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FAQS for Staff

Current industrial action

Participating in industrial action

Reporting industrial action (and reporting stopping ASOS)

Action Short of a Strike (ASOS)

Tasks during and immediately after industrial action

Industrial Action, Pay, Pensions and Leave

Impact of industrial action

Alternative Proposals

Other FAQs

What's the action about?

UCU has balloted members at Durham University in respect of 2 disputes; one relating to the USS Pension Scheme and the other regarding Pay and other issues.

UCU secured a mandate for both industrial action and action short of strike (ASOS) at Durham. For further information see our Proposed USS changes page.

What form will the industrial action take?

Members have voted in favour of both strike action and action short of a strike (ASOS).

When will the industrial action take place and what form will it take?

Strike action took place between 1 and 3 December 2021 and for a further 10 days in February and early March 2022

Strike action is planned on 21-25 March- 2022 (inclusive).

Action short of strike (ASOS) commenced on 1 December 2021 and currently may continue until no later than 3 May 2022. 

Should I inform the University if I am taking part in industrial action?

You are required to inform the University if you are participating in industrial action. This includes reporting when you have participated in strike action and both when you start and end participation in action short of a strike (ASOS).

You should complete the online reporting web form, which will be available during periods of industrial action from www.durham.ac.uk/industrial-action. The same web form can be accessed as many times as necessary to report strike action, and to report the beginning and end of participation in ASOS.

The information on the web form will be used to assist managers with planning and to understand the impact of the action: for example, it may be that interviews need to be held on a different date or teaching needs to be rescheduled. The information will also be used to make any deductions from your pay and to make any necessary arrangements regarding your USS pension contributions (see separate FAQ).

Who can participate in industrial action?

Members of UCU can participate in strike action or action short of strike.

Other members of staff (not a member of UCU or any other campus trade union) can opt to support the strike by not attending work on strike days. If they choose to do so they must declare their participation using the online form and pay will be deducted as set out in the FAQs below.

How do I report participation in strike action?

Staff participating in strike action need to complete a web form to record their strike action. 

A completed web form must be submitted as soon as the member of staff returns to work, and no later than within 2 days of their final day of strike action.

How and when do I report ASOS?

There are different forms of ASOS that have been identified by UCU (see FAQ What is Action Short of a Strike (ASOS)?)

At present, the University only requires colleagues to report if they have participated in ASOS that is: “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”.

Staff should report their ASOS on the same web form and at the same time as they report their strike action. Should staff commence ASOS at a later date, they can access the webform and report their participation in ASOS.

Any previous ASOS declarations that staff made in December 2021 will be disregarded and a new declaration of ASOS must be made when starting a period of ASOS. 

Staff participating in other forms of ASOS (save for “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”) are not currently required to report their participation at this time.

How do I inform the University that I have stopped participating in ASOS?

When staff stop participating in this form of ASOS they should access the web form using the same link, and tick the option to report stopping ASOS. They will be asked to report the date that they stopped ASOS.

Information on when you should report you are no longer participating in ASOS is in the FAQ When should I report that I am no longer participating in ASOS?

What is Action Short of a Strike (ASOS)?

Action short of strike (ASOS) commenced on 1 December 2021 and may currently continue until no later than 3 May 2022.

ASOS is limited to the actions which were provided on the ballot paper, which in this dispute were:

  • 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 lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action; and/or
  • Undertaking a marking and assessment boycott (not currently active)

UCU have informed the University that at this present time ASOS will: "consist of our members only working their contracted hours and duties and not volunteering to do more, not rescheduling classes and lectures cancelled due to strike action, 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".

There is currently no 'marking and assessment boycott' as UCU have not informed the University that this forms part of ASOS.

When a colleague participates in ASOS, they may be only partially performing their duties and they may be in breach of their employment contract. The University has made it clear that it will not accept partial performance and the University would be entitled to withhold 100% of pay for each day that ASOS is taken.

The University is most concerned about ASOS which directly impacts on education, notably removing or not sharing material. The University's position on withholding pay for ASOS is outlined in the relevant FAQ.

