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The University and College Union (UCU) will be on strike between Wednesday 1st December and Friday 3rd December at 58 institutions, including the University of Arts London. 

From 1st December, staff will also begin working strictly to contract as part of ongoing 'action short of a strike'. This will take place across 64 universities, including UAL. 

The Students' Union represents student interests in negotiations between UCU and the University and will keep you regularly and properly informed during the industrial action. This work will be led by SU Campaigns Officer Syahadah Shahril and you will find regular information updates on this page. Any student-led campaign-related activity surrounding the strike can be found on the Current Campaigns at UAL page


 
NOTE: A resolution on the SU’s response to the UCU strikes has been proposed to the Annual Members Meeting on the 29th of November 5-6.15pm where students can discuss and vote on the proposed actions.  
 

What is UCU and why have they voted to strike?  

The University and College Union (UCU) is the largest trade union for academic and professional staff in post-16 education, representing over 130,000 staff such as lecturers, administrators, technicians, etc. across the UK, including staff at the University of Arts London, where there is an active UCU branch (UAL UCU).

UCU opened national strike ballots between 18 October and 4 November due to disputes over USS pensions and the ‘Four Fights’: gender, ethnic and disability pay gaps; unsafe workloads; casualised contracts; unfair pay.

152 institutions were balloted in total, with 146 balloted over the ‘Four Fights’, and 68 over cuts to USS pensions. UCU members at the University of Arts London were only balloted over the ‘Four Fights’. 

The UAL branch members (60.2% of eligible members) voted with a majority of 85.4% to take strike action. 

The decision around the ‘Four Fights’ – equality pay gaps, unsafe workloads, casualised contracts, unfair pay – are negotiated at a national level with UCEA (Universities and Colleges Employers Association, a  governed by a board staffed by vice-chancellors, principals and chairs of governing councils of universities.

Why have UCU-UAL members voted to strike?

As industrial action is a last resort, it signifies failed negotiations between UCU, which represents university staff, and UCEA and UUK, organisations representing higher education employers. This usually means that employers, who control or hugely influence policy over working conditions, pay, contracts, and pensions, have refused to meet the demands put forward by workers.

The industrial action is meant to increase UCU’s bargaining power over negotiations on issues that affect the staff that they represent

The idea behind industrial action is to increase the bargaining power that the workers’ union, UCU, has in negotiations on issues that affect their workers when employers are refusing to negotiate. Workers don’t want to engage in industrial action, and lose pay for taking part in it.

The issues have led to the strike?

UCU are balloting members on the ‘Four Fights’: – equality pay gaps, unsafe workloads, casualised contracts, unfair pay.

Casualisation refers to a preference for short-term/zero-hours contracts as opposed to secure, permanent job contracts. At the national level, 50% of academic and academic support staff are on ‘fixed-term contracts, hence only having secure employment for a fixed period of time. An example includes having to re-apply for jobs every year. This is disruptive to staff wellbeing and students’ education, as it can mean rapid changeover of staff.

Equality: Some staff are paid less for the same work. The national gender pay gap is 16%, the pay gap between Black and white staff stands at 17%, and the disability pay gap is 9%. This affects staff diversity, which in turn affects the student experience.

Pay for university staff fell by 17.6% relative to inflation between 2009 and 2019. Employers are offering a 1.5% pay increase, which is below the rate of inflation, which means that it is actually a pay cut relative to how much it costs to live.

Workload: Many staff face large workloads, working long into the evenings and at weekends, leaving many burnt out and unwell. A recent study found that 70% of staff at universities in the UK are burned out and afraid to ask for help at work.

Some institutions will be taking industrial action over cuts to the USS (Universities Superannuation Scheme), their employees’ pension scheme, leaving staff without a decent income when they retire. However, this does not apply at UAL.

What is Industrial Action

Industrial action covers a few types of temporary, collective actions that staff can take if they are dissatisfied with how their employers have dealt with issues in the workplace when negotiations over these issues have failed. It is the last resort with the hope of bringing employers back to negotiations to meet staff demands. These actions can be:

Strikes: Staff stop working during the pre-agreed, temporary strike period. The strike stops at the end of the agreed period or when demands are met, whichever is sooner. Staff lose pay during the time of the strikes.

