Staff Industrial Action
February & March 2018
This is a Q&A compiled by the Sussex Students’ Union intended to provide factual and practical information for our students about the upcoming proposed UCU Industrial Action.
On Monday 22 January, University and College Union (UCU), which is the largest trade union for University Staff in the UK, announced that their members will take part in 14 days of industrial action to protest against proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme, which the majority of University staff are enrolled in. This will take place on 61 Universities across the UK, including the University of Sussex.
We want to thank the Edinburgh University Students’ Association from which this Q&A page is adapted, and the students whose questions we’ve included in here.
Q. Who are the people that are striking?
Members of UCU, a trade union for University staff. Members of UCU are typically academics and postgraduate students that teach, but it also includes professional services staff such as the library and support services teams.
Not all academics and postgraduates are members of UCU, and some UCU members may decide that they don’t want to join the strike. The academics and postgraduates that aren’t joining the strike will continue to carry out their normal work.
By law, UCU members that are intending to take part in the strike do not have to let their students or the University know in advance.
Q. How long is the industrial action or strike going to be on for?
The dates for industrial action at Sussex from UCU are as follows:
Week 1 - Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days)
Week 2 - Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)
Week 3 - Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days)
Week 4 - Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)
You can find more information about this here.
These are the dates industrial action COULD happen. If a resolution is found at any point then some of these dates may no longer go ahead. Additionally, if no resolution has been found by the middle of March, after the 14 days of industrial action ends, further strikes or action short of a strike may be announced in the future.
What is industrial action, and what does it look like?
Q. What is industrial action?
Industrial action is action taken by employees as a protest which can, for example, take the form of either a strike or action short of a strike.
Q. What is a strike?
A strike is a refusal to work organised by a body of employees as a form of protest, usually in an attempt to achieve change. This can at times take the form of a picket line, where workers and union reps (‘picketers’ or ‘pickets’) stand outside a workplace to tell other people why they are striking.
Q. What does action short of a strike mean?
Action short of a strike is an organised action by a body of employees as a form of a protest through actions that, as the name suggests, are just short of a strike. Workers engage in action short of a strike to interrupt the normal flow of business and functions in the workplace or department, so as to make the employer realise that they are dependent on the employee’s goodwill for the organisation to run.
The UCU has announced that In this dispute action short of a strike means that their members will over the course of the dates announced above do the following:
Working to contract;
Not cover for absent colleagues;
Not reschedule lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action;
Not undertake any voluntary activities.
Working to contract means abiding strictly by the terms of their contract of employment such as where they or other formal documents relating to their employment specify their hours of work; breaks; workload; or other matters.
Not covering for absent colleagues means that unless their contract requires it they should not cover for absent colleagues.
Not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action is self-explanatory.
Not undertaking any voluntary activity means that where they have a choice as to whether they undertake some work, they will not do it. Contracts differ but, for example, weekend working is voluntary for some staff.
Q. How does a strike take place in practice?
A strike involves the workers withholding their labour. In this case it will most likely mean disruption to teaching and research within departments, and possibly to University services if staff members are on strike. There may be picket lines outside university buildings during the strike. Find out more here.
Q. Can I go past a picket line and into University buildings?
A picket line is where workers and union reps (‘picketers’ or ‘pickets’) stand outside a workplace to tell other people why they are striking.
In short, yes, you may go past a picket line. This may be seen by those on the picket line as not supporting their action but they are likely to still be friendly and may try to talk to you about the industrial action.
Picketers may ask people not to do some of their usual work or go in to work in an act of solidarity for their cause but it is down to each individual to decide what they feel comfortable doing. Pickets must not prevent people from going to work or doing their usual work if they want to do so. Find out more here.
People on the picket lines understand that the University campus is also home to a large number of students and that they need to access services like the health centre.
Q. What can I do if I want to support the strike?
There are a variety of ways you can support the strike, and these are just a few suggestions to take into account if you decide to support it. You can talk to your tutors, lecturers and supervisors to understand why they are striking and ask them how you can support them.
- You can make a point of not crossing the picket lines on strike days (this may mean that you won’t be able to use facilities such as libraries and common rooms).
If you want to do academic work, do it from home or go to a cafe or public library. Alternatively, come to Falmer House and use the space here for peer led or private study. UCU have said they are keen for Falmer House to be excluded from picketing.
- Be mindful that your tutors, lecturers and supervisors are losing out on wages in order to take part in industrial action.
The National Union of Students have their own FAQ advice for students that you can find here.
UCU have produced a poster that is specifically for students and contains some information. You can find that here.
If you are interested in getting involved on a local level, you can find a student-led campaign called Sussex Supports the UCU here and you can join their campaigning group here. Their advice on how to support is here.
Effect on Students
Q. What impact will the industrial action have on students?
It is difficult to say exactly how the industrial action will impact on you. The impact will depend on your level of study, number of contact hours you have, if the industrial action coincides with any deadlines or assessments, and on which staff members decide to participate in the strike on the day.
It could also depend on the length of the industrial action. It is currently scheduled to take place over a four week period, but if UUK and UCU reach an agreement before then, the strike may be shortened. Alternatively, if the two organisations are unable to reach an agreement, the industrial action may be extended.
If this happens, the Students’ Union will update this FAQ page to ensure that students are informed about the changes to the situation.
Bus drivers typically choose not to cross the picket line so bus services may well not serve the campus and use the stop on the A27 opposite Falmer station instead.
Q. What can I do to limit the impact it will have on me?
We encourage you to gain as much information as possible about the upcoming industrial action, and how it will specifically impact you. You can contact your lecturers, academic advisors and school departments with your academic questions. You can also your Students’ Union elected representatives - such as student reps or full-time elected officers - if you are worried about any of your deadlines, assessments or important labs/lectures etc.