What duties are required under my contract of employment?

The University expects all staff to continue to carry out all their contractual duties.

For each colleague, contractual duties include those which are expressly contained in their terms and conditions of employment and job description (or can be implied into those documents), along with those which are custom and practice.

Contractual duties also includes duties which are allocated or assigned from line managers. Managers are entitled to give colleagues reasonable instructions about which duties to undertake and how to execute them, for example the prioritisation of work and timescales for completing tasks mitigating the impact of industrial action on our students. A refusal to carry out reasonable management instructions will amount to a breach of contract and to partial performance of duties.

Where staff have a discretion as to how work may be completed, they should use their discretion for the benefit of the University.

A colleague is entitled to refuse to carry out duties above and beyond those contractually required and a refusal to do work, which is genuinely voluntary, would not be a breach of contract.

What happens to duties falling on days that I am on strike?

Staff participating in strike action do not need to undertake duties on days that they are participating in a strike. Managers can however require that they prioritise work on other days.

Please contact your Head of Department for further information, or your Human Resources Business Partner.

What action does the University require from staff returning from strike/ASOS?

Where staff have been engaged in strike action, we ask that they prioritise any outstanding teaching activity, such as ensuring that materials are available for students, as soon as possible when they return from strike action.

Where staff have not shared/uploaded materials that mitigate the effects of strike action by 7 March 2022, their pay will be withheld at a rate of 25% until the materials are uploaded/shared and the staff member reports that they have stopped participating in ASOS. The amount of pay being withheld may be subject to change.

We trust staff to determine how best to mitigate a cancelled class/lecture and to ensure that students have access to appropriate materials. Examples of potential mitigations are in our Mitigation Policy. The University is committed to our Lecture Capture Policy, which states that it is at the discretion of staff as to whether to use lecture capture materials. The University is committed to our Lecture Capture Policy, and while we consider that sharing lecture capture materials would be beneficial for our students, it is at the discretion of staff as to whether to use lecture capture materials.

Do I have to reschedule my lecture(s)?

No, not necessarily, you are asked to take action in accordance with our Mitigation Policy to ensure students have access to material to meet their learning outcomes, and rescheduling is just one option. We are operating on the basis of trust in asking staff to decide how best to mitigate cancelled classes/lectures.

I haven't taught this course before, so I have no materials to upload/share. What should I do?

We think there will be few occasions where staff have no materials to upload/share with students.

We trust staff to determine how best to mitigate a cancelled class/lecture and to ensure that students have access to appropriate materials. Where course materials are not available, the Mitigation Policy provides other examples of how staff may take action to mitigate cancelled classes by providing appropriate materials.

What should I prioritise when I return from industrial action?

Colleagues will be asked to put aside activities such as meetings or committee work, if necessary, to prioritise teaching activities. Heads of Departments will help colleagues clear diaries and create time to meet teaching responsibilities.

When should I report that I am no longer participating in ASOS?

Staff are required to self-report both their participation in ASOS and when they have stopped participating in ASOS. The University currently only requires staff to report one form of ASOS ("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").

Staff are asked to share/upload material that mitigate the effects of strike action. We trust staff to determine how best to mitigate a cancelled class/lecture and to ensure that students have access to appropriate materials. Examples of potential mitigations are in our Mitigation Policy. The University is committed to our Lecture Capture Policy, and while we consider that sharing lecture capture materials would be beneficial for our students, it is at the discretion of staff as to whether to use lecture capture materials.

Once staff are content that they have mitigated in line with the Mitigation Policy, they can report that they are no longer participating in ASOS.

How will the University mitigate the impact of the strike on students?

The University has developed a policy which sets out how we will use our best endeavours to respect the right of staff to strike whilst also seeking to minimise the impact of the strike on our students. This policy is available here.

How will my pay be affected if I strike?

For strike action we will deduct pay on the basis of 1/365th of normal pay for each day of strike action.

The University does not accept partial performance of duties by any member of staff. This means that if a member of staff takes part in strike action or refuses to carry out any part of their normal contractual duties, they will be in breach of their contract of employment, and the University is entitled as a consequence to make a deduction to contractual pay of up to 100%.

