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University and College Union Industrial action: Frequently Asked Questions for Staff

Planned industrial action will affect UCL in February and March 2020.

Online Industrial Action Reporting Tool 


What is happening?

When will the industrial action be taking place?

There will be 14 days of industrial action over a four-week period. The dates are as follows:

  • Week one: Monday 24, Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 February
  • Week two: Monday 2, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 4 and Thursday 5 March
  • Week three: Monday 9, Tuesday 10, Wednesday 11, Thursday 12 and Friday 13 March
  • Week four: Thursday 19 and Friday 20 March

Please note these dates differ from those published on the UCU website.

What is the industrial action about?

Several days of industrial action are planned by the University and College Union (UCU). UCU has called on its members to take action to support a dispute about pay and proposed changes to the USS Pension Scheme, to which many staff who teach and support teaching belong. UCU has met all the legal requirements for calling a lawful strike. 

Is UCL negotiating with the local branch of UCU?

No. Pay and conditions and USS pension arrangements are not negotiated locally but instead they are negotiated nationally by two representative bodies for the majority of universities. For USS pensions the national body is Universities-UK (UUK) and pay and conditions the body is UCEA (Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association).

What is happening with the negotiations?

Negotiations between the University and College Union (UCU) and UUK resulted in a proposed agreement for USS Pension Scheme contributions. This was supported by UCL after consultation with USS scheme members. However, this proposal was rejected by UCU. It is not yet clear what will happen next but UCL is pressing for further talks between UUK and UCU.

UCL will also continue to press for discussions with UCEA and the recognised trade unions over matters of pay and other workplace issues.

On 19 February 2020, UUK and UCEA issued an open letter to staff at the institutions affected by the latest round of industrial action, outlining the proposals that have been made to address important issues for staff around pay, working conditions and pensions. You can read this letter on the UUK website, the UCEA website and the USS website.

Will I still be able to come onto campus during the strike action?

You are still able to come onto campus during the strike and buildings will remain open. You may see a picket line made up of UCU members outside some buildings. They may be holding signs or handing out leaflets, and you can talk to them and ask questions if you wish.

They may ask you not to cross their picket line, but they are not allowed to prevent you from doing so.

I am not a member of UCU but I want to show support by not crossing their picket lines. What should I do?

If you choose to join a picket line or not cross it, you should also report your absence using the online reporting portal to declare that you are taking part in the strike. A day’s pay (1/365) will be deducted for each day that you do not report for work.

What should I do if I feel uncomfortable crossing picket lines?

Those picketing cannot intimidate anyone choosing to cross the picket line, and you are free to enter your place of work. If you experience bullying or abusive behaviour, please report it using the Report + Support tool.

For immediate assistance please use UCL’s emergency number, internal extension 222 (020 7679 2222). This will put you through to the Security Control Room.

How do I explain the strike to students?

A news item about the action has been promoted through My UCL, our weekly newsletter for students, and there is a page of FAQs about the action on the UCL Students website. Please share the information on these pages with students.

What should I tell students about attending assessments on a strike day?

Students are expected to attend class tests and assessments that are scheduled on strike days.

How is UCL minimising disruption to student learning?

We are informing students about the action and reassuring them that every effort will be made to mitigate the impact of industrial action on their learning. Students will not be assessed on material they have missed and should not be asked to submit extenuating circumstances requests.

UCL has committed that Lecturecast recordings of past events should not be used in lieu of teaching missed during the strike period, nor will we ask staff for their recordings to be used. However, if an individual member of staff wishes to make recordings of their teaching available to students they may do so.

We will be using the Material Irregularities process (Academic Manual 6.6 and in particular annex 6.2) to deal with any impact on assessment. Faculty Tutors can provide support for departments with using the Material Irregularity process.

The Learning Opportunities Fund will reopen in April for applications from students whose learning is affected by strike action in February and March 2020. Details will be made available in due course.

Please direct your students to the FAQs about the action and encourage them to use the student-industrialaction@ucl.ac.uk email address for their questions and concerns.

What do I do if students are distressed?

UCL's team of expert staff in Student Support and Wellbeing provide a safe, confidential and non-judgmental space, in which students can discuss any issues that concern or affect them. Students can find out more and access support by visiting the UCL website, contacting askUCL or calling +44 (0)20 7679 0100. 