ASOS (Action Short of a Strike): Staff only work during hours outlined in their contract on the tasks they are contracted to complete. Hence, staff would not work overtime or do additional work out of their contract. This might not sound impactful on paper, but staff in higher education have large workloads and are often expected to go beyond their contracted hours. Therefore, not doing so counts as a refusal to do some work.

Current Action scheduled (1st-3rd December) and how might this affect you? 

UCU announced three days of strikes taking place this term, on 1st, 2nd and 3rd of December.

On the scheduled day's staff on strike will not be working. On such days:  

  • Students might have lectures cancelled and be unable to access other services that staff usually facilitate. 

  • Staff won't do other work like plan classes or mark students' work. 

  • There might be staff and supporters standing on picket lines around university buildings, raising awareness of their strike and encouraging people to support the strike by not using the university on strike days. 

On the days that staff are working, bosses can ask staff to priorities different tasks in their contract. For example, if a staff member has been on strike Monday - Wednesday, when they come in on Thursday, their boss might ask them to focus on marking, or on organizing a particular event. 

Will there be any strike action in the future? 

‘Action Short of a Strike’ (ASOS), starting on 1st December. ASOS “is set to go on indefinitely for the five months staff have a mandate to take industrial action for” unless employers and workers reach an agreement on the disputes.

Read the UCU news update about this period of industrial action. We quote from it below:

“The union said the three-day strike will just be the start of sustained disruption for the sector if employers fail to negotiate.

The union intends to escalate its disputes next term. If employers do not make improved offers, further industrial action is likely to continue into the spring, at which point [other institutions’ UCU] branches that gain a mandate in their reballots will be able to join the action.”

Making a Complaint  

We understand that although students may personally support the UCU strike, they may also have concerns about missed teaching, upcoming assessments and disruption. This is a normal concern to have and we empathize that many of you may be feeling worried. 

Mitigation by course teams after industrial action may not take the form of a “like-for-like” replacement of missed teaching and learning. The intention is to ensure that the agreed learning outcomes of your course can still be delivered.  

If a suitable arrangement has not been met with your course team or you remain dissatisfied as a result of the impact of the industrial action, you are entitled to raise this issue through UAL's complaints procedure. You can read more about this here: https://www.arts-su.com/page-holder/your-union/students-union-advice-service/complaints

We are advising students doing so to consider the points below: 

  • Where possible UAL should try and mitigate the impact on delivering your agreed learning outcomes. Please keep in mind that strike action may be sporadic in nature. 

  • What mitigation has been offered by your course team to help you out during this time? 

  • What measures have been communicated to you and how? 

  • What support has been offered by your course team? Have you been linked to any university services e.g. wellbeing or the Students’ Union? 

  • Is the nature of your discipline/studies particularly affected by the disruption?  

How can the Students’ Union Advice Service support you in making a complaint?  

  • We can advise you on the process. 

  • We can help you to put forward an argument in your complaint enquiry form. 

  • We can read over any documents or emails you would like to include. 

  • We can accompany you to any meetings or Complaint Review Panels. 

  • We can support you in referring your case to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator if relevant. 

Contact us to discuss your options: 

Contact an Adviser here 

Book an appointment here 

UAL Services & Support  

How to apply for extenuating circumstances - click here.

Academic Support - click here. 

UAL Counselling and Health Advice Service- click here.

 

Your Representation  

We are always here to ensure your academic interests and experiences are represented during your time at UAL. This also includes strike action and any experiences/disruption this may bring to you. There is a wide range of feedback mechanisms you can explore in raising your voice and experiences such as: 
 

  • Contacting your course rep – do feedback any issues to your course rep of whom will be able to raise this with the course team in subsequent course committees. This could be around assessments, access to facilities, timetables and teaching.  
    Do note that raising an official complaint will need to be conducted through the UAL complaints process.  
    *If you do not know who your course rep is please email coursereps@su.arts.ac.uk  
     

  • SU Annual Members Meeting 29th November – we will be holding our annual big meeting on the Monday 29th November, 5-6.15pm where you can raise ideas and questions to the Students’ Union and Sabbatical Officer team. Sign up here
     

  • Feedback to Arts SU – if you would like to raise any feedback with any issues or experiences you are having, you can always email this to info@su.arts.ac.uk  
     

  • Open Q&A function – we do have an open Q&A function at the bottom of this page from which you can submit a question and someone from the Students’ Union will respond.  
    *You will need to log into your SU website account to submit the question.