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Birmingham UCU response to Tim Jones’ “Notice of industrial action” email of 15 Nov

BUCU has sent a response to Provost and Vice-Principal Professor Tim Jones’ email to all staff on November 15. We provide a copy of the original email at the bottom of this post for information purposes.

Dear Tim,

I now have sight of the email you have circulated to staff advising on strike action. The committee appreciate the compassionate tone in this email and we are grateful for that. However, there is an explicit threat which would impact the livelihood of staff in this current cost of living crisis. Why would the university threaten their own staff for going on industrial action. I can’t understand that? UCU are asking for such threats that attempt to thwart strike action to be reportable.

Unfortunately, there are some cross- wires that have caused our members confusion. We as a branch have no power over a national dispute and the form which the industrial action takes. We simply have to follow the instruction that UCU nationally instructs its members to take. You mentioned in your email that: “In the case of rescheduling lost teaching, there will be no penalty if the member of staff agrees with their Head of Department or School a suitable method of mitigating lost student learning. This approach was discussed at some length last year with BUCU.”

However, those discussions related to an earlier round of strike action, which was quite different to the current round. The current round of action, as you know, is the result of a single national ballot, and all action is therefore being determined by UCU nationally.

The action which all UCU members are being asked to take is the following:

  • working to contract
  • not covering for absent colleagues
  • removing uploaded materials related to, and/or not sharing materials related to, lectures or classes that will be or have been cancelled as a result of strike action
  • not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action
  • not undertaking any voluntary activities.
  • conduct ASOS as instructed by UCU

This will therefore be the action that UCU members at the University of Birmingham will be conducting. This may be different from the understanding upon which you sent your email – and for that reason it would have been better to consult with us before the email was sent.

In addition, the threat of a 50% pay deduction continues to be viewed by us as highly disproportionate, and potentially unlawful, and in the case of replacement for teaching it would amount to deducting pay from staff twice for a single day’s strike action.

Due to blacklisting legislation, we do not encourage staff to have their information of strike action or engagement with ASOS stored on core systems- there are human right and trade union rights to consider here. If individuals choose to, indeed they can, but we can’t ask them to; and likewise we do not accept the claim that the University can insist that staff input these details into CORE.

I hope your email can be refined to reflect the above and that members who are engage in strike action are not deterred by any incorrect information. I would advise this is corrected simply by asking UCU members to follow the advice issued by UCU ‘national’ on strike action, which can be found here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/12469/FAQs.

I am also doing the same.

Harjinder Kaur-Aujla
Birmingham UCU President


Tim Jones’ original email to all-staff, sent on 15 Nov 2022

Subject: Notice of industrial action by members of UCU…sent on behalf of Professor Tim Jones, Provost and Vice-Principal

Dear colleague,

The Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) represents academic and academic-related staff at the University and has announced its intention to hold a national period of industrial action. This includes proposed national strike days this month on Thursday 24, Friday 25 and Wednesday 30 November. In addition, UCU have confirmed that they will commence Action Short of a Strike (ASOS) commencing 23 November.

This action is part of a national dispute covering pay and pensions. Both are issues where the University cannot act independently to bring about a resolution as they are subject to national negotiation. National talks on pay are led by UCEA (as the collective representative of employers) and UUK are the lead on pensions on behalf of the sector employers.

We also recognise the financial challenges that staff are facing and have already awarded additional cost of living payments or pay uplifts for all staff. For staff in Grades 6 and above, we have implemented the national 3% pay increase plus, exceptionally and for one year only, an additional 2% cost of living supplement for this financial year. The cost of living supplement will be paid monthly, with the first payment made in November salaries and backdated to August.

For support staff, where we negotiate locally with trade unions we have implemented a minimum pay increase of 5% plus a one off £350 (pro-rated) cost of living payment, which was paid in July 2022. In addition, negotiations are under way for broader reform of support staff pay which we anticipate will, in the New Year, provide further uplifts for the vast majority of staff on these grades once these discussions have concluded. While salary is an important part of our employment package, it is not the only component and staff can find out more about the range of benefits and support available via our staff benefits page.

With regards to pensions a new valuation of the USS Scheme is due in the spring of 2023, but no changes to the Scheme, whether that be in relation to contribution rates or to benefits, can be implemented until the Trustees have concluded that process in a manner which satisfies their legal responsibilities, a process which typically takes many months.

Minimising the impact on students

Our priority remains to minimise the impact of any strike action or forms of ASOS on our students. While we expect that the vast majority of timetabled student sessions will continue as normal during the strike action, Deborah Longworth, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Education, has been working with Directors of Education, Schools and Departments and the Guild to ensure that there are plans in place to mitigate the impact of disruption on students. More broadly, we expect that the University will continue to operate normally during this period with the main library, all study spaces and other student services continuing to operate across the campus.

Information for staff taking part in industrial action

Strike action – Staff who choose to take strike action are encouraged to let their School know of their intention to do so in advance in order to assist with planning and support for students. Staff who take strike action need to report their absence via Core systems after each strike day they take.

Salary will be withheld on the basis of 100% of pay for each day a member of staff chooses to take strike action. Although it is not obliged to do so, the University will pay both the employer and employee pensions contributions for those staff who take strike action in order to ensure that colleagues do not experience any break in their pension contributions or benefits.

Action short of a strike (ASOS) – With effect from 23 November 2022, UCU has also announced a continuous period of ASOS (until 20 April 2023). as outlined below:

For staff engaging in the following three forms of ASOS currently sanctioned by UCU there will be no reduction of pay, provided that staff continue to work their contracted hours and duties and respond to reasonable management requests to prioritise their workload to minimise the impact of strike action on student learning, outcomes and experience:

  • Working to contract
  • Not undertaking any voluntary activities
  • Not covering for absent colleagues

The University regards the following forms of ASOS as partial performance of duties, which will not be accepted. Should a member of staff engage in these following forms of ASOS and fail to mitigate the impact of such actions to the satisfaction of the Head of Department, the University will pay staff at the rate of 50% only until such time as the Head of Department is content that the matter has been adequately mitigated:

  • Removing uploaded materials related to, and/or not sharing materials related to, lectures or classes that will be or have been cancelled as a result of strike action
  • Not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action

In the case of rescheduling lost teaching, there will be no penalty if the member of staff agrees with their Head of Department or School a suitable method of mitigating lost student learning. This approach was discussed at some length last year with BUCU.

The University reserves the legal right to further reduce pay for ASOS and withhold up to 100% of pay for ASOS where such action amounts to partial performance of contract, and particularly if a member of staff refuses to either fulfil their contracted hours or duties, respond to a reasonable management request, engages in a form of ASOS not currently sanctioned by UCU or where such action affects student education or experience.

UCU has not currently sanctioned a boycott of assessment, feedback or marking. If UCU were to sanction such a form of ASOS, the University will confirm its approach to reduction of pay.

All forms of ASOS, regardless of whether they incur withholding of pay, must be recorded by the staff member taking such action via Core Systems.

Respecting others’ point of view

Industrial action always presents a challenging time for the University and the sector as a whole, with a range of views felt by staff and students. It is important to ensure that as a community we remain respectful of each other’s views on the matters in dispute and the decisions individual staff make over whether to support the industrial action.

I thank you in advance for your support and understanding and continued commitment to our students and their education.

In the meantime, we will shortly be publishing some Frequently Asked Questions on the intranet concerning the industrial action.

Best wishes

Professor Tim Jones
Provost and Vice-Principal

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