2021/22 Strike FAQs

The information on this page relates to the 2021/22 dispute. It will be updated with information on the 22/23 UCUrising dispute following the UCUrising ballot, which runs from 7 September to the 21 October 2022.For further information on the latest national dispute see: ucu.org.uk/rising. If you have any queries about your local branch or would like to get involved please email our branch administrator at admin@birminghamucu.org.

—-

Action Short of Strike (ASOS) began on 1 December 2021 and remains ongoing. We have 5 days of strike action planned for Monday 21 March – Friday 25 March.

This strike is the result of a locally disaggregated strike ballot with over 60% turnout and with a 74% yes vote in the USS ballot and  63% yes vote in the “4 fights” ballot. We face a pensions cut of around 24%, a real terms pay cut (again), and failure to resolve longstanding problems of workload, equalities and casualisation.

Birmingham UCU Strike FAQs:

All UCU members employed at the University of Birmingham are called on to take strike action on the following strike days:

Monday 21 March – Friday 25 March

In addition to our FAQs (below) see the national UCU page on the strike here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/11817/HE-disputes-FAQs

What does taking strike action mean?

Strike action means not doing any work for all of the days specified by the union. This includes, for instance, time before 9am and after 5pm and includes any activity which is part of your work such as teaching, administration, meetings, emails relating to work, marking, completing registers, research or conferences where you are directly or indirectly representing your employer. It also means not doing any preparation for work that you are due to do when you return to work after your strike.

Physical picket registration

Those taking strike action are encouraged to join the physical pickets outside the periphery of the University on the days of the strike.

map

For physical attendance please bring a face covering and wear this when in enclosed spaces. Hand sanitiser will be available upon registration and at each picket location.

Upon arrival between 8am and 8:30am:

  • join the picket spot that you prefer – we suggest that members join the picket that matches their part of the University: CoSS (North Gate), CAL (South Gate), EPS and Professional Services (East Gate), LES and MDS (West Gate).
  • You can grab a cup of tea & coffee in the Strike Office, which is usually the Harvey Milk room in the Guild of Students.
  • Toilets and seating will also be available here.
  • If you normally travel to campus by car, you can still park in your usual spot.

Physical picket details

We aim to picket all of the main entrances to campus 08:30-12:00 on every day during the strike.

Pickets on official strike days are legally entitled to seek to persuade other staff members not to cross the picket line in support of our strike.

We encourage all members to attend picket lines: visibility is key to winning, and students are likely to want to chat to us about the dispute. And of course, it’ll be fun!

Covid-secure:

  • wear face coverings. Face masks can significantly reduce the risk of close contact aerosol transmission and can reduce far field airborne transmission risks. We have a supply of triple layer cloth face masks for use by pickets. Please also note that FFP2 or FFP3 masks will offer improved protection to the individual in higher risk situations.
  • practice social distancing of 2m where possible.
  • anyone with Covid-19 symptoms should self-isolate unless they have had a negative PCR test. We recommend pickets make use of rapid lateral flow tests each day before engaging in picketing to prevent any asymptomatic transmission.
  • Ensure frequent use of hand sanitiser. We will provide hand sanitiser to reduce any transmission risks.

If I can’t attend on the day how can I support the action?

For members unable to attend the physical picket there are activities you can undertake online to help support the strikes:

  • Tweet your support @BirminghamUCU using the hashtags #OneOfUsAllOfUs (in relation to the Four Fights) and #NotTodayUUK (in relation to the USS). Similarly you can also tag the branch on Facebook using the same hashtags.
  • If you are striking (i.e. withdrawing your labour) please include this in your tweet along with a short solidarity message or message of support for the fight. You can also tag @UCU and @WestMidsUCU if you want your post to be shared more widely.
  • Join rallies.

Please note that striking does mean withdrawing labour on the strike day. If you’re unable to attend the pickets and if the strike falls outside of your normal working hours please do consider donating to the branch hardship fund.

Making picketing more accessible

We appreciate that being outside for extended periods of time, often standing up, and holding placards can be challenging. Please take care of the following on the day:

  • Wrap up warm! And it will rain, so bring an umbrella!
  • Feel free to bring along a small camping chair or similar if you need one, but do take care not to block the pavement or prevent anyone else’s access to the building.
  • We will be providing a hot snack and hot drinks to picketers daily!
  • If you have a medical condition that might require immediate access to a toilet, feel free to use the one closest to you regardless of whether or not it is behind a picket.
  • Remember that the facilities of the Student Guild (toilets/shop/coffee facilities) are all free to use throughout strike days.
  • Feel free to take a break from the picket if you need one.
  • Please call the picket supervisor if you encounter any issues on the day.

Strike Day Rallies

We will be holding strike rallies throughout the strike period. We will update you when the next one is due. At these rallies you can expect to hear speeches from staff, students, union leaders and politicians, as well as some great music and entertainment. Please aim to get to the rally point before midday. Members are encouraged to make their way to the rally in their picket teams. Please remember to bring your placards and enthusiasm so that we can make sure everyone on campus knows about our strike!

UCU Fighting Fund

UCU provides financial support to those taking strike action, to compensate for lost income during the strike days.

How to claim from the national fighting fund: You will not be able to claim until after your employer has deducted money from you for participating in the strikes.

  • To claim from the fund, you need to make sure that you are in the right subscription category for your salary and membership status. To update your membership details, please visit MyUCU.
  • Payments will be £50 for the second and subsequent days of strike action for members earning £30,000 gross or more per annum (this is subject to a cap of 11 days. This will be kept under review); or £75 for the second and subsequent days of strike action for members earning less than £30,000 gross per annum.
  • To submit a claim, please visit the UCU fighting fund 2021 page, making sure you read the fighting fund guidance document before doing so.

