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The Open University branch of the University and College Union

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Information for Associate Lecturers

Three quotes from OU Students received November - December 2022

I fully support the UCU strike as lecturers are vitally important to the future of university education and deserve decent working conditions. A good lecturer can be the difference between a student passing and failing a degree. Lecturers cannot be expected to give their all to their role if they are underpaid and undervalued. (OU Student)

I completely understand that you are away from the office for a few days coming up and therefore I don’t expect a reply straight away from you. Good for you for standing up for your rights! (OU Student)

If I could, I'd stand there with you. (Carer)

Information on TMA marking

We sent the following information to AL, Staff Tutor and Student Experience Manager members on 29 November 2022.

Please see below for a clarification on advice around TMA marking affected by strike days. 
  1. No union member is obliged to inform management in advance of their intention to take strike action. However, because of the particular nature of the AL role UCU has advised AL members that they may inform their managers in advance if there are TMA scripts they will not be able to mark due to the strike.
  2. Union members should answer truthfully after the strike if asked about the days on which they took strike action. In the past the university has used an online form to collect this information from ALs.  If you are an AL you should report days in which you would normally have worked but did not work due to strike action.  
  3. STs and SEMs will inform their line managers of strike days they have taken as usual. 
  4. This will be processed and People Services will deduct the pay for strike days from the relevant salary. 
  5. If you are an AL and are unable to complete your marking due to the strike please contact your line manager to let them know and give details of the scripts (e.g. a whole batch, or module, number, and student details) that will not be marked and need to be reallocated. This can be done prior to strike action or on your return. 
  6. ST/SEMs will then find another marker to take on that work following the usual procedures for utilising spare FTE capacity to cover extra marking. 
  7. If an alternative marker cannot be found, the marking will be offered back to the original AL and the ST/SEM will ask the AL if they are prepared to do the work. 
  8. If the work is accepted by the original AL, the docked pay will be noted and the ST/SEM will request that the pay deductions for the relevant strike days be cancelled, or that a payment (equivalent to the original deductions) be made to compensate the AL for working the now “extra” day(s) to cover work. You should not be docked pay if you are taking back the work you have missed due to strike action. 
  9. If you are an AL who takes back marking you will then be given 5 additional days to mark this work, but do discuss reasonable timeframes with your ST/SEM to inform them of any delays you foresee with this, and inform students as you would with other marking deadlines so that alternative arrangements can be made if necessary. 
  10. If you as a Staff Tutor/Student Experience Manager are experiencing a significant increase in your workload due to requests for marking to be reallocated, you should contact your line manager to discuss workload and which tasks to prioritise and which to defer or pass on to another colleague or team to complete. 

Information on the industrial action for OU Associate Lecturers

We sent the following information to AL members before the first strike day, 24 November 2022. 

Dear Associate Lecturer

As you know, there was an overwhelming vote in favour of strike action in an unprecedented national ballot. We are taking strike action in our Four Fights and Pension dispute on 24, 25 and 30th November. We call on you to take action during these periods and not to mark assignments, run tutorials, attend OU meetings, answer OU emails, letters or telephone calls etc.

OU management will be deducting 1/365 of your individual salary for every day of strike action taken by you. Given the fact that the work of ALs is not as clear cut as the work of most other staff, UCU approached management to agree a suitable way forward and to get clarification on the position.

Firstly, management will be determining the rate of pay by taking the amount that any individual AL is paid for their annual FTE and dividing that by 365. This will create a daily rate which will be used for the basis of the deduction for each strike day.

As ALs are flexible over the times that they do the majority of their work, our guidance is that you have to make an assessment of whether you would have been working, as an AL, on each of the strike days. As with any other part time member of staff this means that your work will coincide with strike days on some occasions and not on others. Only declare, as strike days, those days which you would have worked, had there been no strike.

There are also specific issues that relate to TMAs and we have accepted that, where possible, ALs may inform management in advance of their plans for strike action in relation to not marking TMAs. Whilst this is not our normal practice, our advice is, in this instance, that you may do so, if you wish to hand back your TMAs and not mark them.

We are aware that our AL members are all in very different positions regarding the amount of work that they may have over the following weeks and so you should determine how you wish to handle the matter according to your workload. The specific guidance is as follows:

TMA marking

  1. If you are unable to complete your TMA marking, because of the strike, then you should notify your manager, preferably in advance, to tell them that you will not be marking, because you will be on strike and specify the TMAs that will need to be reallocated. Whether this is all of your TMAs, or just some of them will depend on how many of the days that you had planned to mark, fall on strike days. Ask yourself how many TMAs you would have marked each day, if any, and let management know if you need to hand any back.

    Line managers will then try to reallocate the TMAs to other ALs and will allocate time for it within their FTE.

  2. If after the strike is over, line managers have been unable to reallocate the TMA marking work, then they may approach you, to ask whether you would be prepared to do the work, and your strike deductions should then be reversed but you should clarify that this will be the case prior to taking back any TMAs. You are not required to accept the work and we would advise you to be very careful of your workload and stress levels, especially if you already have more work to do in that period. The University has not agreed to reset the deadline to allow 10 days from when you take any marking back and you should be aware of that in making your decision. Our understanding is that they intend to add 5 days to the original deadline for your marking, but talk to your line manager and get agreement on how many further days you will need before you agree to take marking back.

    Please note that under no circumstances should you agree to “defer” your TMA marking in advance of the strike action. If you are on strike and will not be doing the work then that should be clear. If you are prepared later to take back that work then you should not receive pay deductions for doing so.

Tutorials

Where you would have been teaching a tutorial on a strike day, you should not reschedule this teaching. If asked to deliver a cover tutorial, after the strike dates, to replace a colleague’s cancelled tutorial, you should not do this either. Refusing to reschedule teaching is part of our ongoing Action Short of a Strike and the employer has been notified accordingly. You are not legally obliged to inform managers before the tutorial, however you are legally obliged to answer correctly, should you be asked for details of your strike action, afterwards. Please inform students who have signed up to the tutorial; we recommend that you do this by your last working day before striking. You may also wish to inform any colleagues with whom you may be sharing the tutorial.

If you would normally upload or circulate materials for a tutorial that has been cancelled due to strike action then please do not do so. This is covered by our Action Short of a Strike.

The nature of the AL contract makes advice in these situations very complex and no doubt there are situations that we have not covered. Because you are responsible for when you work, it means that you have a greater responsibility to determine which days you will be on strike and we cannot give you an absolute answer for every situation, as you all work in differing patterns. Please consult the union at ucu@open.ac.uk with any specific questions.

Lydia Richards
Regional Official
UCU Eastern and Home Counties Region