How will my pay be affected if I participate in ASOS?

You may be aware that employers are legally able to withhold full pay for action short of a strike that amounts to partial performance of duties. It is the case that in previous periods of industrial action we have decided not to exercise that right. One particular form of ASOS that UCU has chosen to deploy for this period of industrial action is likely to cause disruption to our students' education and to their ability to meet their learning outcomes: namely  the decision by UCU to instruct their members to “remove uploaded materials related to, and/or not to share materials related to, lectures or classes that will be or have been cancelled as a result of strike action”.  It was this instruction by UCU, and our concern for the significant impact this might have on our students, that resulted in the decision to withhold pay for this form of ASOS only (to be clear, we are not withholding pay for the three other forms of ASOS).

We anticipate that many staff will mitigate the impact of strike action on our students by sharing learning materials, and use their discretion as to how they do so in accordance with our agreed Mitigation Policy.  It is only if members of staff take no action that we would withhold pay. We have endeavoured to share as much information as possible on this webpage.

For further information see the FAQ: What action does the University require from staff returning from strike/ASOS?

 

I am a part-time colleague. How will this affect me?

If you participate in strike action or ASOS, your pay will be impacted in the same way as full-time staff.

If you participate in strike action your pay will be deducted at a rate of 100% (please see FAQ How will my pay be affected if I strike?). Therefore on any day that you are on strike when you are contracted to be working, you would not be paid.

If you report that you are participating in ASOS and the University is withholding pay, it will withhold your pay at the same percentage rate (please see FAQ How will my pay be affected if I participate in ASOS?). For example, if you are paid a pro-rata monthly salary of £1600 and you participate in ASOS for which the University is withholding pay at a rate of 25%, you would receive £1200 for each month that you were participating in ASOS.

How will my pension (life cover/incapacity cover) be affected?

This will depend on whether you want to maintain your USS contribution for the period of the strike action.

If you will be participating in strike action, you must submit an online form ideally prior to the first date of strike action, or as soon as possible. This form includes specific questions about whether (or not) you wish to maintain your USS pension contribution during the strike action. This is to ensure we have your permission to continue to pay your full USS employee contributions for each day of action. The University will maintain full employer contributions where employees have chosen to maintain their USS contributions.

Regardless of your preferred option, life cover and incapacity cover will remain in effect for all staff taking strike action.

I have an AVC, how will this be affected by undertaking strike action?

You will continue to pay your usual USS contributions however significant AVC contributions may be affected, but you will be contacted directly by a member of the pensions team if this is the case.

I am a part-time tutor - how will the industrial action affect my pay?

For part-time tutors' pay, reductions will only be made for hours not worked. Any prep work completed will still be paid. When completing the online form to declare industrial action, you will be asked to include the number of hours of strike action taken, this is to ensure the correct deductions from pay can be made.

When will my pay be deducted?

Deductions for strike action will normally be made on the month of the action. However, in some cases, if Payroll has already concluded the deduction would normally be made the following month.

Where the University withholds pay for ASOS, it will try to deduct pay in the month of the ASOS or, if Payroll has concluded, in the next month. However, where this is not operationally feasible, the deduction may be in a later month.

For any staff wanting to apply for the union's strike pay fund you will be able to access your payslip through Oracle Cloud. No further evidence will be provided by the University.

How will the industrial action affect sickness days or annual leave?

Leave approved prior to 14 March will be honoured. Leave which has not been approved in advance and which coincides with a period of industrial action will be subject to managerial discretion and will normally, only be approved in exceptional circumstances.

Staff who are absent from work due to sickness on the day of industrial action may in some cases be asked to submit a medical certificate for that day of absence to qualify for occupational sick pay. Heads of Department should use their discretion in requesting medical certificates for sickness absence. Staff absent for a continuous period where the sickness absence period commenced before and continued after the industrial action should follow the University's Sickness Absence Management Policy & Procedure.

What if I am on sick leave or annual leave during a period of ASOS?

Periods of sickness absence and agreed periods of annual leave must be recorded in Oracle.