Local BUCU hardship fund

We realise that for some losing a day’s pay for the first day of action and not getting this reimbursed by the union may incur some financial hardship. We are therefore offering £50 to all members to cover the first day of action. You can register for this when you register for your picket. If you are on strike but unable to physically attend a picket, please email our branch administrator, Russ Whitfield at admin@birminghamucu.org, about applying to the local hardship fund.

We are also offering £25 per day of action for each of the Monday 21 March – Friday 25 March round of strikes – contact admin@birminghamucu.org to request this.

If you have the means, please also consider donating to the fighting fund to support other members. Our local hardship fund is being built through member donations and is intended for those in especially precarious circumstances. If you or any family or friends can afford to donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/hxm4q-birmingham-ucu-strike-hardship-fund

Suggested Out of Office (during strike action)

If you would like to set an out-of-office reply prior to going on strike (remember: don’t check your emails while on strike!), please see the suggested template below:     

Thank you for your email.

I am currently unavailable as I am striking over both pensions and pay and working conditions. The strike action has been called in response to disputes centring on changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and universities’ failure to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads. You can read more about each dispute below:

Four Fights FAQs

USS FAQs

The University of Birmingham is central to the dispute: both as a large USS employer and as a member of the national negotiating body UCEA. We are calling on the University to work with UCU nationally for meaningful action on the Four Fights (Pay, Equality, Casualisation, and Workload) and our USS pensions.

You can support us by joining UCU and taking part in strike action. 

If you are a student, I will respond to your email on my return — though you may have to be patient as following the strike I will be working strictly to contract taking ‘action short of a strike’.

Best wishes

XX

Suggested Out of Office (during ASOS – working to contract)

Following strike action, durng the period of working to contract, you may be slower to respond to some requests. The following is a suggested out of office for the remaining period of the dispute (please see any updates on ASOS in the new year in local & national updates).

Thank you for your email. I am currently catching up on emails following UCU strike action, which took place in relation to imposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and universities’ failure to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads. You can read more about these disputes below. Four Fights FAQs: https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/11818/Four-fights-dispute-FAQs   USS FAQs: https://www.ucu.org.uk/uss-faqs Further to these disputes I will be working to contract as part of action short of strike action (ASOS) for the period of the dispute, which may mean I need more time than usual to respond to emails. Best wishes,

XX

[Guidance on how to set-up out-of-office replies for Outlook is available here: https://support.office.com/en-gb/article/Send-automatic-out-of-office-replies-from-Outlook-9742f476-5348-4f9f-997f-5e208513bd67#bkmk01].

Removing Panopto recordings

In order to avoid our teaching materials being used to replace our teaching on strike days, we advise that all recordings that you have produced for teaching on the strike days should be removed from Panopto. These should not be re-uploaded while the ASOS remains ongoing. All staff are entitled to do this, as a right acknowledged by the University’s own Code of Practice. See here for more details: https://birminghamucu.org/panopto-and-online-teaching-concerns/

What Action Short of Strike Action (ASOS) is being called?

Action Short of Strike now includes all of 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;

More details here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/11817/HE-disputes-FAQs#Taking-action-short-of-a-strike

Do I need to notify the University?

You are NOT required to formally notify anyone in advance of strike days that you are intending to take action. If your manager asks you in advance, you can reply that your union has advised you that you shouldn’t answer this (see UCU national FAQs).

If asked by your line manager afterwards whether you took part in the action you should answer honestly. If you choose to do this via New Core you can do, but there is no requirement to do so.

I am working on a visa – does this affect my right to strike?

As part of the changes to the Immigration Rules announced in September 2019, Tier 2 migrants will not be penalised in applications for ILR if they are absent from work due to legal strike action. This includes not being refused ILR if such an absence causes their salary to fall below the required threshold. There is further detailed technical guidance on the UCU national website on how different visa holders might be affected, covering tier 2, 4, & 5 visas: UCU – Migrant workers and taking action

Are students supporting the action?

Nationally, the NUS has given its full backing to UCU over both disputes, with the NUS Vice-President for Higher Education Hillary, Gyebi-Ababio, releasing the following statement:

“NUS stands in solidarity with staff who have voted for industrial action over these past few weeks. The sad truth is that increasingly staff on the ground have only seen more work for less reward. Time and time again, we’ve seen staff across universities go above and beyond to keep their institutions running, and students learning, and they have been met with cruel and untenable conditions and remuneration. There remains huge pay disparities between senior management and frontline staff, not to mention the appalling gender and race pay gaps. The situation is unsustainable for staff, and ultimately, that affects the support students receive, the quality of their learning and their wider student experience. 

“We don’t win a new vision for education by allowing senior managers to pit students and staff against one another. Staff working conditions are our learning conditions, and we must stand together if we are to realise a system that is truly student-centered and democratised. Our fights are inherently linked. UUK and UCEA must return to negotiations if we want to see a resolution to these disputes, and disruption minimised for students”.

Students have historically given fantastic support to our members, with students overwhelmingly voting to support our action in 2020 and the former President of the NUS, Malia Bouattia, giving this incredible speech on the steps of the Aston Webb on the 4th December 2019.

The Guild of Students at the University of Birmingham is currently holding a referendum of its student members to determine its position on the strike action. If you are a UCU member and also a student then you should be entitled to vote in that referendum, and we encourage you to do so.

You can find more details and see the full ‘Vote YES’ campaign page here: Guild of Students – The Yes Case