Text from branch president Ben Plumpton’s email to members 19th November
Our strikes are coming up, starting next week – Monday 25th November to Wednesday 4th December. You will have received an email yesterday from the HR Director setting out our management’s plans for deductions. The tone of this letter will have been read, understandably, by many of you as threatening, which is a sign that across the UK university managements are worried – they saw how solid and steadfast our USS strikes were last year, and that we won the fight to keep defined benefit pensions. The employer bodies are hoping we can’t do it again. Don’t let them frighten you – we are strong and we can definitely do it again! We need to take this action to put a stop to ever-increasing casualisation and impossible workloads, to improve pay equality, and to stop the increase in pension contributions.
We know striking is hard. No-one wants to strike, no-one wants to harm education and research. But if everyone takes strike action, the strike is more effective and employers are forced to negotiate sooner and better. If we don’t do this, things will get worse, our health will suffer, research will suffer and students will suffer. We know that Leeds members recognised this because you voted so strongly in favour of industrial action. Now is the time to stand together.
How to strike
- Don’t do any work on the strike days. This includes working from home or anywhere else, and covers anything you do because you work for the university.
- Don’t inform management in advance that you will be striking, and don’t rearrange things to avoid the strike days. The Director of Human Resources has asked you by letter to notify the university via the ESS system before the strike starts that you intend to strike. You have a legal right to refuse to do this and we advise you to exercise that right. You should, however, notify the university once you are back at work. This is important as it demonstrates the strength of the strike.
- Do talk to your students about why you will be striking. You could also mention that the NUS is very supportive of our strikes, see this video and this Twitter thread, and that a group of Leeds students have started an excellent Open Letter which you could encourage students to sign, see https://forms.gle/RnMNd8EK1CrwqiyJA We have produced some example slides you could use or adapt.
- We would recommend not blocking out your calendar or refusing meeting invitations on strike days as this makes it obvious you will be on strike!
- Set an automatic reply for the strike days explaining that you are on strike and why.
- Come to the edge of campus and join our pickets, rallies and marches. We’d love it if you made your own signs, your USS strike ones were funny and clever! Be sure to wrap up warm and waterproofed. Sign up for picketing here (The pickets run from 7:30 – 11:30 am each day, meet at the main entrance).
- If you want to picket and have particular needs we are keen to provide support and adjustments so that you can join us. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how we can make that work for you.
- We’ll have a rally after picketing each day at 11:30 on the Parkinson steps, and a march on the final day. Children and dogs welcome!
- We know not everyone can do morning picketing, so do join us online via social media support and publicity, and please come to the marches and rallies if you can.
- You don’t have to come in to picket every day! Take time for yourself too.
- See the UCU FAQ on industrial action for more information.
Action short of a strike (ASOS)
We start ASOS technically from 25th November but effectively from our first day back after the strikes, i.e. Thursday 5th December. This involves:
- working to contract;
- not covering for absent colleagues;
- not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action;
- not undertaking any voluntary activities.
Yesterday’s email containing letters from Francesca Fowler and Tom Ward talks about the recovery of missed learning after the strike period. Please note that this does not refer to missed teaching; you should not reschedule or otherwise recover missed teaching. We are pleased to see that, unlike in 2018, the University is not threatening to deduct pay for staff who refuse to reschedule teaching. However, they are still threatening to deduct pay for ‘partial performance’. We will be providing you with further guidance about this soon, but in the meantime please refer to UCU FAQ on industrial action and the UCU FAQ on working to contract.
We note that after the 2018 USS strikes, similar threats of deducting pay for ASOS were quietly dropped – to our knowledge no-one at Leeds had pay deducted for ASOS. This was the case more generally across HE – university managements backed down as a result of the strength of our action, in order to avoid reputational damage, and to avoid further deterioration in working relationships.
For those who have marking coming in between now and the end of term, please note in particular the advice on marking within the UCU working to contract FAQ. If, after having taken strike action and working to contract following UCU guidelines, you are unable to complete your marking by the deadlines set, you should let your Head of School know. This is true in all cases, but doubly so if your marking time is reduced by the failings of Minerva or the December Minerva downtime.
