UCU Strikes - Updated FAQ

Further strike action will take place during May. Read our handy guide that provides further information and some FAQs

Earlier this academic year, we published an FAQ about industrial action from UCU. It has now been confirmed that industrial action continues during the exam and marking period, so we’ve updated the FAQ with the latest information.? 

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. For this reason, UCU is now planning to take action short of a strike and strike action.? 

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.? 

UCU has now asked its members what they want to do, and UCU members at QMUL have voted to take action short of a strike and strike action this spring.? 

May 2022 Update: In addition to the main dispute about pensions and working conditions, the local UCU branch at Queen Mary is also engaging in industrial action as a response to the way the Senior Executive Team at Queen Mary has handled the strike.  

So will there be strikes?? 

Yes, in addition to the strikes that have already taken place this year, further strikes will take place in May. 

Strike action is scheduled to take place the following days:? 

  • Thursday 5 to Friday 6 May 

  • Monday 9 to Friday 13 May 

  • Monday 16 to Wednesday 18 May 

What happens during 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).?? 

You may also see a picket line outside campus. The picket line is a gathering of striking workers, in this case UCU members, who may be handing out leaflets about the strike and informing people that enter campus about the strikes. Workers on the picket line may encourage you to not enter campus, but they may not prevent you from entering if you wish to do so.? 

The Students’ Union’s spaces will be open as normal, and you can continue to use our spaces to relax, socialise, attend extra-curricular activities, have coffee and share a meal with your friends.? 

Not all staff members will be striking, so your teaching activities may be going ahead during the strike days, and you can attend these as you normally would. Please seek further information from your school about which activities that are going ahead. You can also come to campus to study, go to the library and access other services.? 

The university has created?a webpage with more information?about the strikes and what is happening to your educational activities. Please refer to this page for information about assessments, cancellations and attendance monitoring.? 

?And what about action short of a strike?? 

UCU will also be taking action short of a strike, beginning 19 May. Action short of a strike will include 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. Members of UCU will also not be covering for absent colleagues, will not reschedule cancelled teaching activities and will not undertake voluntary tasks. Action short of a strike may have an impact on various aspects of your student experience – for example, you may experience delayed feedback and longer response times.? 

May 2022 Update: Action short of a strike will also include a boycott of assessments and marking. The university is working to minimise the impact of the boycott of assessments and marking to ensure that students can graduate as planned this summer. The Students’ Union Executive Officers know that a delay to graduations will have a significant negative impact on many students’ plans after graduation, and they continue to put pressure on the university to ensure that all students will be able to graduate as planned. 

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 outcome of the ballot and the upcoming strikes and action short of a strike. 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?? 

When the potential strikes were first announced in Term 1, the Students’ Union gathered feedback from students online and at in-person stalls at Mile End, Whitechapel and Charterhouse Square. The feedback we received was varied – some students fully support the strikes; other students strongly oppose the strikes. Even though students’ views varied, there was generally support for UCU’s causes, and even students that were strongly opposed to the strikes told us that they understand why UCU members have decided to strike.? 

At the Students’ Union’s Annual Members Meeting in November 2021, a motion about the Students’ Union stance on the strikes was discussed and voted on. The motion proposed that the Students’ Union should support UCU and run a campaign to show support for UCU. Following a debate about the motion, the members that were present at the meeting voted against the motion. For this reason, the Students’ Union is not going to campaign in support of UCU.? 

The Students’ Union will be providing information to students about the strikes and action short of a strike, signposting students to further information and informing students about their rights. We’ll also be lobbying the university to provide detailed information to all students, so you know what to expect in terms of teaching, access to services and assessments. Further, we’ll be lobbying the university to ensure disruption to your studies is minimised, and where disruption occurs, that your assessments are modified or rescheduled.

May 2022 Update: We understand that delays caused by the marking boycott could have a negative impact on students that are graduating (for example, if delays to results mean that students are unable to start employment as planned), so it is a priority for the Students’ Union Executive Officers to put pressure on the university to ensure that all students will be able to graduate as planned this summer. 

The Students’ Union’s services and activities will continue during the strike period, and we encourage students to come to our spaces to eat, relax, socialise and take part in extra-curricular activities.? 

What can I do if I’m unhappy about the impact this is having on my studies?? 

We expect that some students will experience some disruption to their studies and assessments, and if this happens to you, you can take the following steps:? 

  1. Contact your school and raise your concerns. You can either contact your school directly, or you can speak to your?Course Rep or School Rep?and ask them to raise your concerns. You are also welcome to contact the?Executive Officers.? 

  1. If you feel your school has not addressed your concerns properly, you can submit a formal complaint. You can find further information about formal complaints on?the university’s website. If you decide to submit a formal complaint, you may find it helpful to seek advice from the Students’ Union?Academic Advice Service 

  1. After you have gone through the stages of the formal complaints process and received the final outcome of your complaint, you can take your complaint to the OIA, which is the ombudsman for higher education. OIA has published some information about the way they consider complaints relating to strikes?on their website

May 2022 Update: We know that the exam period is already stressful time for many students, and disruption caused by the strikes and action short of a strike can add to that stress for some students. If you are in need of support, please remember that support is available through Advice and Counselling, your Student Support Officer or your Academic Advisor. As part of the Study Well campaign, we also have a range of resources and activities available to support you through the exam period. 

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.? 

Please also refer to?the university’s website, where you can find information about cancellations, assessments, attendance monitoring and other topics.? 

 

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