During each month that the University withholds pay for ASOS, HR will ask Departments to check (on Oracle) whether any colleague has declared they are taking ASOS but they have been on annual leave or sickness absence during that month. Any recorded days of annual leave or sickness absence will be paid in accordance with contractual entitlements and pay will not be withheld for ASOS.

How will the strike affect the running of the University?

The University will operate normally, as far as is practicable, and staff will be expected to minimise disruption to students and maintain services as far as possible to external visitors.

Services should not be provided where disruptive action creates a risk to health and safety, e.g. where qualified support must normally be available. First aid cover is provided by staff from academic and support staff groups and departments should consider the level of cover provided. Fire evacuation procedures should not be jeopardised by the absence of key staff. Where health and safety may be compromised by a lack of supervision, activities should be cancelled and re-arranged.

What if there's a picket line or demonstration?

Staff or supporters taking or supporting action are not allowed to harass staff, students and visitors who wish to come into Durham University or unreasonably obstruct entrance to or exit from Durham University premises. They may only communicate information about the dispute. They must do so in a peaceful manner.

What if I feel uncomfortable crossing the picket line?

Activities on the picket line should be peaceful and should not make colleagues feel uncomfortable. If a colleague, who was not striking, did not cross the picket line to work they would potentially be absent without authorisation.

Can I work from home on strike days?

If you are not on strike and wish to work from home on a strike day, you should speak to your line manager and seek their agreement that you can work from home. Any colleague normally working from home should be able to undertake their work from home.

Will the nursery be affected by any industrial action?

No. The University Day Nursery will operate as normal.

Was there an alternative proposal from UUK following the statutory 60 day consultation?

Yes. In summary, this proposal aimed to address the concern raised by employees in relation to the 2.5% cap on inflationary increases. UUK sought employer views on whether they are supportive of a modification to the proposed changes to future benefits, to defer the application of the 2.5% cap up to and including the increase due in 2025.

The USS Trustee has costed this transition at 0.3% of pay – and if supported by employers – the temporary cost would be met through an extra 0.2% contribution from employers, paid for two years, and the members’ share of 0.1% met through a modest extension to the recovery plan, rather than an increase in member contributions.

 

Did UCU support the alternative UUK proposal?

No. UCU submitted its own alternative proposal.

Were employers consulted on the alternative proposal from UCU?

Yes. UUK asked the employers for their views on the UCU alternative proposal by Friday 18 February 2022.

What was UCU's alternative proposal?

Details of UCU's alternative proposal is at ussemployers.org.uk. In summary, UCU called for:

  • USS to issue a moderately prudent, evidence-based valuation of the financial health of the scheme as at 31 March 2022, to be issued for consultation in June (at the latest).
  • That employers agree to provide the same level of covenant support as for their own proposals to facilitate a cost-sharing of current benefits throughout the 2022/23 scheme year, starting 1 April 2022 at 11% member/23.7% employer until 1 October 2022, and 11.8%/25.2% until 1 April 2023.
  • That employers agree to pay a maximum 25.2% and members a maximum of 9.8% from 1 April 2023 so as to secure current benefits or, if not possible, the best achievable benefits as a result of the call on USS to issue a moderately prudent, evidence-based valuation.
  • At the recent meeting of the JNC, UCU representatives wished to confirm that it is their intention that employer contributions be capped at 25.2% of pay from 1 April 2023.

Where do UCU and UUK differ on the proposal?

