Living close to the edge – stories of low pay and insecurity from Nottingham

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You can download a copy of the publication we produced and launched at our recent Living Wage campaign event here:

Living Close to the Edge D7-1 final

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This Friday’s UCU social event


UCU mayday party final

As in previous years, UCU will be hosting a party featuring dance performances, DJs and live music to celebrate May Day on Friday 5th of May from 5.30 pm onwards at Nottingham University Staff Club. Join and share the Facebook event here.

The event  will close with Soul on Ice DJs, of Rough Trade and the Social,  who will ensure the dancing floor is well used!

Live music will be courtesy of Down Home Special,  a talented trio consisting of guitar/vocals of Dean Hollingsworth, guitarist extraordinaire Richard Smith and the double bass of Stephen Peters, a veteran of the local jazz scene. Gigging regularly in various line ups, these three local musicians come together to bring you roots music from a range of genres. From slide to jump Blues/RnB, through Swing Jazz/Latin and even on occasion some Flamenco. Down Town Special focus on bringing high quality music, rarely heard classics, all with a fresh feel that can only come from the lively engaging dialogue between musicians improvising and creating right there in front of you.

Acclaimed flamenco dancer Laura Iñiguez will delight us with a powerful solo dance accompanied by guitarist Dean Hollingsworth. Laura is described as one of the most elegant yet fierce flamenco performer today. Her artistic career has conveyed the absolute passion of flamenco with determination and artistry. Laura brings a new dance piece to our May Day demonstrating her talent as a choreographer which promises to electrify the audience. She also teaches flamenco in Nottingham where she performs regularly.

Tickets are £5 for members (£10 for non-members, and children are welcome to come and eat for free)  which includes a delicious BBQ (vegetarian options available) and entertainment. Drinks will be available at the bar, but are not included in the ticket price.

Tickets can be purchased at the door but it helps us plan if you reserve tickets. Please contact Adele Williams  at to reserve yours. Hope to see you on Friday!


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Introducing the UCU Lunchtime Seminars: Facilitating a Positive Culture for Disability


Download a PDF to share with colleagues a4-one-page-dis-seminars.


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The University of Nottingham response to The Guardian


Some Clarifications and a Call to Open Meaningful Negotiations

UCU are calling on the University of Nottingham to make good on assurances that it will enter into meaningful discussions over precarious employment practices across the institution. The Union also challenges the University’s interpretation of HESA data and provides clarification of its own analysis of the figures.


On November 16th The Guardian ran a front page investigation into the effects of casualisation on staff in HE, “Universities accused of ‘importing Sports Direct model’ for lecturers’ pay”, together with a detailed profile of the effect of casualisation on teaching staff at the University of Nottingham: “Nottingham academic on casual contract: ‘I had more rights as a binman’”. On Sunday 20 November, the University published a response to this article, “Guardian story on casualisation in HE – a response”, which attempted to refute the claims made in the article.

 During our local campaign on casualisation, the local branch of UCU circulated links to The Guardian reports, which themselves drew upon data provided by the UCU head office. The University’s criticisms of The Guardian specifically challenge UCU’s data and make reference to the Union’s campaign on casualisation in a manner that seeks to further discredit the reliability of the report. We therefore feel it in our members’ interests to provide a full response to the University’s response to The Guardian reports.


Prior to the recent media attention, the University agreed to meet with UCU to discuss working conditions for casually-employed teaching staff. This was a direct result of active campaigning on these issues and we look forward to entering into constructive and meaningful negotiations. Nevertheless, the University’s response to The Guardian and its original comments when approached by the journalist, are concerning insofar as they appear to minimise the significance of the issues for affected staff and for the institution as a whole.

Specific clarifications about the use of the HESA data by UCU and The University of Nottingham are provided below, but there are several items that need to be highlighted at the outset.

The Local Campaign on Casualisation:

UCU is committed to campaigning and negotiating on this issue locally and nationally. Locally, this work sits within the Anti-casualisation/Living Wage campaign, which includes Unison and Unite as well as several student organisations.

Our preference remains to negotiate improvements for casualised staff and resolve this issue. The impact of casualisation has been worse in some parts of the University than others and we know that there are heads of school/department who have been seeking to improve conditions for hourly-paid staff. This individual work is important and laudable but we are in a position where the fairest and most effective way of tackling this issue is collectively at an institutional level.

UCU’s loyalty is to its membership and our main priority is to improve and protect the working lives of all staff in our bargaining group. In some respects and for many staff, the University’s claim to offer “a wide range of benefits, excellent pay, terms and conditions” is accurate, but the claim that all employees have access to these benefits is misleading.

While currently media attention is focused on casual contracts (and specifically casually-employed teachers), we know that for many staff the working environment has been significantly eroded over recent years. This is not only true for staff on casual contracts, but also for many staff within Project Transform and S2020 OD, as well as for those in academic departments that have been, or currently are under review and those who are feeling increasing pressure with reference to REF and PDPR.

Staff come to the Union on a daily basis with a range of concerns, but the common denominator in the majority of cases is an increased feeling of vulnerability. Most often this relates to workload and targets with members feeling unable to cope with the excessively long hours required to fulfil set tasks and therefore fearful of their future. For those on temporary contracts and especially those who are hourly paid these pressures are felt even more acutely. Moreover, there is a direct link between the treatment of hourly-paid staff and the use of casual contracts on one hand, and, on the other, the deterioration of conditions for staff on permanent contracts.

