOS you should:
- Read the USS Action FAQs, especially points 4-10:
- Work to contract (your 37.5 nominal working hours) and enjoy free time (remind yourself what it is)
- Comply with reasonable instructions from managers that require you to act within your role and duties, unless it is an activity falling under ASOS
- Only continue to undertake work that is you are qualified to do it and which is safe
- Ask your manager / equivalent what you should drop if they require you to prioritise specific tasks
Under ASOS you should not:
- cover for absent colleagues;
- reschedule lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action;
- undertake any voluntary activities
- do anything you are unqualified to do or which is not safe