UCU Strike FAQs

These FAQs about the UCU Strike will continually be updated across the strike period as more questions come in from students. If you have any questions that aren’t answered here, please email vpeducation@su.rhul.ac.uk.

When is strike action taking place?

There will be eight days of strike action from Monday 25 November to Friday 29 November 2019 and from Monday 2 December to Wednesday 4 December 2019.

In addition, action short of a strike (ASOS) is planned from 25 November to continue until no later than 29 April 2020. Action short of a strike (ASOS) is defined by the UCU to potentially include: working to contract (only the hours defined by their contract, e.g. 9-5pm); not covering for absent colleagues; not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action; not undertaking any voluntary activities; a marking and assessment boycott.

Why are staff striking?

Pensions

Unlike the 2018 strikes, which were about ensuring the benefits of the pension scheme were safeguarded for staff, this round of strikes is concerning who contributes the funding to cover the increased costs necessary to maintain the pension scheme. The UCU believe this cost should be covered by the employer (the University), not the employees (the members of academic staff). The UCU are calling for the University to cover the deficit, through increased employer contributions, with no detriment to UCU members.

Pay and Working Conditions

The UCU believe the pay of academic staff at universities has dropped by around 17% in ‘real wages’ since 2009 based on findings from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA). In more general terms, ‘real wages’ go down for everyone when inflation is higher. For example, if you get an annual pay rise of 2% but inflation is at 3%, it is a ‘real wages’ pay cut of 1% despite the extra pay; this is driven by economic trends and inflation. The UCU are calling for the University to immediately take steps to reverse the supposed pay decline, by increasing staff pay. The working conditions dispute also focuses on the increased casualisation of staff, the gender and BAME pay gap, and increasing workloads.

You can find more information from the UCU on both issues here.

Who is striking?

Anyone who works as an academic, lecturer, trainer, instructor, researcher, administrator, manager, computer staff, librarian or postgraduate in a UK university can join the UCU. At Royal Holloway, there are around 400 members of UCU, with the majority academic staff and postgraduate research students. Whether an individual strikes is their own decision and those who are striking do not need to inform you that they will not be running a particular lecture or other session, although they may choose to do so at their own discretion.

What will happen during the strikes?

During the strikes your lecturer may be striking. This means they will not come in to teach your lectures, seminars, tutorials or other academic sessions. They will also not be present in their office hours or undertake any work such as marking of assignments or replying to emails. Those who are striking do not need to inform you that they will not be running a particular lecture or other session, although they may choose to do so at their own discretion.

We do not know the level of disruption the strike action will cause as not all staff are members and those who are members may not take part in the strike, or may decide only to strike on some days. Staff are not obliged to tell the University if they will be taking action in advance of the strike.

If you receive a message from your lecturer that your class has been cancelled, then you do not need to attend and we recommend you act in solidarity with the UCU by not crossing the picket line and coming into University buildings. The SU and a number of support services (such as the GP Surgery, Wellbeing, and religious spaces) are neutral spaces that we hope you feel able to cross the picket line to attend. However, the University has stated that if you have an in-class assessment such as a test or presentation, you should still attend as the assessment may be on. In this case, we understand that you may need to attend these classes so that you are not marked absent. 

Many lecturers may ask you to not ‘cross the picket line’. This means they would ask you to act in solidarity with those striking and not come into campus through the picket line of striking lecturers; this boundary is usually established at the entrance to a workplace.

In addition to the strike, until further notice the UCU will be taking ‘action short of a strike’ (ASOS). ASOS is defined by the UCU to potentially include: working to contract (only the hours defined by their contract, e.g. 9-5pm); not covering for absent colleagues; not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action; not undertaking any voluntary activities; a marking and assessment boycott. It is uncertain at this time how long ASOS would last after the end of the wholescale strike action.

What is RHSU doing to minimise the impact of the strikes on students?

As a Students’ Union, it is our responsibility to act in the interests of our membership, you – the students. We are working to mitigate any negative effects to your experience.

  • We will be having ongoing meetings with the University to ensure you still meet the learning outcomes for all of your courses and you are supported in your education throughout the strikes.
  • We have assurance from the University that where necessary, the University will adjust the assessment of course work and exam papers and will profile marks for each course unit at the exam board to ensure students are not disadvantaged or penalised as a result of the strike action.
  • We are engaged with discussions with the University over how the pay withheld from UCU members who are taking industrial action will be utilised to support students.
  • We will be continuing to update you with guidance and advice on the strike action to ensure any questions you may have are answered.

Can RHSU prevent the strikes from taking place?

Trade unions are able to organise strike action if they have balloted their members on the strike action and passed a 50% threshold. At Royal Holloway this 50% threshold was passed for both the pensions, and pay and working conditions disputes, therefore the UCU are able to organise a strike on both. This strike action is legal and therefore RHSU has no jurisdiction over the strike action. The student body voted in our preferendum to support the UCU strikes and their stance in its entirety, therefore RHSU is supporting the strikes.

If I have not been given any information should I still turn up to a class?

Members of staff who are taking strike action are not obliged to tell the University in advance if they will be on strike. If your lecture is on, we understand that you may need to attend these classes so that you are not marked absent. Activities that are taking place will be monitored as normal and if you do not turn up to a class this would count as non-attendance in the eyes of the University. Whilst you may wish to act in solidarity with the UCU on this issue, we understand this is a difficult choice to make and you may need to attend your classes where they are still on.

