Industrial Action Graphic

Industrial Action

On 16th November 2021, the University and College Union (UCU) announced that staff at universities across the country, including at the University of Birmingham would take three days of strike action between Wednesday 1st December 2021 and Friday 3rd December 2021, inclusive. They have also announced that staff at universities including Birmingham, will take indefinite action short of a strike consisting of working strictly to contract and refusing additional duties.

The UCU announcement also confirms their intention to take escalating industrial action in the New Year if university employers do not make improved offers.

It is the UCU’s stance that a resolution in these disputes will support higher quality education in the longer term for students. The University note that these disputes are based on national issues that cannot be resolved by the University alone. The University also maintain that any industrial action will have a disproportionate impact on students’ education in the short term.

We've put together the following information to help explain who UCU are, what is happening and how it might affect you.

Activities

Strike Action

Why have some staff voted to take strike action?

UCU recently balloted its members in its branches at higher education providers including at the University of Birmingham.

The ballot was on whether staff wished to take strike action and action short of strike in relation to two disputes:

Industrial Action Responses

We asked the University and UCU a series of questions about industrial action, which they answered:

Both documents appear how they were received, including any errors.

Industrial Action FAQs

The University and College Union (UCU), are a trade union who represent over 130,000 academics, lecturers, trainers, instructors, researchers, managers, administrators, computer staff, librarians and postgraduates in universities, colleges, prisons, adult education and training organisations across the UK.

Some academic and academic related University staff, will not work during the period of strike action. This may mean that on the designated strike days, academic staff will not teach your lectures, seminars, tutorials or other academic sessions. They may not be present in their office hours or undertake any work such as marking of assignments or replying to emails. Academic related staff such as librarians may also not work during periods of strike action. Those who are striking do not need to inform you that they will not be running a particular lecture or other session, although they may choose to do so at their own discretion.

Not all staff are members of the Union or will choose to strike. Therefore, it will very much depend on your subject, level of study, and individual timetable as to how much your teaching and learning will be impacted.  The University plan to communicate with all students to let you know about any potential disruption and may also put plans in place to minimise the impact of the industrial action.

UCU has also indicated that staff will take indefinite “Action Short of a Strike” from 1st December 2021. Action Short of a strike is industrial action incorporated into a staff member’s daily working life outside of any designated strike days. This may include;

  1. Working to contract
  2. Not undertaking any voluntary activities

If the dispute between UCU and University employers continues into the New Year, we do not yet know the precise nature of any future action or its impact on students.

Whatever your stance on the industrial action, and whatever the outcome of the Referendum, the Guild will continue to represent your academic interests to the University and we will support individuals through our Guild Advice service in relation to any impact industrial action may have on your individual academic experience and progression. 

A referendum is an online vote on a particular proposal, that all full Guild members can take part in. Students have the choice to vote yes (agree with the proposal), no (disagree with the proposal), or abstain (no opinion on the proposal). All fully registered Birmingham students who have not opted out of their Guild membership, can vote in referenda.

A referendum can be used to seek opinion from students on a proposal, decide Guild policy, and decide affiliations of the Guild of Students. Referenda do not have the power to elect or appoint any Officer, representative or member of Guild of Students staff.

Referenda have a quorum, which means a certain number of Birmingham students need to vote (yes, no or abstain), for all of the votes to be valid/counted. The quorum for a referendum is either 5% of all Birmingham students, or 2,000 votes (from Birmingham students), whichever is greater.

In 2020, students voted for a policy that says the Guild will support legitimate industrial action taken by campus trade Unions, unless instructed otherwise by the result of a referendum held in accordance with the Guild’s Bye-Laws.

This means that, during industrial action, the Guild will:

  • support industrial action and encourages students not to join staff on picket lines
  • publicise the action and inform its members about the reasons for the action
  • lobby the University to engage in negotiations with trade unions
  • on strike days, provide (subject to availability) use of space at the Guild for UCU to run “teach-outs” which are a form of alternative educational provision for students. The Guild will also, subject to availability, allow use of space at the Guild for UCU to provide refreshment facilities to its members

Should the referendum fail to reach the quorum of 2000 votes, the Guild will default to following this policy.

The Guild Officer Group resolved, in accordance with our bye-laws, to hold a referendum, in order to ask students to cast their vote and determine whether the Guild should support industrial action in relation to the current disputes, for the duration of this academic year.