Working to contract is an essential part of the overall action which we are taking. It ensures that you cannot be required to make up the hours lost to strike action, because your absolute maximum working time should be the legal maximum of 48 hours per week (it’s worth knowing, however, that the university calculates sick and holiday pay on the assumption that you work 37.5 hours per week). Please take seriously the advice in the FAQ to refer matters to your line manager/Head of School – this is the best way of making the impact of the work to contract visible. If you have any concerns about how your line manager responds to you, get in touch with email@example.com. If you are a line manager, please escalate every concern raised with you to senior management, work to contract yourself (don’t cover for other staff) and let staff know that you support and respect the work to contract action.
- You lose a day’s pay for every day you strike, calculated at 1/365 of your annual salary for full time staff, and pro rata for part time staff. If you are hourly paid you lose the payment for the hours you don’t work. If you have any queries about exactly how the deductions would work in your case, you could ask HR (making clear that you need to know *in case* you decide to strike).
- You don’t pay tax and NI on the salary you don’t get, so your net loss for 8 days strike is a bit less (this site is useful for tax calculations listentotaxman.com).
- The letter from HR says that strike deductions will all be deducted in your January pay. I took a motion to the university Senate proposing that the deductions should be spread over several months, as many other universities did last year, and Senate voted to pass that request to University Council. It is, of course, open to the VC to give effect to this best practice policy without the instruction of Council and we continue to call upon him to do so, respecting the will of Senate and following the example of many universities in 2018.
- If striking will cause you financial difficulty, UCUcan support you. There is a national Strike Fund, plus a local Hardship Fund which can be used to top up the national payments. We particularly want to help members on part time or fixed term contracts, members paying visa, ILR and NHS surcharge costs, and those in precarious financial positions. The details of these two funds are covered in a separate email yesterday from Jonathan Saha, branch treasurer (online at www.leedsucu.org.uk/fighting-fund-and-hardship-fund). But basically, we hope that this support means no-one will be deterred from striking.
- Higher paid and permanent members are encouraged to donate to our Hardship Fund to support their colleagues – details of how to donate here. We are also planning benefit gigs and other fundraising for the Hardship Fund – all help with this is welcome.
- If you are on a Tier 2 visa, Home Office guidelines now specify that that striking doesn’t count as unauthorised absence. Our university management has confirmed that they will follow these guidelines, including not reporting salary reductions caused by lawful strike action. If you encounter any difficulty with your department about this please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- If you are a UCU member on a Tier 4 (student) visa and doing paid teaching, your teaching work is not a visa requirement, so you can strike from that.
- If you are a student member (undergraduate or postgraduate) on a Tier 4 visa you should attend all lectures and study activities as normal or it is likely to be counted as an unauthorised absence, reportable to the Home Office. So unfortunately you will need to cross our picket lines. But you can still support the strike on social media, by talking to fellow students about the strikes, and by joining our marches and rallies when you can.
- See the UCU FAQ for Migrant workers and taking action for full details on these issues.
- Your union wants to fully support migrant members in every way we can, so let us know if you have any other queries.
‘Striking Insights’ Teach Outs
As last year, we are organising an exciting programme of alternative lectures and seminars, open to all, offered by strikers so that students can have some brilliant educational opportunities on topics they might not normally come across. We will email you with more details shortly. If you’d like to offer a session please email email@example.com
We are receiving a lot of emails with various questions about the strike action, ASOS and deductions. Please bear with us if it takes a while for us to reply personally. In the meantime please check the UCU FAQs at www.ucu.org.uk/heaction which have been compiled incorporating legal advice.
I found standing on a picket lines last year was an amazing experience. I had many memorable conversations with colleagues and students, I learned lots at the teach outs, we had fun singing and dancing. The solidarity felt tangible. It renewed my faith in what a wonderful group of people UCU members are and how much you care about education and making a better world.
Let’s support each other, stand strong together, and win these disputes!
See you soon,
Ben & the committee
University of Leeds UCU President