Staff Strikes 2021


Read more about UCU Strike Action planned for December this year.

Current Situation: Industrial action is planned for 1-3 December 2021

The University and College Union (UCU) is the Trade Union which represents over 110,000 academics, lecturers, trainers, instructors, researchers, managers, administrators, computer staff, librarians and postgraduates in universities, colleges, prisons, adult education and training organisations across the UK. 

Nationally, members of UCU have recently balloted in support for strike action in December, regarding two disputes, including the valuation of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which will impact the contributions and benefits related to lecturers' pensions. The University of Bath branch of UCU has balloted in favour of strike action based on the USS pension dispute.

It has been announced that Strike Action at Bath will take place between Wednesday 1 December and Friday 3 December.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is happening?

On 5 November it was announced that nationally, members of the University and College Union (UCU) backed strike action based on two separate disputes, one on pensions and one on pay and working conditions.

This article released by UCU on 16th November 2021, outlines that 58 Universities will be hit with strike action from Wednesday 1 December, to Friday 3 December.

The University of Bath is to strike over the pensions dispute only.

Why is the strike happening?

Nationally, the reasons why UCU have decided to ballot can be summarised under two headings: Four Fights and Action for USS. The University of Bath branch of UCU have voted to strike bassed on the 'Action for USS' dispute alone.

1) Four Fights, one union

UCU are calling on employers to:

  • address the gender, ethnic, and disability pay gap,
  • end contract casualisation and rising job insecurity,
  • tackle rising workloads,
  • increase to all spine points on the national pay scale of £2,500.

2) Action for USS: dignity at work, dignity in retirement

According to UCU, a typical member of the USS scheme on a £42k lecturer's salary, aged 37, will suffer a 35% loss to the guaranteed retirement benefits which they will build up over the rest of their career. Therefore, UCU are calling for:

  • stop the cuts to USS and work with us to avoid future changes to benefits and increases in member contributions,
  • call on USS to issue a new evidence-based valuation of the scheme.

A central reason for UCU to raise a concern with the USS pension scheme is that the valuation of the scheme is based on a snapshot on a particular date (the most recent of which was the end of March 2020), which statistics suggest is one of the worst times to base the valuation on due to the COVID pandemic's effects on the economy at the time. More on this can be read here.

The University and the campus Trades Unions published a joint message regarding USS valuation, in May 2021: Read here

What has The SU done so far?

  • SU Officers have met with UCU to understand the issue and how we can work together to limit the use of strikes and allow students to understand why lecturers are striking.

  • SU Officers have also met with senior University staff, and raised concerns with the Acting Pro-Vice Chancellors for Education, as well as at University Resilient Curriculum meetings in September.

  • The SU organised a Q&A Webinar on 26 of October (video available below) with a variety of speakers to give students and representatives the opportunity to find out more and ask any questions directly to UCU, the University, The SU, and NUS.

  • The SU has built this Strikes information and FAQ page.

How would a strike impact me?

  • Strikes are meant to disrupt, this may mean that certain staff are unavailable, lectures, seminars and meetings are cancelled last minute, and services take longer than usual. 

  • UCU have explained that staff do not want to carry out industrial action, but they believe the threat is a necessary use of action which will progress talks.

  • Students will not be abandoned. Essential services such as Wellbeing, Security and Food provision will continue but may be disrupted. The SU will maintain communication with students as the strike progresses. 

  • If you incur extra costs due to the Industrial action, then you can make an application to the University of Bath Hardship Fund for financial assistance. If you have any further questions, please contact Student Money Advice.

  • If your wellbeing is impacted, please see the FAQ 'Where can I get help or advice if I'm worried?' further down on this page.

Will the Strike continue?

  • The strike has been actioned because of an ongoing dispute. General secretary of the UCU, Jo Grady, has warned that further strikes could happen in 2022 if the dispute goes unresolved.

Can I request tuition fee refunds/reimbursement?

