Industrial Action by the University and College Union (UCU) in winter 2019

On 31 October the University and College Union (UCU) announced we are one of 60 higher education institutions in the UK whose members voted in support of taking strike action, or action short of a strike, in relation to the on-going USS pension dispute and/or national pay negotiations.

On 5 November UCU released the dates for the planned strike action, which are set to be on:

  • Monday 25 November – Friday 29 November (5 consecutive days)
  • Monday 2 December – Wednesday 4 December (3 consecutive days)

UCU have also advised their members to begin action short of a strike (ASOS) from Monday 25 November. If members choose to participate in taking action short of a strike it means they will come to work on their usual working days but may not carry out all of their regular duties.

We are working hard to minimise the impact this industrial action may have on our students and colleagues. We will be in regular contact with our students so they are aware of the plans we have in place. We have also developed a comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions page for our students.

In addition to this, we have also developed a detailed Frequently Asked Questions section for our colleagues, which can be found below.

I intend to take strike action. What do I need to do?

If you intend to take part in strike action and/or action short of a strike, you are requested to advise your manager in advance. If you participate in any of the strike days, it is important for you to complete an online Strike Action Notification Form and submit this to the Human Resources team by no later than 10am on the first day you return to work after participating in the strike action. This information will be shared with managers in your college / department / service to support any action necessary to maintain student learning.

All staff will be expected to work normally during the industrial action. Taking part in industrial action is a breach of your contract of employment. The University will withhold 1/365 of your annual salary for each day of strike action. For part-time staff this will be calculated on a pro-rata basis.  The pay adjustment will be made in the following month’s payroll. For the strikes starting on 25 November 2019, the pay adjustment will be made in January 2020. Pension contributions will continue to be paid by both the employee and the employer based on your pay before any withholding of pay due to strike (or action short of a strike): this means that the period of strike action will count towards your pension benefits.

There is more information on this on the HR webpages

Postgraduate Teaching Assistants who take part in any strike action should complete an online Strike Action Notification Form and submit this to the Human Resources team immediately after their strike action ends. This form can be used to advise HR of the work they were scheduled to carry out on the day(s) they were on strike.

If you are paid via eClaims and you take strike action you should email humanresources@exeter.ac.uk immediately after you have returned to work. Please advise HR of the work you were scheduled to carry out on the day(s) you were on strike.

Information for colleagues who take part in industrial action and those who don't

There are two separate national disputes. One of the disputes is about the USS pension scheme, which is the pension scheme for academic and senior professional services staff in “pre-1992” universities. The other dispute is about the 2019/20 negotiations on pay and other issues, which affects all UK higher education institutions. 

In relation to the USS pension, UCU has challenged the 2017 valuation and the amount of deficit the scheme reports to be in. The UCU do not think member contribution rates should go up in order to reduce the deficit and has taken a position of “no detriment”, demanding that the employee contribution is reduced to 8%. Universities UK, which represents the universities employing staff in USS, have commented that the second report of the Joint Expert Panel provides an opportunity to address UCU’s concerns about how the scheme is valued and governed – see https://www.ussemployers.org.uk/news/uuk-response-announcement-strike-action and https://www.ussemployers.org.uk/news/uuk-response-ucu-pensions-ballot-outcome. You can also read the UCU’s position online.

Below is a summary of the main changes to USS.

1. USS is a national pension scheme for academic and senior professional services staff in pre-1992 Universities. The scheme is managed by an independent trustee board in accordance with the requirements of pensions legislation and the Pensions Regulator and in consultation with Universities UK (representing employers) and the University and College Union (representing scheme members).

2. Despite changes to the scheme in 2011 and 2016 to address significant funding challenges, successive valuations of the scheme have continued to show that the scheme is in deficit, which means that its liabilities (ie paying current and future pensions) exceed its assets. At the March 2014 valuation, the deficit was £5.3 billion and at March 2017 it was £7.5 billion.

3. To address the funding challenges of the 2017 valuation, the USS Trustee decided to increase contributions from 26% (8% employees and 18% employers) to 36.5% (11.4% employees and 24.2% employers) in three stages, starting in April 2019 when contributions increased to 8.8% for employees and 19.5% from employers. The next stage of the increase is due to come into effect in October 2019 with the final stage in April 2020.