Taking part in strike action

How do I tell UCL that I am taking part in strike action?

Please use the online reporting portal to declare if you are taking part in the strike or “Action Short of Strike”. If you choose not to strike every day, you can enter each day of strike action separately. We ask that you report any days you are on strike in advance or on the day you take strike action. This will help to and minimise the negative impact on students and make sure that any payroll deductions are accurate.

What happens to the money deducted from my pay if I take strike action?

Any money deducted from salaries as a result of strike action will be put towards student learning.

Will I continue to receive pension contributions from UCL if I take strike action

Pension scheme contributions will be maintained by you and UCL on days where pay has been deducted for strike action. This will also ensure that you continue to accrue pensionable service and maintain death in service cover. Please contact pensions@ucl.ac.uk if you have any questions about how the industrial action may affect your pension.

If I have a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) can I still take industrial action?

Yes, this is viewed as ‘authorised leave’. Unpaid leave arising from strike action is an allowable reason for salary to drop below the minimum threshold to qualify for a CoS.  Please record all industrial action via our online portal, so the reasons for any pay reduction will be recorded and available as evidence if needed.

Taking part in “Action Short of Strike” (ASoS)

What is Action Short of a Strike (ASoS)?

UCU has declared that it intends to implement ASoS as part of its planned industrial action, starting on 25 November 2019 and ongoing to 29 April 2020.

Some elements of ASoS are likely to constitute a breach of contract, e.g.

  • Not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action
  • Boycotting marking and assessment

Actions that may constitute breach of contract (dependent upon local practice) include:

  • Refusing to cover for colleagues

Actions that are unlikely to constitute a breach of contract are:

  • Working to contract i.e. undertaking the minimum explicit and implied contractual requirements
  • Not undertaking genuinely voluntary activities
If I take part in ASoS, how and when will my pay be affected?

UCL views ASoS as partial performance of your employment contract and reserves the right to deduct pay at the rate of up to 100%, i.e. 1/365 of your annual salary for each day on which ASoS is taken. The precise percentage of pay deducted in the event of partial performance during ASoS, will depend upon the level of disruption caused to university activities, student learning and the work of other colleagues.

Taking leave during the strike

What happens if I am sick on a strike day

Sickness absence must be reported to your line manager in the usual way and recorded via MyHR Self-Service. Failure to attend work due to unwillingness to cross a picket line is considered to be unauthorised absence from work for which pay will be deducted, but failure to attend work due to reported sickness is not unauthorised absence and you will be paid.

Can I work remotely or take annual leave on a strike day?

Annual leave applications and requests to work remotely for strike days (which are not already authorised) will be given careful consideration and only agreed if they fit with the department’s staffing requirements.

What happens if I need to request special leave for domestic or personal reasons?

Requests will be considered on their merits and in line with UCL’s Special Leave Policy (Leave for Domestic and Personal Reasons).

Supporting staff during the strike

I’m worried about the impact of this action on my workload and wellbeing. Is there I someone I can talk to?

Please discuss with your line manager in the first instance. You may also contact Care First, UCL’s employee assistance programme. They can offer confidential information, advice and counselling services. Support for staff is free and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

To discuss any issues that concern or affect you, please dial Care First’s Freephone number 0800 197 4510. If you are outside the UK, telephone +44 (0)1452 623246.

What should I do if I witness or experience intimidating or bullying behaviour during the strike?

Bullying and abusive behaviour is always unacceptable and goes against our Dignity at Work Statement. This applies equally during periods of industrial action when feelings can run high. If you do experience offensive or bullying behaviour, please report it to your line manager.

To report inappropriate behaviour please visit Report and Support.

For immediate assistance please use UCL’s emergency number, internal extension 222 (020 7679 2222). This will put you through to the Security Control Room.

Am I able to hire temporary staff to cover the work of staff who are on strike?

Under the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations, it is against the law to hire temporary workers (including staff provided by Unitemps) to fill the role of a striking employee or to cover the work of a member of staff who has been transferred to cover the work of a striking employee.

Do you have any further questions?

To provide UCL with comments and feedback regarding the strike, please submit them via our online form. Submissions using this form are anonymous, unless you choose to share your name.