Staff Strikes

The Student Union's stance on staff strikes

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MORE STRIKES ARE CONFIRMED.   

The Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) have called a strike at over 150 universities, including Heriot-Watt University. This strike comes after UCU members overwhelmingly voted ‘yes’ to industrial action last month in two historic national ballots. 

WHO ARE UCU?  

The University and College Union (UCU) are the nationwide trade union representing over 130,000 academic and support staff within Universities and Colleges.  

WHAT'S HAPPENING?  

Over 150 UK Universities will be impacted by strike action this term. UCU has announced further industrial action over pay, working conditions and pension cuts.  

In the pay and working conditions dispute, the UCU's demands include a meaningful pay rise to deal with the cost-of-living crisis and action to end the use of insecure contracts. Employers imposed a pay rise worth just 3% this year following over a decade of below inflation pay awards. A third of academic staff are on some form of temporary contract. 

In the pension dispute, UCU is demanding employers revoke the cuts and restore benefits. The package of cuts made earlier this year will see the average UCU member lose 35% from their guaranteed future retirement income. For those at the beginning of their careers the losses are in the hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'UCU members do not want to strike but are doing so to save the sector and win dignity at work. This dispute has the mass support of students because they know their learning conditions are our members' working conditions. 

WHEN IS THE NEXT UCU STRIKE HAPPENING AT HERIOT-WATT?  

Thursday 24th, Friday 25th and Wednesday 30th November. 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?  

It is difficult to predict how you will be affected. UCU represents a number of staff across a variety of academic and professional services roles, but not all staff at Heriot-Watt are members. Staff who choose to strike do not have to tell Heriot Watt of their intention beforehand and they may not commit to all strike days.  

This industrial action could mean that your classes or lectures are cancelled or that labs and spaces are closed or have limited availability. You might also find that offices and student support services are not fully staffed on strike days.  

You may see a picket line of UCU members at the entrances to campus. Staff may ask you not to cross their picket line, but they aren't allowed to prevent you from entering buildings.  

WHAT DO I DO IF MY LEARNING IS AFFECTED?  

At the lecturer's discretion, you may not be assessed on any academic content that was not properly covered due to strike action. You can find out more below about Mitigating Circumstances. 

DOES THE STUDENTS' UNION SUPPORT THE STRIKE?  

Yes. A motion to support the UCU Strikes was passed at our Annual General Meeting and was supported by a student vote on our website.  

HOW CAN I SUPPORT THE STRIKE?   

Here are some of the ways you can support staff on strike:  

  • Visit staff on picket lines. Each morning from 8:00, staff will gather outside the Heriot-Watt campus entrance. If you want to visit them, feel free!  

  • Be supportive of striking staff, they are doing this as a last resort. They’re fighting Universities UK (the representative body for Universities in the UK) and any frustrations you might feel should be directed at them.   

  • If you can, don’t cross picket lines. If you can - work from home, in other public spaces, or in the Union. If you can re-arrange meetings to meet via Teams - do it. It’s the easiest way to show your support.  

WILL STUDENTS' UNION BUILDINGS AND SERVICES BE OPEN?  

Yes, the Student Union building, Liberty’s café, Geordie’s bar and The Shop will still be open and we’ll be providing a space for staff who are striking to get a hot drink. If you arrive on campus to find your lecture cancelled, you can use our spaces to study.   

CAN I STILL ATTEND / RUN A CLUB OR SOCIETY EVENT DURING THE STRIKE?  

Yes. The strikes are unlikely to impact your events. The Student Union building will be open as usual.   

WILL I BE PENALISED FOR MISSING A CLASS BECAUSE I CHOSE NOT TO CROSS THE PICKET LINE?  

You should not be penalised if you miss class because you have chosen not to cross the picket line. We are confirming information for students on Tier 4 visas. 

WHAT IF I HAVE A TIER 4 VISA? 

As long as you are meeting the conditions of your visa, you should be okay! Check with the Visa, Advice and Compliance team through your Student Portal. 

MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES - WHAT CAN I DO IF THE STRIKE AFFECTS MY LEARNING?  

You do not need to submit a mitigating circumstances form as Heriot-Watt have information about the impact of the strike on your classes. This includes exams and coursework assessment.   

However, if you feel like you have been particularly affected on an individual basis (e.g. if your dissertation supervisor is on strike), we recommend you submit mitigating circumstances.  

For more support on the above or any other academic problem, our Advice Hub is here to help. You can find out more about Heriot-Watt's Mitigating Circumstances policy here.  

HOW CAN YOU FIND OUT WHETHER YOUR CLASSES ARE AFFECTED?  

As far as possible your department will try to tell you about changes to the teaching schedule through the usual channels, but please remember that striking staff do not have to tell Heriot-Watt in advance.  

Throughout the period of strike action, you should:  

  • Keep a close eye on your Heriot-Watt emails and look out for Canvas announcements.   

  • Stay informed by following the links in this update and looking out for announcements in the media.  

WHAT IS A PICKET LINE LIKE AT HERIOT-WATT?  

A picket line is a boundary established by staff who are on strike.  

This usually looks like a number of staff standing outside entrances to campus or buildings. Other staff and students will be asked not to cross these picket lines, as to do so could undermining the strike.  

It is your personal choice as to whether you want to cross the picket line, staff cannot stop you from entering campus or campus buildings.  

DO STAFF ON STRIKE GET PAID?  

When staff go on strike they forfeit their pay. This is a hugely difficult decision for staff to make.  

The money that Heriot-Watt University doesn't pay to staff due to strike action is often put into a Student Experience Fund which will be used to support students. 

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