4. A Joint Expert Panel (JEP), with panel members nominated in equal numbers by Universities UK and UCU, was formed to review the basis of, and agree key principles for, the valuation of USS. Following the publication of the first report of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) in September 2018, the USS Trustee agreed to bring forward the date of the next valuation to 2018 (instead of 2020) to take account of the proposals made by the JEP and supported by Universities UK. UUK has encouraged the USS Trustee to take account of the suggestions made by the JEP, which involve employers taking on greater risk, and has cooperated with the Trustee’s proposals on how the increased risk should be accommodated in the period until the next valuation in 2021. The objective of UUK has been to reduce the planned increase in contributions in October 2019 and April 2020 to allow the next valuation to be take account of the next stage of the JEP’s work, which is reviewing how future valuations should be conducted.

5. On 22 August 2019, the USS Joint Negotiating Committee agreed that contributions should increase, from October 2019, to 30.7% (9.6% employees and 21.1% employers) until October 2021. UCU members on the JNC voted against these proposals, which were agreed on the casting vote of the Chair. The revised contribution rates mean that the planned increase to employee contributions of 11.4% (and employer contributions of 24.2%) will not now proceed. There will be no change to benefits. These arrangements will remain in place until the 2021 valuation is concluded.

6. With a view to reaching agreement on the 2018 valuation and avoiding a further industrial dispute and disruption to our students, UUK proposed to UCU that employee contributions could be held at 9.1% for two years, until the outcome of the 2021 valuation is known. UCU dismissed this offer.

7. The Joint Expert Panel’s report on how future valuations should be conducted is now expected towards the end of 2019. There will then be a period of consultation with stakeholders with the expectation that the next valuation in 2021 is informed by its recommendations. The outcome of the 2018 valuation ensures that current benefits are maintained and the full impact of the planned increases to contributions are avoided pending the completion of this important review.

8. Any changes will only affect benefits earned after the implementation date, as benefits already accrued are protected by law and cannot be changed retrospectively.

On pay, the national pay negotiations concluded without an agreement and universities decided to implement their final offer of 1.8% on 1 August so that there was no delay in colleagues receiving this benefit. This figure is greater than the CPI and CPIH rates of inflation for August 2019 (1.7%). Many colleagues also benefit from increments payable on 1 August. Further information can also be found online.

The University of Exeter is already working jointly with the UCU branch on issues relating to the use of casual and fixed term employment, the gender pay gap and equality, workloads and wellbeing. At national level, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), which represents higher education institutions in national pay negotiations, has proposed further joint work on the non-pay elements of the trade union claim. UCEA’s statement on pay can be found online. On the USS pension scheme, Universities UK has stated its commitment to working with UCU to address concerns about how the scheme is valued and governed, taking account of the second report of the Joint Expert Panel.

On 5 November 2019 UCU released the dates for the planned strike action, which are set to be on:

  • Monday 25 November – Friday 29 November (5 consecutive days)
  • Monday 2 December – Wednesday 4 December (3 consecutive days)

Action short of a strike (ASOS) will also start on Monday 25 November and could continue until 29 April 2020. Members taking action short of a strike will come to work on their usual working days andwill carry out their scheduled teaching activities but may take one or more of the following actions:

  • working to contract
  • not covering for absent colleagues
  • not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action
  • not sharing materials relating to lectures or classes cancelled as a result of strike action and;
  • not undertaking any voluntary activities

We remain hopeful that the dispute can be resolved at a national level without industrial action. 

UCU members taking action short of a strike will come to work on their usual working days but may take one or more of the following actions:

  • working to contract
  • not covering for absent colleagues
  • not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action
  • not sharing materials relating to lectures or classes cancelled as a result of strike action and;
  • not undertaking any voluntary activities.

The University will work with the Guild and Students' Union in Cornwall to determine how to spend the pay that is withheld from staff who participate in industrial action. As well as supporting the work of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Committees (APACs), which will review and make decisions on degree awards and progression, additional resources have also been allocated to key services such as Student Wellbeing. All remaining withheld pay will be allocated to activities that support students affected by the strikes and we will continue to allocate further resources over the course of the next few months as the work to mitigate the industrial action continues.

