Branch guidance for the March 2022 industrial action

Information, advice, and guidance for Imperial UCU members regarding industrial action on the USS dispute from Monday 21st – Friday 25th March 2022

UCU members at Imperial College London have the mandate to take strike action over the USS pensions dispute for the next five working days. Herewith information, advice, and guidance specific to Imperial. For general information please refer to the UCU main pages, in particular the FAQs. If you have questions or comments please contact any of the elected UCU reps or email ucu-office@imperial.ac.uk.

Contents

  1. Times and dates 
  2. Zoom link 
  3. Attendance 
  4. Picket supervisors
  5. Locations 
  6. Communications
  7. Safety & comfort 
  8. COVID-19 
  9. Online picketing 
  10. Members not eligible to strike 
  11. Peaceful picketing 
  12. Action short of strike (ASOS) 
  13. Declaring strike action and ASOS to your employer 
  14. Suggested automatic email reply
  15. Appendix A: UCU guidance for picketing during the COVID-19 pandemic

 

  1. Times and dates

The mandate for strike action is for the working days of 21st – 25th March inclusive so we will be withdrawing our labour for College work from 12 midnight on 21/3/22 to 11.59 pm on 25/3/22.
In person picketing will be running during the five mornings. We will have a rota of a few volunteers meet at 7.30 am each morning to collect materials and set up to be ready to start the picket before 8 am. It is good to have as many people as possible ready before 9am to catch staff and students coming in but please just come in whenever is convenient for you to do so if 9 am isn’t possible.
At 10.30 am each day we will hold a meeting with all in person picketers, plus an online video link for those who can’t make it in person. At 10.45 or so we’ll take the equipment back to the students union and warm up & take get some sustenance.
We certainly don’t expect everyone to be there for the full shift on all five days. Please just do what you’re able to do. If all you can manage is a couple of hours on one or two of the days, then that is fine, and it will be great to have you along; if you can do more then so much the better.

  1. Zoom link

We will be sending a Zoom link for all strike day meetings in due course.

  1. Attendance

We will keep a record of in person attendees for each day of strike action. We do this anyway, but this is now part of the official UCU guidance during the pandemic for contact tracing purposes.

  1. Picket supervisors

The picket supervisors are Vijay Tymms and Roddy Slorach. Please contact them if you have any concerns on the day, and any person not involved with the strike action with a concern should be directed towards one of them.

  1. Locations

We have a legal obligation to declare picket locations in advance for UCU HQ and the Met police. For this round of action, we will be picketing South Kensington campus only and will aim to have people stationed on every entrance viz.

The Exhibition Road vehicle and pedestrian entrance to Imperial College Road(*)

The Exhibition Road Business School entrance

The Prince Consort Road Royal School of Mines entrance

The Prince Consort Road Roderic Hill entrance

The Prince Consort Road vehicle and pedestrian access to Callendar Road

The Prince Consort Road entrance to Blackett(**)

The Queen’s Gate entrance to Huxley

The Queen’s Gate vehicle and pedestrian entrance to Imperial College Road

(*) This will be the main hub for us. If you’re not sure where to go when you turn up, please report to this location.

(**) Blackett will have scaffolding work covering the front of the building and builders will be working during the strike action so please take care. We have liaised with the Physics Operations Manager about this, and he is comfortable that picketing can happen safely provided people stay underneath the building awning and don’t spill over onto the pavement (as we have done in the past).

  1. Communications

We have an active WhatsApp group for people involved with strike action that we set up in 2018. We will use this extensively during picketing times for coordinating and other discussion. We usually restrict joiners of the group to people who report in person to the picket line but this year as more people than ever are likely to want or need to stay at home we can open it to others. Please email ucu-office@imperial.ac.uk with your name, UCU number, and saying you wish to be part of the online picket and we will add you.

  1. Safety and comfort

If you have any safety concerns, then please report them to a picket supervisor as soon as possible. It will be considerably milder weather than the previous two rounds of action; at time of writing there is no rain forecast and temperatures that look like they will be quite pleasant for outdoor picketing.