If you cannot turn-up due to illness or other circumstances you should submit a notification of absence as usual.

Where can I find information from the University?

The University have released some FAQs for both undergraduate and postgraduate students, you can find these here. If you have any more questions you can email intranet@royalholloway.ac.uk.

Will RHSU remain open during the strikes?

Yes, we are not part of the UCU and therefore not involved in this strike. We will remain open and be a welcoming place for students throughout the strike. All trading services we operate will run as usual. We will be a neutral space on campus for those students who wish to act in solidarity with striking UCU members.

What is the University currently doing to ensure students are supported in their education throughout the strikes?

The University should ensure you still meet the learning outcomes for all of your courses and you are supported in your education throughout the strikes. The University have stated ‘we want you to get the best possible learning and teaching during the strike and we will be doing our best to provide resources and support so that you don’t miss out.’ Because lecturers don’t have to tell universities when they are going on strike it is hard for the University to know when teaching might be cancelled. They have stated that they will ‘work hard to let you know as soon as possible and to offer alternative resources, so you don’t miss out’, more information can be found here. https://intranet.royalholloway.ac.uk/students/news-events/update-on-ucu-strike-action-2019/update-on-ucu-strike-action.aspx

All the usual support areas (such as the Library, Careers, Student Advisory and Wellbeing (including Disability & Dyslexia Support, Financial Wellbeing and Counselling) will be open as normal. If you have an appointment with any of these services you should attend it. If you don’t feel comfortable crossing the picket line to access these services please get in touch with them via email or over the phone.

What happens if I am giving a presentation or have an in-class test?

As the University have asked that you still attend any presentation or in class test you have during the striking period, you should continue to prepare for your presentation and be prepared to give it. If you have an in-class assessment such as a test or presentation you should assume they are going ahead as normal, unless you’re formally notified by the head of school or your school office.

What happens if I have deadlines during this period?

Any assignments due in during the strike action will be treated as normal, please submit by the stated deadline and use the required submission process as normal. If you have any questions regarding an assignment please speak to your School Helpdesk Officer.

How will the strikes impact my assignments and exams?

Where necessary, the university will adjust the assessment of course work and exam papers and will profile marks for each course unit at the exam board to ensure students are not disadvantaged or penalised as a result of the strike action. If you have an exam at the end of term or in January and there are questions that you have not covered, the university will take that into account during marking. No student should be impacted by the strikes.

Can I go on strike in solidarity with the UCU members?

No, only members of the UCU can go on strike. Whilst you may choose not attend any classes you may have and act in solidarity with striking staff, you will be marked absent from any class that you miss if you do go on strike. This a difficult situation and in this case, we understand that you may need to attend these classes so that you are not marked absent. Students can go and support striking staff on the picket lines.

I’m worried about crossing picket lines, what should I do?

Picketing is protected by a Code of Practice that restricts the number of people in pickets to six plus a full-time trade union official. We would expect staff who are picketing to conduct themselves in a peaceful and non-threatening manner. Anyone who feels threatened or intimidated for any reason should contact Security on 01784 443063.

What about International Students?

If you are an international student on a Tier 4 visa you will not be deemed to have missed a contact point if that contact point was denied to you due to the strike. If any classes or contact points are missed because of the strike it is recorded as authorised absence. If you have any concerns, contact the International Student Support Office at InternationalAdvice@royalholloway.ac.uk.

What have the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) said about the strikes?

The OIA are the national body for dealing with student complaints.

Here is their statement:

“Following the announcement that there will be industrial action on pay and pensions, it is important that affected providers take steps to minimise the impact on students. This includes both minimising any academic disadvantage and making up for lost learning opportunities.

“We have previously published information about complaints arising from industrial action, including a briefing note, case summaries and some themes that emerged.”

Felicity Mitchell, Independent Adjudicator said:

“Many students will be very concerned about the impact that this industrial action will have on their studies. There were many good examples of how providers tried to reduce the academic impact of the industrial action that took place last year. But it’s just as important to make sure that students don’t miss out on learning opportunities, and some providers did not always do this as well. It is especially important for students who are in the final stages of their course or on a short or intensive programme.

“Not all students will be affected in the same way. For example some disabled students, some students with mental health issues, and some international students may be more severely affected. Providers need to think carefully about additional measures they might need to take to support those students.

“Students need to know how to raise any concerns they may have through internal complaints processes. They need to be able to make informed choices about how to pursue their concerns if they are not resolved internally. During the last pensions-related strike action some students were encouraged by a number of law firms to pursue legal action rather than raising issues through internal procedures. To the best of our knowledge none of the intended class actions have resulted in concrete outcomes for the students involved. Students who are unhappy with how their provider has dealt with their concerns can bring their complaint to us for independent and impartial review.”

Where can I get advice?

If you would like any advice please contact our Advice Centre at the SU on advice@su.rhul.ac.uk.

Useful resources

University information: https://intranet.royalholloway.ac.uk/students/news-events/update-on-ucu-strike-action-2019/update-on-ucu-strike-action.aspx

Information from the UCU: https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/10276/University-strike-ballots-will-open-on-Monday-9-September?list=1676

Information from the UUK: https://www.ussemployers.org.uk/news/uuk-response-announcement-strike-action