  • Student complaints are delt with on a case-by-case basis, but the University usually takes reasonable steps to minimise potential disruption.
  • The University is regulated by the Office for Students as well as the Competition and Markets Authority which ensure that students’ learning objectives are met.
  • If students believe their learning objectives are not being met, then they can make a complaint to the University via the Student Complaints Procedure
  • The SU Advice and Support team can provide support to students issuing a complaint. They are available via: suadvice@bath.ac.uk or in the Advice and Support Office, Level 3 of the Student Centre, Monday – Friday, 10:00 – 15:30.

What is the National Union of Students' stance?

NUS UK President Larissa Kennedy, and NUS UK Vice-President for Higher Education Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, have today launched a petition calling on UUK and UCEU executives to return to the negotiating table and meet UCU’s demands.

Commenting on this, NUS UK President Larissa Kennedy said:

“Students have a rich history of standing shoulder to shoulder with university staff, who have seen their pensions, pay and conditions slashed in recent years, so I’m not surprised that they overwhelmingly support their campaign to secure a fairer settlement."

Read more from NUS on this issue by clicking here.

How do I contact University about this?

Your Director of Studies can offer you specific advice about your academic experience. Doctoral students can also receive support from the Doctoral College. The University is also encouraging students with general queries (that are not course specific) to this email address: QueriesIndustrialAction@bath.ac.uk.

The University have also published their own Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) webpages:

Where can I get help or advice if I'm worried?

  • Your Director of Studies can offer you advice about your specific academic circumstances. Doctoral students can also receive support from the Doctoral College.
  • The University’s Wellbeing Service is available seven days a week. You can book an appointment online or get in touch by phone (01225 383838) or email (wellbeingservice@bath.ac.uk). All the services are confidential.
  • Our Be Well - Talk Now service also provides free, confidential advice and support by phone, video call or live chat from anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  • The Advice & Support Centre at the Students’ Union offers independent advice on your academic circumstances and options, including on the complaints process, and provides a range of other support services.

What do I do now?

  • Check out our Toolkit below.
  • You should continue with your academic work, attend all scheduled classes, and prepare for assessments as normal. If you are especially worried about a particular assessment, please write to your Director of Studies or Head of Department.
  • You can also turn to the Academic Skills Centre for generalised help with assignments.
  • If you are feeling particularly anxious, please make use of the support networks we have at the University, including the Students’ Union, Student Services, and Personal Tutors.

University FAQs

The University have also published their own Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) webpages:


Industrial Action Toolkit by SU Advice & Support

The Students’ Union Advice Centre provides independent support to students affected by strikes. These Tools are to help you feel prepared for the strikes & know your rights if your studies are affected. The tools are informed by the OIA guide to industrial action for students (Industrial action - FAQ for students - OIAHE). 

Tool 1: Be Prepared

It’s normal to feel distressed about the impact of strike action on your studies or research (if you’re a Doctoral Student) especially if you’ve experienced disruption before.

First step: read the SU guide to the Staff Strikes 2021 to understand why the industrial action is taking place.

Second step: check with your Academic Department to see what additional arrangements are being made to minimise the disruption to your work.

Each Faculty/Department/School will make different adjustments depending on the level of disruption, so it’s hard to say exactly what will be appropriate to your situation. Actions Departments have taken in the past include:

  • Rescheduling in-person teaching to later in the year.
  • Providing some material online.
  • Delivering teaching in other formats, e.g. guided readings or recordings.
  • Adjusting submission deadlines & the weight & content of assessments.

Let your Department know as soon as possible if you believe the replacement learning opportunities don’t meet your needs, for example, if you are disabled, have an impairment or a specific learning difficulty.

Tool 2: Know your options for Advice & Support

Several services will remain open & available to you throughout the period of strike action.

Tool 3: Understand your Rights

The University’s obligations to you are covered by Consumer Protection Law. This means you can expect the University to make reasonable adjustments to minimise the impact of disruption on your studies, for example offering equivalent opportunities to compensate for missed teaching & treating all students fairly. If your Department takes reasonable steps to replace lost learning opportunities, it’s unlikely you’ll receive a refund on your tuition fees.

Tip: It’s a good idea to read your course handbook (or similar document) to understand what you are entitled to expect from your studies, in terms of contact hours & other learning opportunities.