This is because industrial action is an issue that students hold various different beliefs on, and which may affect their education in the short and the long term. Much has also changed since the existing policy was passed, due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Additionally, a large proportion of students have joined the University since that policy was passed by the student body, and those new students deserve a say. The Guild Officer team therefore determined it was appropriate, as the Guild is a democratic institution, to offer all students the opportunity to have their opinion heard via a referendum.

'Crossing the picket line' means carrying on with your ordinary activities at a workplace during a period of strike action. Some people consider this to amount to undermining the industrial action and pickets will seek to persuade other staff members not to cross the picket line and not go into work as normal.

During strike action, students may decide not to cross the picket line. This means you act in solidarity with those striking and do not come onto campus for teaching, learning and other activities.

You should be advised that the University has informed the Guild that it would not consider a student's personal decision not to cross the picket line to be an "extenuating circumstance" if yor learning or results were impacted.  International students on Tier 4 visas would also need to be aware that normal attendance requirements would continue to apply unless your individual teaching sessions were cancelled due to strike action.

Currently, your Guild Officers meet with University staff on a daily and weekly basis to discuss a range of student related issues including Covid-19, teaching & learning, welfare, accommodation, governance and sports. Guild Officers also sit on various University committees and steering groups

In the event of the referendum result being that the Guild supports the industrial action (or the referendum fails to reach the quorum turnout), the Guild Officers will consider what support of the strike means for their individual area of the Guild’s operations and policy, and make personal decisions about whether this means they will cross the picket line and continue regular meetings with the University. In any event, they would present the Guild's position on industrial action at those meetings.

In all cases, Guild Officers will continue to provide support to individual students as normal, and continue to represent students’ interests in relation to the impact strikes will have on students’ academic experience and progression.

In the event of the referendum result being that the Guild does not support the industrial action, Guild Officers will make personal decisions about whether or not to cross the picket line.

All full members of the Guild can get involved with a campaign team. A campaign team is a group of students who are passionate about a particular stance on the Referendum, and want to campaign for this amongst the student body. The Guild will formally recognise one official campaign team for the “Yes”, “No” and “Abstain” campaigns.

Each formally recognised campaign team will have a budget of £100,  and be able to submit a Referendum Argument which will be displayed on the voting website. 

We are holding a briefing session event to provide more information about the referendum process and to form the official ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘Abstain’ campaign teams, on Friday 19th November, via Zoom.  Click here to book your place.:

If you are unable to attend the briefing but would like to be involved in the ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘Abstain’ teams, please email studentvoice@guild.bham.ac.uk by 4pm on Monday 22nd November.

Voting will be open from 10am, Friday 26th November until 12pm, Tuesday 30th November, on our Referendum Page.

Any full member of the Guild can vote on the Referendum question. If you’re a fully registered student at the University of Birmingham, you’re automatically a member of the Guild - unless you’ve chosen to opt out. 

Our bye-laws, which set the rules for our governance, say that 5% of the student body or 2,000 students (which ever figure is the greater) need to vote in a Referendum like this. This is called the quorum.

The University confirmed the number of registered students as 33,970 as of 1st November. Five percent of this figure is 1,699.

Therefore, the quorum for this Referendum is 2,000.

Jargon Buster

If you're wondering what we mean by any of the words or phrases above, take a look below for an explanation:

A picket line is a boundary established by workers on strike, usually at the entrance to their workplace, which others are asked not to cross. We currently do not know what would be considered a picket line when teaching is delivered online.

Industrial action is usually organised by trade unions, most commonly when employees are forced out of work or unhappy with a work related situation where the employees were unable to reach an agreement with the employer. Industrial action can include striking, action short of strike or lockout (where the employer stops workers from working).

Action short of a strike (ASOS) is defined by the UCU to potentially include: working to contract (only the hours defined by their contract, e.g. 9-5pm); not undertaking any voluntary activities.

The transformation of a workforce from largely employed on permanent contracts to largely employed on a short-term or casual basis.

An organised association of workers in a trade, group of trades, or profession, trade unions are formed to protect and further the rights and interests of their members (this is different to students’ unions which are charities rather than trade unions).

Either a system of voting secretly and in writing on a particular issue, or as a verb, an organisation asking members to vote secretly on an issue.

A strike is a period of time where employees decide not to come into work in protest about a particular aspect about their employment. They do not get paid whilst on strike. Strikes are often referred to as ‘industrial action’.


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