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University and College Union

The Open University branch of the University and College Union

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Frequently asked questions

Why are we striking?

In the pay and working conditions dispute, we’re asking for a fair pay deal. We’re also looking for nationally-agreed action to close the gender, ethnic and disability pay gaps, an end to precarious employment such as zero-hour contracts, a standard 35 hour working week, and action on excessive workloads.

See the national UCU website for more information about our campaign.

Does striking work?

It sure does. Our strike action in 2018 helped stop our pensions changing from defined benefit to defined contribution, which would have ended guaranteed pension pots and placed huge risk on all employees. This action saved every member who is in the USS pension scheme thousands in retirement. If it weren’t for previous strike action, there wouldn’t be a guaranteed (defined benefits) pension to defend.  Recent strike action in other sectors has led to great results for workers too – some are listed in a BBC article, such as a 15% pay rise for criminal barristers last month. 

Can I afford to strike?

Hardship funds – helping you cover the cost of striking.  We aren’t paid while we’re on strike. But two funds are available to help support you financially and ensure that we can all afford to take action:

  • A national fighting fund - further information is on the UCU website
  • The OU branch local hardship fund, which can support you if strike deductions cause hardship

You decide what hardship means for your circumstances – we won’t look into your financial situation, and all claims to the Hardship Fund are anonymised before they are considered.

We can afford to support you so if finances are a deterrent please join the strike, and claim from the fund. So if you’re worried about the financial implications of striking, please do not have any qualms about claiming from the hardship fund. Remember, this action could save us all tens of thousands of pounds in the long run.

Should I tell my manager I plan to strike?

Employers can ask but there is no need to say if you are planning or thinking about going on strike, and UCU normally recommends that you don’t answer. After strike action when you are asked you need to answer truthfully.
ALs should see AL-specific advice. We suggest notifying in advance if you will not be marking TMAs owing to strike action. We also recommend letting students and co-teachers know if your tutorial will be cancelled.

How do I strike?

Simply don’t attend work, log in, or check your emails, on the days of the strike action. We suggest putting on an out of office message in order to make the strike as visible as possible (see message below). Your manager afterwards will confirm with you whether you were on strike or not. Sometimes the university asks via a general email or intranet notice, and if this happens you need to report that you took strike action. But you don’t need to sign up in advance, or put your name down anywhere. It’s that simple! And, if you’re able to, please join us at an in-person picket – this makes a big difference! 

Do I have to be a member of UCU to take strike action?

You do not have to be a member but we encourage you to join because you have extra protection as a member of the union that is undertaking lawful strike action.

Should I join the in-person picket line?

To ensure that our action has maximum impact, we need to make ourselves visible and our voices heard.
Showing our strength on picket line during each day of the strike is one of the best things we can do to demonstrate that we’re serious and committed to this dispute. The more people we can get on our picket lines locally and nationally, the bigger the impact and the greater the chance of winning our campaign.

For dates, times and locations of the picket lines and other things happening on the strike days, please contact the UCU office

What is a picket line like?

If you’ve not been on strike before, you might be wondering what it’s like. Normally times are advertised in advance. We meet in the morning, take signs and leaflets, and stand at the entrances to campus/OU offices sharing information about the campaign with staff or visitors who are coming into the office. Our colleagues from UNISON and Postgraduate Students who aren’t on strike are often very thankful that we’re making an effort to protect their pensions and pay, and the future of higher education. Each time we do this some people decide to join the strike – they can join UCU online and join the strike. The atmosphere is generally very friendly. It’s a great opportunity to meet some of your union colleagues from around the university. Most in-person pickets will also repair to a local café after the picket for some social time.

Some of the OU offices have a WhatsApp group for the picket so you can get to know other picketing members before the day – please contact the UCU office if you’d like more information about that or being put in touch with the local picket coordinator.  For other in-person pickets and rallies around the four nations, see Strike Map UK. Remember the branch can pay reasonable expenses for attendance.

What else can I do to help?

Joining the strike and coming to the picket is really important in this national dispute, but you can still help in other ways too:

Reach out to your colleagues who are members and encourage them to join the strike with you

Talk to colleagues who aren’t members to talk about the campaign, and why UCU are doing what we’re doing.  Also there’s lots of material to share from the UCU website, resources area.

Encourage your friends and family who work at the OU to join the union (as soon as they’ve joined, they can strike immediately, even if the strike has already started)

Those who don’t work for the OU can still support by using UCU ‘I support the strike’ profile picture and signing up for information here: Sign up to be a UCU supporter here and use a supporter’s profile picture or Zoom background. 

  • Be visible as a branch UCU ‘Rep’. The branch has an AL Rep structure and Reps across units, sub-units and teams.
  • Join the branch Recruitment, Organising and Campaigns Committee (ROCC) to help organise future action. This is an informal group which meets once a month except in the lead up to industrial action 
  • If you work in an OU site, put up posters and distribute campaign materials around your work area – or take materials to in-person events such as staff development days, boards of study or faculty assemblies
  • Highlight UCU and the branch on your social media and follow us on Twitter @oubucu and Facebook.  Remember to use the hashtag #ucuRISING
  • Donate to the national UCU's fighting fund or the local branch hardship fund. 
  • Contact ucu@open.ac.uk if you’d like to volunteer as a rep, join ROCC, or get UCU materials to put up in your office)

What should I put as my out-of-office message?

Templates for out-of-office messages and emails to students can be found at our templates page.

What should I tell my students?

Templates for out-of-office messages and emails to students can be found at our templates page.

Picket line pledge - support the industrial action