UCU faces challenge on rescheduling lectures lost to strike

Unhappiness over guidance on rearranging classes affected by industrial action may force a rethink

December 6, 2021
Source: Simon Baker

The University and College Union’s advice that staff may need to reschedule lectures and classes lost to strike action is likely to be challenged.

Staff at 58 UK campuses walked out from 1 to 3 December in disputes over pay, pensions and working conditions as a campaign of action short of a strike (ASOS) began at a larger number of institutions.

In previous strikes, ASOS has included not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled because of industrial action. However, under guidance issued by the UCU this time around, the “first phase of ASOS will consist of working to rule only”.

“If members are asked to take on additional tasks (such as teaching classes rescheduled due to strike action) this may form a reasonable request from management and, therefore, would form part of their contractual duties,” one union official explained on Twitter.

That approach has faced opposition from some union members who worry that it accepts universities’ position that any cancelled contact hours must be rescheduled – with refusal to do this likely to result in pay deductions.

It was decided at a meeting of the UCU’s higher education committee, but it is likely to be directly challenged at an upcoming meeting on 10 December with the aim of instructing union members to begin more disruptive forms of ASOS.

Jo McNeill, vice-president of the University of Liverpool’s UCU branch, said “usually the notice served on our employers includes the right to refuse to reschedule work missed during strike days, but this time the notice did not include this specification. This will be rectified soon.”

She added: “Our members are drowning under the weight of unmanageable workloads, so it’s unclear how they will physically be able to reschedule work missed.”

However, one industrial relations expert said the UCU would have had “to gauge how much support they would have for action which would lead to employers making pay deductions” in the run-up to Christmas.

The UCU said industrial action would “escalate over the coming weeks unless bosses meet our demands”.

“The overwhelming ‘yes’ vote in our industrial action ballots has given our members a mandate to escalate ASOS to include withdrawal from contractual duties when our democratic structures deem it is appropriate to do so,” a spokesman said.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: UCU faces challenge on lectures lost to strike

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Reader's comments (5)

Well done UCU, you just made the industrial action completely pointless. A strike is a strike.
“Overwhelming ‘yes’ vote” ??? The industrial action this time seems to be totally disrespectful to other low paid staff who are in other unions. Late hours, stress and dealing with aggressive student sit-ins fuelled by fringe activists who are nothing to do with the TU movement or even the University. Better and more constructive ways of doing this.
I agree with comment #1. But most UCU strikes have the problem that they try to keep the students onside, and really, the problem is that strikes have to make other people angry, in order to be effective. Really it's not "university bosses" but the government who are the opponent, and no-one in government is paying attention to this strike.
I run the final year project module for my department and students are expected to have a regular weekly meeting with their project supervisor. The advice I gave to students was "Respect your supervisor's right to strike but if you feel you need supervision over the next few days and don't want to wait until your next meeting please seek a mutually convenient appointment outside of the 3 days of the strike action". The guidance for academics was merely reminding them that it's only curteous to let students know that they would not be available if they chose to participate in the strike.
I was already considering changing union (Affinity looks promising) for other reasons and this is now pushing me further in that direction. Why would I accept three days loss of pay just to undertake the work missed at another time, thereby subsidising my employer? This is not acceptable UCU - if you focus on the main functions that you have as a union this sort of potential error should not be occurring.

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