  • Whether a further valuation would result in a better outcome or be possible in the timescale  – The UCU proposal is based on its belief that the next valuation will be significantly better and enable more flexibility in scheme design.  However, UUK state that there is little evidence at this stage that a further valuation will be significantly better. Although market conditions have improved, the cost of future service benefits are likely to have increased (although it will depend on markets at the time of the valuation). USS anticipate that the outcome of a further valuation would not make a material difference to the contributions needed towards the deficit.  UUK also query whether a valuation can be concluded in time to avoid further unaffordable increases in April 2023 (see below).
  • Whether it is possible to implement a cap on employer contributions at 25.2% for April 2023 - Pension schemes are highly regulated. UUK have asked UCU to provide further detail as to how an employer contribution cap of 25.2% could be legally and formally achieved – as it is the view of UUK that it would seem highly unlikely that any new 2022 valuation (part 1 of UCU’s proposal) described by them as being ideally moderately prudent, could be concluded in a timely manner to intercept the increases due on 1 April 2023. Under a usual USS valuation timetable (c15 months plus), UUK believe that the further increase due in April 2023 in the schedule would almost certainly be guaranteed to apply using this route. Without a legal guarantee, employers (and employees) would be exposed to the higher contributions set out in the USS Trustee’s contributions schedule for this UCU proposal (from April 2023 the employer would pay 26.5% and members would pay 12.5%).
  • The cost of the UCU Proposals - The UCU proposals will see an increase in employer contributions to 23.7% from April 2022, and again to 25.2% in October 2022. There are 344 employer members of USS. The UUK consultations to date have indicated that the current employer contribution rate of 21.4% is at the limit of affordability for many HEIs. The UCU proposals would also see higher contribution rates for employees, rising to 11% in April 2022, and 11.8% in October 2022. The UCU propose that the contribution rates would reduce to 9.8% in April 2023 but the viability of this is questioned by UUK (see above). 

What is Durham’s position?

Durham University Council and the University Executive Committee confirmed their support for the alternative UUK proposal. Durham University stated that:

“We acknowledge that the UCU has recently brought new ideas to the table. We have given the UCU proposals careful consideration. Regrettably, we do not think that the UCU proposals as they currently stand are workable. Time is not on our side. The UUK proposal is the only workable option that will avoid the total contribution rate escalator taking effect from April – an outcome that would put an unacceptable financial burden on staff and, through its impact on Universities, on students. We do not therefore recommend a change from our Council-approved position which is to support the UUK proposal. However, we do believe that, as a matter of urgency, there is a need to accelerate discussions with stakeholders on reform of the USS scheme.” 

A full summary of our position can be found at latest news.

Did Durham review the alternative proposal that was submitted by UCU?  

UCU tabled the alternative proposal on 26 January 2022 which was very late in the process. UUK shared the initial UCU proposals with employers as soon as it was received and asked for initial views. However, it was only when the costings for the proposal had been confirmed by the USS Trustee (10 February 2022) that the employers, including Durham, could be formally consulted about the proposal. We considered the proposal as soon as it was provided by UUK.  

Did Durham support the alternative proposal that was submitted by UCU?

We welcomed the decision by UCU to submit alternative proposals. Both UEC and the Chair and Finance Committee of Council considered the UCU proposals carefully. However,  Russell Group universities unanimously agreed to support the UUK proposal as the UCU proposal was not considered affordable or workable. There were several reasons for this: 

  1. The employers have made clear that the current rates of 21.4% for employers and 9.8% for members are at or near the limit of sustainability and affordability. Therefore, the UCU ask of 25.2% for employers was unaffordable/unsustainable for most, if not all, employers. 
  2. UCU was asking employers to legally sign up to a schedule of contributions, which the USS Trustee has costed and potentially involves increasing the employer rate to 29.1% of pay and the member rate to 13.9% of pay. There is no confirmed formal or legal mechanism to avoid these increases – other than a letter dated 26 January 2022 from UCU to say they would agree to cap the employer's rate at 25.2% from 1 April 2023. However, there is no confirmed mechanism or reforms tabled as to how this commitment could be delivered.
  3. The UCU proposal seemed to assume the outcome of a moderately prudent (undefined) 2022 valuation would result in their desired contribution rates.  If UCU had defined what a moderately prudent valuation was, there was no guarantee that the USS trustee or the Pensions Regulator would accept that definition or be prepared to implement it. Nor was there any guarantee that such a valuation would improve the situation even if the market backdrop was more favourable because the scheme's cost is made up of accrued pension costs and future service costs. The improvement in financial markets since March 2020 means that the accrued benefits component has improved (the deficit has been reduced but remains a deficit). We have been advised that the same improvement in financial markets means that the cost of the deficit on future service costs has worsened, and these broadly balance each other out.  
  4. Without any confirmed legal guarantee, employers would be exposed to the higher contributions of 29.1% (13.9% for employees) set out in the USS Trustee's contributions schedule for this UCU proposal. 
  5. It is unclear if any assessment has been made of the impact of higher employee contributions on dropout rates (which are already too high). 