Regarding toilet facilities you’re not supposed to cross the picket line at all, even for this purpose. Nearby facilities can be found in the Student Union at the north end of Beit Quad (usually open during all picketing hours), in the Science Museum (free entry from 10 am), and in the Ethos gym for those with card access.

We recommended bringing food and drink to sustain yourself through the morning though there are nearby outlets (e.g. the Science Museum from 10 am, or the Student Union bar from midday to round off the day and warm up a bit before heading home).

  1. COVID-19

We will follow UCU guidelines on picketing during the pandemic. See appendix A.

  1. Online picketing

If you do not feel it is safe to attend in person (remembering that the picket lines will be outside, not in an enclosed space), then please join our online pickets and amplify our message on social media and in the press. If you can, join the WhatsApp group so you can participate in discussion, and watch out for updates on the video link for the daily 10.30 meeting.

  1. Members not eligible to strike

If you are a UCU member that doesn’t draw a College salary (e.g. a PhD student or retired member) then you can’t technically withdraw your labour, but you are still welcome to join us on the picket so do please join us if you are able for it! The UCU guide to postgraduate researchers and the strike action can be found here.

  1. Peaceful picketing

This will be a peaceful picket so we will not be blocking doorways or challenging people for crossing the picket line, and we will be allowing any non-strikers to go about their business without fear of intimidation. We will stand near and to the side of doorways handing out leaflets, inviting people to join the UCU and asking people if they would like to speak about the strike. Respectful disagreement, and healthy argument is very much encouraged of course if colleagues choosing to cross the picket line agree to stop and talk.

  1. Action short of strike (ASOS)

The mandate for ASOS is from 1/12/21 to 3/5/22. Early this year the UCU Higher Education Committee specified that ASOS during this dispute will consist of:

  • 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 classes and lectures cancelled due to strike action
  • not undertaking any voluntary activities.

Employers have been informed of this and you are legally permitted to refuse any work that falls within these categories. If you are asked to do something that you wish to refuse due to ASOS then we recommend you send an email to the relevant people involved, copy it to your line manager, and copy it to your union rep or the UCU office (ucu-office@imperial.ac.uk) saying something along the lines of: Apologies that I have to decline this request as I am taking action short of strike, along with other members of Imperial UCU, in opposition to the devastating cuts to our pension scheme. The work I am being asked to undertake falls under the category of [state category] which is one of the recognised areas that action short of strike includes.

If you are unsure about whether something would fall under an ASOS category, or have any queries about whether you feel you should be taking ASOS please contact your branch rep or the UCU office. 

  1. Declaring strike action and ASOS to your employer

Contrary to what recent College communications may imply please be reminded of two absolutes regarding strike action: (a) You should not inform your employer in advance about taking industrial action as this will allow management to subvert the strike. Please ignore any messages telling you to do this. (b) Your employer is not permitted to employ cover for you when you are absent through industrial action. This is strikebreaking and it is illegal. They can ask existing employees to do it although we’d ask that non-members refuse such requests: why should they work harder because UCU members are on strike?

If you do feel you are being pressured to state to management that you will be taking strike action, or, if you see any instances of strikebreaking please inform a UCU rep as soon as you can.

Once the strike action is over, on 28/3/22 you can inform your employer if they ask. They are likely to ask you report this on TeamSeer. We recommend you ignore this and instead inform HR by email, noting that you wish pension contributions to be made on the strike days. We will supply further information and guidance on this on 28/3/22.

Regarding declaration of ASOS please follow the guidance provided in section 12. We advise against completing the online form for declaration on ASOS produced by HR; there is no obligation, necessity, or practical advantage for any member to do this.

  1. Suggested automatic email reply

You may wish to set an automatic reply on College email during the strike period. Here are two examples that you may use and adapt howsoever you choose:

Short example

I am not able to check email today as members of Imperial UCU are taking industrial action, along with members at 36 other universities, in opposition to the devastating cuts to our pension scheme. Members of Imperial UCU will be on strike on 21st – 25th March 2022. Please do not email on these days as I will not be able to respond on my return to emails sent to me on strike days. If you would like more information about the dispute, please go to https://ucu.imperial.ac.uk/about-imperial-college-ucu. If you are a student, please do contact provost@imperial.ac.uk and president@imperial.ac.uk to find out what steps the College management are taking to resolve the dispute. 