We will publish a list of contacts in each college and service as soon as possible. If you have any queries in the meantime please contact your HR Business Partner

The University does not know if you are a member of a trade union unless you disclose this information. The strike mandate only applies to members of UCU.  If you are in another trade union, or not a trade union member and you participate in the strike action and fail to attend work, or participate in ‘Action Short of Strike Action’, you would be in breach of your contract and you would be deducted pay on the same basis as union members.

In the event of industrial action, staff are requested to advise the co-ordinator for your College/Service if they intend to participate in any strike action or action short of a strike.

You can ask; but unions generally advise members not to inform the institution if they intend to participate before the strikes take place; therefore colleagues may not tell you. If you receive notification from your College/Service Co-ordinator that a colleague is striking, you might have time to ask someone to cover. 

We would expect there to be picket lines at some entrances to our campuses.  We will update staff and students on the likely locations of picket lines when we have more details. 

 

We realise that this news may be unsettling for many of you, and for many of our students, and we remain hopeful that the dispute can be resolved without industrial action. Since the ballots were announced in June we’ve been regularly meeting with colleagues across the University, as well as the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union, to carefully manage the potential impact any planned industrial action may have on our University community, and to ensure any measures we put in place are the right ones for colleagues and students.

We would like to highlight resources available to support you, if needed. This includes our new self-help tool, Pro-Counselling, which can be used to access 24/7 telephone counselling via our online portal, an online wellbeing space, and face-to-face counselling.

If colleagues are striking it means they are removing their labour for the day(s) they are on strike. This means striking colleagues will not come to work as usual which may mean you do not receive a response to any questions you ask (i.e. via email) until striking colleagues have returned to work.

Colleagues who are on strike may participate in peaceful picketing. The pickets tend to be organised at the main entrances to the University campuses, however, all colleagues, students and visitors to the University campuses will be able come onto campus as normal.

Colleagues who are not participating in the strike should continue to attend work as normal. Colleagues not participating in the strike with teaching responsibilities should deliver their teaching as scheduled. A picket line is a peaceful and lawful form of industrial action. It will not be necessary for colleagues to work from home, rearrange meetings off site or move scheduled teaching to an alternative date to avoid crossing a picket line. For health, safety and insurance reasons, we would ask colleagues not to arrange teaching to take place away from the University premises.

For further advice, academic colleagues should consult their Director of Education, Head of Department, Education Business Partner or Director of College Operations.
 

We work closely with all key partner organisations, including the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust (Exeter and Truro), FXPlus, Devon, Cornwall & Dorset Police, Falmouth University, Student Guilds and Students' Union, INTO and the Northcott Theatre. All will be informed of any planned indistrial action.

Any queries from these organisations should be directed to the Registrar on 01392 723120.

How are students affected?

Students will receive regular email updates, and a student-facing web page with FAQs has been set up http://www.exeter.ac.uk/students/industrial-action/. A dedicated email address for students to ask questions is industrialaction@exeter.ac.uk.  

Our priority is to minimise any disruption to students and staff. A mitigation group works with Colleges and Services and alongside representatives of the Students’ Guild and the Students' Union in Cornwall to identify how we can minimise any disruption and details of specific measures will be shared in the FAQs.

We will keep colleagues and students informed via email and staff and student newsletters. 

We will review all examination papers before the exams start in January and May 2020 to ensure that all topics that are assessed have been adequately and appropriately covered. Examination papers will be revised if neccessary. 

Yes. There are recognised and long standing procedures at the University in relation to assessment, marking, progression to the following year and awarding of degree classification that will be enforced;  industrial action will not stop students being able to graduate or continue to the next year of their studies.

On the basis of the information currently to hand, the University is not considering any form of reduction in fees or compensation because we have mitigation plans in place to ensure that students suffer no detriment as a result of any impact that may be incurred. The University will be keeping full records of any and all impacts of the industrial action to ensure this is the case.

If the academic responsible for a lab or practical session is not present then the session cannot go ahead. Similarly, if insufficient technical staff are available to set up the practical class then the session cannot go ahead. In the event of a cancellation senior technical staff would liaise with education staff to notify students. 

No. Any international students who are required to register their attendance for Tier 4 Visa purposes should be reassured that any teaching sessions they may miss as a result of industrial action would not be recorded and so would not affect their attendance record.  Students’ Tier 4 visa status will therefore not be affected by the industrial action.

Further information

The University’s policy on withholding of pay during industrial action is set out online at www.exeter.ac.uk/staff/employment/union/industrialactionpay/