We published a statement to this effect on our website on 21 February 2022, which can be found here. 

How much would the UCU alternative proposals cost Durham University?

The UCU proposal for an increase in employer contributions to 25.2% from this October would result in an increased cost to the University of around £4.5million annually. However, the USS Trustees estimate that the UCU proposal would likely result in the employer contribution rate needing to be, as early as 1 April 2024, 29.1% (there is no confirmed legal mechanism that can fix the contribution rate at a maximum of 25.2%) and that would have resulted in an additional cost to the University of around £9.4 million per annum.

What will be the impact of the UUK proposals on scheme member benefits?  

The UUK proposal provides a viable and implementable solution to the 2020 valuation, which retains a significant element of defined benefit within the future pensions earned by members at close to current contribution levels. The UUK proposal also commits employers to even stronger levels of support for the scheme, which further protects the valuable benefits which have already been built-up by members. The UUK package of reforms also includes a commitment to explore what might be better long-term pension designs such as Conditional Indexation (which can provide increased benefits when investment returns do well, as we expect they will do in the longer-term), the development of a lower-cost option for members to help address the opt-out rate, and to immediately begin work on a governance review of USS. The UUK proposal is an alternative to the USS Trustee’s proposed unaffordable contribution rates for scheme members and employers.

USS members can be reassured that pension benefits built up to date are unaffected and secure. The UUK proposal relates to future benefits that are built-up.  

A salary calculator is available at 2020 valuation contributions calculator | USS Employers, which gives a personalised illustration of how benefits could change for people on different salary levels. 

What happens next?

Durham University would be open to considering extending our existing covenant support to an alternative proposal as long as such a proposal, whether originating from UUK or UCU, is affordable to the employees and employers.

We also support further work to be undertaken as a priority to reform scheme governance, and to explore lower cost options for members and scheme design for the future.  We believe it is important to reiterate that we do not see this as a cost saving exercise.  As stated in our responses to earlier consultations, we believe flexibility should be about choice for members, and should be considered separately to the funding discussions. In particular, we would support the exploration of an option where the choices members make are not linked to saving costs for employers or USS. We would support an option where employer contributions to remain the same for every active member in USS, whatever a member’s choice of contribution level.

Employers believe that aspects of the governance of the scheme continue to hinder rather than help the scheme to meet its objectives and to serve the interests of scheme members and sponsoring employers. The scheme’s governance remains largely the same as when it was created in 1974 and employers have commented that a governance review is necessary to ensure the objectives of the scheme and those involved with it are reviewed and that it continues to meet employers’ expectations; trust and confidence in the valuation process have been strained in recent years. UUK believes a governance review, carried out with independent expertise, is long overdue and wants to work with employers, the UCU and the USS Trustee to take this forward as soon as possible.

Employers are keen to develop a viable longer-term model such as Conditional Indexation (CI), which pegs a part of annual pension provision to the performance of scheme funds (and we believe over the long-term could deliver better outcomes in most scenarios). However, there are difficult legal and technical matters to overcome before something like CI could be implemented, which could take some time to resolve. UUK has proposed the establishment of a joint member/ UCU, employers, and USS working group to collaboratively design a CI or similar model for consultation. We are encouraged by some universities and their local UCU branches making joint statements on CI. If it is possible to jointly develop a model that is acceptable to all parties, employers would want to implement this as soon as practically possible.

Will going on strike impact on my visa?

It is always difficult to give generic advice in UKVI matters as they tend to be considered on a case-by-case basis. However, the University is no longer required to report industrial action to UKVI.

If I receive any requests from the media where should I direct them?

Any requests from the media should be directed to the Communications Office in the first instance (email communications.team@durham.ac.uk).