Q. How will the strike affect Postgraduate Research students?
Your supervision may be affected by the strike. Please contact your supervisor or the leader of your research group to get more information about the impact on your research.
If you are employed by the university (e.g. teaching undergraduates), you should contact UCU to get more information about your rights and duties.
If you are an enrolled postgraduate student contracted to teach in UK higher education institutions you are entitled to free membership of UCU. You can join here.
Q. How will the strike affect Postgraduate Taught students?
Students should contact their school office if they are worried about the impact the strike will have on their course of study. Some departmental teaching may be affected and this may include PGT students.
Q. How will the strike affect Undergraduate students?
It may affect teaching in departments, such as lectures and classes. Depending on the length of the strike this could also mean that there will be an impact on marking. At this stage, we cannot say which departments will be affected as it depends which staff participate in the industrial action.
Q. Should I still show up to the lectures, labs and exams I have scheduled?
This is up to you. If the strike goes ahead some lectures will most likely be cancelled as lecturers take part in the strike. The University will attempt to let students know of any cancelled lectures due to strike as and when they know.
Not attending scheduled lectures that go ahead over the course of the industrial action may have academic consequences, particularly any assessments or mandatory aspects, and/or other consequences such as affecting your visa. You can contact the Student Life Centre or your academic advisor if you would like to know what impact not attending may have for you.
Some students will choose not to go to campus on the dates of the industrial action to show support of the striking staff members.
Q. Do my deadlines still stand?
Deadlines may be moved, but we would advise working to all deadlines you have unless you hear otherwise from your School. If you are worried about your deadlines, we encourage you to contact your academic advisor, student rep and/or Student Union officers.
Q. Can I use the library and other facilities as normal?
Updates on any disrupted services will be communicated by the university. There may be picket lines outside of faculties or libraries.
Pickets must not prevent people from going to work or doing their usual work if they want to do so. However, crossing picket lines to use facilities in departments or libraries could be perceived as not being in support of the strikers.
It is up to each individual student to choose what they feel comfortable in doing. If you want to show support for the striking staff members please see the question ‘What can I do if I want to support the strike?’.
Q. Will counselling services be affected?
UCU have communicated that they have a policy not to disrupt what they call ‘clinical services’, this includes counselling, so we understand that the counselling service will not be affected by the strike.
Q. What about my tuition fees?
If you have any questions about your tuition fees, you should direct them to the University. See ‘Who should I contact?’ below.
University of Sussex Students’ Union’s position and actions
Q. What is the Students’ Union doing about this?
The Students’ Union is currently working to understand how to best represent our students’ interests through this. The full-time elected officers of the Students’ Union are talking to and lobbying both the University and local UCU Sussex branch to reduce and limit the negative impact the industrial strike may have on students.
We are reaching out to Student Reps in all departments and schools, and are encouraging all students to fill in our google poll to let us know of your thoughts, worries and questions about the industrial action.
We are organising an Open Forum for students c) to discuss the industrial action. This will happen on Thursday 15th from 5-6.30pm, in Meeting Room 2 of Falmer House.
We are also calling a Special Union Council to agree the Students’ Union’s stance on the upcoming UCU industrial action. At this meeting your elected Union Council Members will agree on a Union stance that represents our students thoughts about the strike and which will steer the work of our Union Officers.
Q. What can I do to let the Students’ Union know about my thoughts on this?
You can contact the full-time elected officers, contact details to be found here, contact your Student Rep, or let us know your thoughts by filling in our google poll. You can also come find us in Falmer House on campus. We are here for you, and happy to answer any of your questions.
Q. Is the Students’ Union supporting the industrial action?
On Monday 5th February, Sussex Students’ Union Executive (made up of the Union’s full-time and part-time elected officers) put out this statement of solidarity with our lecturers and tutors, as strong student support could help pressure UUK to resolve matters via compromise with UCU before industrial action takes place.
Students’ Union Council will decide the Union’s stance on 19th February and this page will be updated following their meeting. This will decide whether the Students’ Union and our students will support the industrial action, and steer the work of the officers. You can add your thoughts on how the Union should respond by filling in this form.
Q. What will happen at the Special Union Council?
Special Union Council will take place in Fulton A on 19th February at 6pm. Union Council consists of elected student representatives, and at this Special Union Council the members will decide on an official union stance on the industrial action.
Students that are not elected members of Union Council may come to Council, but only elected Council members will be able to vote. We encourage students to get in contact with the student representative from their school to let them know your thoughts on this. You can find out more about Union Council here.
Complaints, feedback, questions and updates
Q. I still am worried, who should I contact?
If you have complaints about the impact of the industrial action on you, we encourage you to contact the University.
You can contact the Sussex Vice Chancellor, who is the head of the University, Prof. Adam Tickell, at email@example.com.
You may also wish to contact your heads of schools, departments or other University staff such as head of support services or the library. You can find their contact details on the University of Sussex website.
Q. What if I’ve still got questions?
The University has published information about the industrial action on their website, which you can find here.
There is also a variety of people that you can contact to get answers for your questions. The Students’ Union, the University’s Student Support Service, or your School Office is a good place to start.
Q. Where can I get updates about the strike?
You can receive updates from UCU through their website and Twitter.
The University should communicate with you about disruption to your classes via email and the Sussex app. You can also keep track of updates on their webpage here.
The Students’ Union will update our information on the strike as and when we get it. You can stay updated by keeping track of this page, and via our Facebook and Twitter pages.