Longer example

I am not able to check email today as members of Imperial UCU are taking industrial action, along with members at over 36 other universities, in opposition to the devastating cuts to our pension scheme. Members of Imperial UCU will be on strike 21st – 25th March. If you would like more information about the dispute, or how the cuts will impact you, please continue reading below.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO SUPPORT THE STRIKE I HEAR YOU ASKING?

  • Join the picket lines, speak to those on strike to hear their views. We know the employers and government will continue to attack the strikers through their communications and in the media.
  • If you are a student, please do contact provost@imperial.ac.uk and president@imperial.ac.uk to find out what steps College management are taking to resolve the dispute. 
  • Speak to your friends, fellow students or colleagues about the dispute and become an advocate for the defence of higher education against marketisation.
  • Tweet your message of support using the tags: #USSStrike, #FourFights and #UCUStrikesBack, copy the local UCU branch: @imperialUCU and national UCU accounts: @UCU.

 WHY ARE IMPERIAL COLLEGE STAFF HAVING TO STRIKE TO DEFEND PENSIONS?

 Headlines: 

  • The pension fund, Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), conducted a valuation at the height of the pandemic in March 2020 when the stock market suffered a massive drop. USS also used unjustified assumptions and an extremely pessimistic assumption about future asset growth. Since then, the value of assets has grown considerably, but USS has refused to take this into account. 
  • The USS is a healthy pension scheme that does not require significant benefit reform. 
  • The employers, including Imperial College, want to transfer all costs of this unjustified valuation onto members, by cutting our retirement benefits. They refused to join UCU and call on USS to conduct a new valuation. 
  • Example: a lecturer who could previously expect a guaranteed annual pension of £23,068 at retirement, will instead be estimated to obtain £12,661 in defined benefits under new proposals using the 2020 valuation [see attached slides]. See what the pension cuts would mean for your own pension here:  https://www.ucu.org.uk/ussmodeller
  • We demand that the employers revoke their damaging proposals for benefit cuts and work with UCU to ensure that the benefits for members are protected and that costs do not make it unaffordable. Employers also must join us in publicly calling on USS to conduct a new valuation using an evidence-based, prudent approach. 

Resources: 

  1. USS Modeller – As mentioned above, you can see enter some basic details here and see what Imperial’s cuts would mean for your own pension:  https://www.ucu.org.uk/ussmodeller
  1. Short article – The case for a credible evidence-based 2021 USS valuation –  https://medium.com/ussbriefs/the-case-for-a-credible-evidence-based-2021-uss-valuation-d5e8c536350c
  1. UCU FAQs on the USS dispute – https://www.ucu.org.uk/uss-faqs. 

Imperial College UCU

March 2022

Appendix A: UCU guidance for picketing during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Give members options to participate in virtual actions – especially for members who do not wish to use public transport to attend picket lines.
  • Wear face coverings on picket lines outdoors and when in any indoor areas.
  • Keep lists/contacts of pickets/days they participate – for contact tracing purposes.
  • Observe social distancing where possible, and respect other peoples’ space.
  • Provide hand sanitiser for pickets/on picket lines.
  • Encourage participants to use lateral flow tests ahead of participating in in-person activities.  Can be ordered free from: https://www.gov.uk/order-coronavirus-rapid-lateral-flow-tests
  • Any rallies should be outdoors or virtual.
  • Use social media to distribute messages on the strike action – given students/other staff may be reluctant to take flyers/leaflets being handed out on picket lines.  (May also be possible to share information on the strike with students in advance – taking care not to breach any employer policies on this matter).
  • Take care if organising meeting rooms/any indoor activity relating to the strike action. Ensure room set up allows for 2 metre physical distancing, has appropriate ventilation, and that you have a system for contract tracing participants in attendance.
  • Ensure you can provide good hygiene/washing facilities especially if you are offering refreshments/snacks to pickets.