Forgive me writing so soon after my last message. However, as you may have seen from the national press, there has been quite a reaction to our announcement yesterday of a series of two-hour strikes starting on 23 January. The story was picked up in the Guardian, Independent, Telegraph and the Times Higher and the announcement of our 2 hour strikes has clearly rattled the employers’ body UCEA. You can read all the press coverage here and my response to UCEA here.
My inbox has been pretty busy also with members wanting to get behind the union but also asking questions about how best to do that. I thought you might find it useful if I set out below the questions I have been asked most since yesterday's email:
1. How much pay can my employer deduct for a two-hour strike?
The union is asking you to take strike action for two hours NOT action short of a strike. Our legal advice is that for a two hour strike, the employer can only lawfully deduct two hours pay. Further detailed advice is here.
2. What will the union do if the employer says it will, nonetheless, deduct pay for a whole day?
If any employer actually deducts a full day’s pay (rather than simply trying to frighten staff into not taking the action) we will seek full legal redress to recover any monies deducted as well as immediately escalating the dispute. You can read more here.
3. Are we still working with the other unions?
Yes, absolutely. We are in detailed talks with Unison and Unite about another joint one-day strike and coordinating future campus-based action, but UCU Higher Education Committee was clear in wanting to escalate the dispute now, in a way that was sustainable for members before moving toward a marking boycott.
4. I am worried about the impact of the two hour strikes upon my students, what can I do?
Nobody wants to take action which will hurt students but the employers have had six months to settle this dispute. Our alternative is to give up and continue to have your goodwill exploited by employers who in many cases argued for a tripling of tuition fees and yet are now weeping crocodile tears about our action. If the employers agreed to meaningful negotiations now aimed at securing a fair increase, there would be no need for strike action. The union is also rotating the days when we take strike action so that the same lectures or classes are not hit again and again. You have my commitment that UCU will do everything possible to get talks back on track but in the meantime please support our campaign for fair pay. We have also produced a message for members to send to their students about the issues in this dispute which you can download here.
5. Why not move straight to a marking boycott now?
I know from my emails that a marking boycott will always be an absolute last resort for UCU members. It will cause massive disruption to students’ exams and universities will undoubtedly seek to penalise members for partial performance. The HEC is therefore seeking to escalate this dispute in a careful way – moving beyond one-day strikes on a basis that will cause significant disruption without members sustaining heavy losses of pay. However, if this action does not produce any movement, we will have to move to a marking boycott.
No one enjoys taking this action but we cannot allow a situation where your employer is allowed to impose pay cut upon pay cut, year on year, accumulating surpluses and awarding themselves huge pay rises. That’s bad for you, bad for your families and ultimately bad for education. Please stand up to be counted in the campaign for fair pay and support the two hour strikes on23 and 28 January and 10 February.
Thank you again for your support of the union.
General Secretary, UCU