UCU Strikes: FAQ's

As many of you are aware, UCU is currently considering taking strike action or another form of industrial action. Read our frequently asked questions here.

As many of you are aware, UCU is currently considering taking strike action or another form of industrial action. We’re receiving lots of questions from you about this, so we’ve put this FAQ together to help you understand what UCU is, the issues UCU members are facing and what to expect this term.  


Update 4 November:

The UCU ballot has ended, and the results of the pensions ballot have been publicised. At QMUL, the majority voted for the strikes, but the number of votes received was less than 50% of the eligible voters. The results of the ballot relating to the four fights have not been published yet.

This means that we currently don’t know whether strikes or action short of a strike will go ahead. When we know more, we’ll update this page again.


Update 8 November:

We now have the full results of the UCU strike ballot. For both ballots (the one about pensions and the one about the four fights), UCU members at QMUL voted in favour of strike action, but the number of votes was less than 50% of eligible voters. This means that UCU members at QMUL do not have a mandate to strike.

UCU is currently deciding on the next steps. Currently, UCU is considering the possibility of re-balloting branches that didn’t meet the 50% turnout requirement. If this plan goes ahead, UCU members at QMUL (and some other universities) will be asked to take part in a new ballot. If this ballot reaches a turnout of 50% and members still vote in favour of strike action, strikes may go ahead at QMUL.

UCU’s Higher Education Committee will meet on 12 November to make a decision about the next steps. When we know the outcome of the meeting, we will update the FAQ.


What is UCU? 

The University and College Union (UCU) is a trade union that represents over 130,000 members. The members of UCU include academics, lecturers, researchers, librarians, postgraduates and other members of staff at universities and other education organisations in the UK. 

Like other trade unions, UCU represents its members on matters such as pay, pensions, workload, contracts, equality, working conditions and health and safety. 


Why are we talking about strikes? 

Members of UCU are dissatisfied with pay, workload, equality, casualisation and changes to their pension scheme. UCU have been negotiating with employers to improve pay and working conditions and to find an acceptable solution to the dispute about the pension scheme, but so far, these negotiations have not achieved an outcome that UCU is satisfied with. UCU is now considering alternative approaches – industrial action, which could include strikes. 


So will there definitely be strikes? 

We don’t know yet. 

To decide whether to strike (or take action short of a strike), UCU is balloting its members. This means that UCU members get to vote on whether they want to strike or not. They also have the option to take action short of a strike – this could for example be to boycott marking and assessment (this is just an example, action short of a strike can also take other forms). Until the ballot has been completed, we will not know whether UCU members have voted to strike or take action short of a strike. 


When will we know then? 

The ballot is open until 4 November. After this, UCU will count the results and make a decision. We expect a decision around Monday 8 November, but it could be sooner or later. 


What does this have to do with Queen Mary? 

Many staff members (and postgraduates) at Queen Mary are members of UCU. UCU members at Queen Mary are also affected by the issues relating to pay, workload, equality and casualisation, and they are affected by the changes to their pension scheme. 

Members of UCU at Queen Mary are currently invited to take part in the ballot and may decide to strike or take action short of a strike. 


What happens if there’s a strike? 

UCU members that are striking will not be working. This means that you may experience that some of your teaching activities are cancelled. For example, you may experience that your lectures for a module are cancelled because the lecturer is on strike. The strikes may also affect other services, such as the Library (remember that librarians can also be members of UCU, so they may also take part in a strike).  

If strikes take place, they will be on specific days that are announced after the result of the ballot is known, so you will know which days there will be strike action. The exact days are decided by UCU and may be spread out across multiple weeks. 


And what about action short of a strike? 

It would depend on the exact nature of the action short of a strike. In the past, UCU has taken various forms of action short of a strike. An example of this is working to contract, which means that UCU members only work the hours they are contracted to, even if this means that there are tasks they are unable to complete. Another example is not covering work for colleagues that are absent.  


What’s the problem about pensions? 

Good question! A valuation of the USS Pension Scheme was conducted in 2020, and as a result of this, members and employers have been told that they need to pay more money into the pension scheme to ensure there is enough funding to keep the pension scheme running. UCU and Universities UK have challenged the valuation (they don’t think these increases in the amounts paid in are necessary), but so far, it hasn’t been possible to find a solution that everyone can agree on. Universities UK has proposed a solution that would drastically change the scheme, and UCU is fighting against these changes. 

Want to know more about the details?  


And how about the issues relating to pay and conditions? 

UCU have four fights: Pay, workload, equality and casualisation. The four fights cover a number of specific issues, for example, calling for a full equal pay audit, payment to all staff for extra hours worked, and local action plans for reduce work-related stress. 

UCU have created an infographic that explain the four fights. 


I’m a postgrad, and I’m also employed by the university – how does this affect me? 

If you are a member of UCU, UCU should be informing you about the ballot and the outcome of the ballot. The local branch of UCU also has lots of information on their website that you may find helpful. 

The Students’ Union represents postgrads in matters relating to your experience as students, but we are not able to help you with employment disputes or matters relating to your employment. Please contact UCU if you are experiencing issues relating to your employment. 


What is the Students’ Union going to do about this? 

We know this is a topic that many students want to have a say about, so we are currently gathering feedback from students. If you want to let us know what you think our stance should be, you can pop in to one of our Exec on Tour sessions. You can also complete this short online feedback form

This issue will be debated at the Annual Members Meeting on 23 November at 6pm. The meeting is open to all students, and all students can vote and take part in the debates. If you want to, you can also submit your own motion (about the strikes or any other topic). 


I have another question – can you add it to this FAQ? 

If you have a question that hasn’t been answered by this FAQ, you can email it to us on su-representation@qmul.ac.uk


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