If you are affected by strike action, we encourage you to keep a record of how your studies have been affected (e.g. a change in teaching hours, supervision, access to facilities, services & opportunities) plus any financial loss or distress this has caused you. This evidence is useful if you need to report significant impact on your ability to complete an assessment (via the IMC process, which the SU Advice Team can help with) or believe you have grounds to make complaint. Examples of evidence you might record include:

  • If you arrange for a paid notetaker & a lecture that’s cancelled at short notice, record any costs you’re still required to pay.
  • If you’re particularly distressed about the disruption caused to a crucial assessment (e.g. in your final year or an assessment required to progress to the next level of your studies).
  • If you feel the learning outcomes for a module aren’t delivered in full or to the expected standard by putting the material online.

Tip: When making a complaint, be aware it’s difficult to make a direct correlation between missed teaching & your tuition fees. You can’t divide £9,250 by the number of teaching weeks & the number of teaching hours per week to work out the cost of each lecture etc. Tuition fees cover more than just teaching activities and include access to facilities, support services & other learning opportunities.

Be aware it is possible that the University may quote a 'force majeure' clause (see the glossary below for a definition) to exclude any liability for losses caused by strike action (i.e. if the strike action is beyond their control).

Tool 4: Know how to report significant impact on your ability to complete an assessment

If you feel your ability to undertake an assessment or exam has been significantly affected (for example, your have a specifici learning difficulty & the replacement learning activities don't meet your needs) you may be eligible to submit an Individual Mitigating Circumstances (IMC) claim. This process is to help students who have experienced exceptional disruption & impact on their studies.

The SU Advice Team can guide you through the IMC process & review your IMC report form before you submit it. Email suadvice@bath.ac.uk

Tool 5: Know how to make a complaint

If you feel your Department hasn’t met your learning objectives through reasonable adjustments to teaching, you are entitled to make a complaint.

The University can receive complaints from a group of students who were all affected in the same way. You can submit a group complaint by appointing a representative/asking your academic rep and approaching the SU Advice & Support Centre. Our Advisors provide advice on writing your complaint & can support you to attend meetings as part of the complaints process.

Tip: Engaging with the formal University procedures is the best way to get your concerns addressed. By limiting your complaint to signing a petition, you might miss the opportunity to have your specific concerns properly addressed.

If you engage with the University procedure, you also ensure you have the option to make a complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) if you’re unhappy with how the University handles your complaint. The OIA is an independent body who review student complaints about higher education provider. There service is free to all students but they will only consider complaints after they have been through the University process. The SU Advice Team can help you to make a complaint to the OIA. You can read previous examples of student complaints & outcomes from strike action on the the OIA website.


Q&A Webinar

The SU held a webinar and question & answer session with key stakeholders, in order to give students the opportunity to find out more about the potential strikes, and how this could impact them. This helped students in understanding the background and impact of the proposed industrial action from different perspectives. Panel members included; Senior members of University staff, a representative from UCU, and Officers of The SU and NUS.


Glossary

What is a Trade Union?

  • An organisation that employees of a certain profession can join for representation and political bargaining (this is different to an SU - SUs are charities, not trade unions).

What is a Strike?

  • 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’.

What is a Picket Line?

  • A picket line is a boundary established by workers on strike – often at the entrance to their workplace – which others are asked not to cross.

What is the University and College Union (UCU)?

  • The University and College Union (UCU) represents over 110,000 academics, lecturers, trainers, instructors, researchers, managers, administrators, computer staff, librarians and postgraduates in universities, colleges, prisons, adult education and training organisations across the UK.

What does 'Force Majeure' mean?

  • If the University relies on a force majeure clause, excluding liability for losses caused by strike action, that would have to be considered in the context of consumer law principles: terms and conditions, including rules and regulations, should be clear and transparent and should strike a fair balance between the University's rights and obligations and those of its students. There is also a debate to be had about whether strike action is genuinely force majeure – that is, out of the control of the provider.

Want to find out more?

Get in contact - if you want to talk any further, then please email: suofficers@bath.ac.uk.