In a report presented to University Council on February 2nd 2016, UCU and our campaign partners highlighted the poor working conditions for staff on casual contracts and the evidence in that report clearly supports the concerns over working conditions highlighted by The Guardian. Our subsequent survey of casually employed teaching staff, undertaken with the support of the Student Union, likewise contains evidence highlighting the effects of casualisation on staff and students. The results of that survey are not entirely negative, but it indicates that the problems are widespread and significant.

As members of UCU we support each other on an individual level through casework and on a collective level through consultation and negotiation. Though casusalisation affects different parts of the University in various ways, and the use of casually employed teaching staff may be more prevalent in some areas rather than others, it would be a mistake to view the employment practices highlighted by The Guardian as limited to the cases profiled; equally, this is a practice that is not limited to one or two departments. Directly or indirectly casualisation affects us all.

The HESA Data

UCU is quite clear that we stand by the methodology we used and by the national report that was featured in The Guardian. We have set out the methodology we used in the Appendix to our new report here. We are comfortable that our approach is more representative of the levels of use of insecure contracts than any other being used.

The University of Nottingham’s mention of HESA’s statement is misleading as the University is doing exactly what UCU did but just using a different calculation. The University of Nottingham refers to HESA’s statement which raises issues with the way the various sets of data on contracts are collected and questions whether true comparison is possible. We have been in touch with HESA to explain why we believe our approach is sound and we believe it’s as representative of the real scale of precarious work as is possible using publicly available data. Yet having mentioned HESA’s statement, Nottingham goes on to do exactly the same thing UCU did, compare the two sets of staffing data but just applying their preferred calculation to it. You can’t have it both ways — either comparison is valid or it isn’t.

There are big issues with HESA’s data, and UCU has always been critical of its limitations, not least of these is the fact that there serious, systematic and growing underreporting by Universities of their real use of casual contracts. The sector could solve these problems by disclosing accurate workforce data which shows how much of its teaching and research is being done by people on insecure contracts. But it chooses not to.

Nottingham’s calculations based on Full Time Equivalence are a deeply misleading way of presenting hourly paid teaching which serves only to hide its use of casual contracts. In its statement the University recycles a deeply flawed methodology promoted by UCEA which attempts to show that hourly paid staff do very little work because when you add up the Full-Time Equivalence of all their contracts you get a small number. This is misleading, not to say insulting to the hourly paid staff doing frontline teaching at Nottingham.

Full-Time Equivalence is a very bad way of looking at people with part-time contracts, as HESA’s own website shows. People employed on very small ‘FTE’ contracts simply disappear within aggregations of Full-Time Equivalence. All the Universities are showing is that there are a lot of people on small contracts.

Attempting to measure the work done by thousands of hourly paid lecturers by calculating their FTE as though they were full-time lecturers distorts the extent of the University’s use of casually employed staff in teaching provision. Hourly paid teachers are contracted for a small number of teaching hours and their FTE will always look small. Full-time lecturers are contracted to teach, administer and research. One or two hourly paid lecturers may do the same amount of teaching in a week as a full-time lecturer but their ‘FTE’ will be a tiny fraction of this, maybe only one day a week.

Using FTE in this way risks concealing the amount of work being done by hourly paid lecturers. Moreover, it is essential that discussions over the HESA data not become part of a process that obscures the systematic underpayment of hourly paid lecturers relative to the work they do. If the University wishes to publicly present an accurate picture of staff contributing to the student experience, they should publish the proportion of classroom tuition hours that are taught by staff on insecure contracts.

In its response to The Guardian articles, the University of Nottingham has publicly staked its claim to be an “enlightened and progressive employer”. UCU hopes that this is the spirit with which the University will approach negotiations over casualisation and that we will see genuine improvements for staff on precarious contracts.


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Join us next Thursday, 24th November as part of the nation UCU day of action on casualisation

24th November 2016 poster anti cas v 2.jpg

You can download this poster here24th-november-2016-poster-anti-cas-v-2-pub

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Statement by Unison, UCU and Unite branches at the University of Nottingham on the referendum vote in favour of leaving the EU

The three campus trade unions at the University of Nottingham, Unison, UCU and Unite, ask University management to do the utmost possible to ensure that EU citizens, who are members of staff at the University, will have no problems continuing working at the University after Brexit.

Brexit raises doubts about staff members’ possibilities to participate in EU funding schemes in the future. We ask the University to ensure that European resources remain open to academics working here.

We are concerned about reports of increasing abuse of non-British citizens both on and near campus and within wider society. We are particularly vigilant of developments on campus and ask management to work with us to ensure that our University is a discrimination free place, which fosters co-operation between different nationalities and ethnicities in the pursuit of teaching and research excellence. Racism has no place at the University of Nottingham!

Campus unions supported the ‘Nottingham Together’ rally on 28 June which affirmed that migrants are welcome in Nottingham. We will continue pressing this point and strongly encourage management to do the same. We encourage our members to report any racist or xenophobic abuse they may encounter.

The three campus trade unions will work with management in achieving these objectives.

We are also holding 27, 28 and 29 incase we need to but will wait and see if these dates are necessary before booking rooms.  Please can you review these dates and times and let me know if there are specific slots you can confirm rep availability (even if there are only 1 hour slots, rather than the full day)?  We will then ensure that on the booking system these are advertised as available to those requiring Union representation only.


nottingham toegther with banner

Hundreds of people gathered at the Nottingham Together Rally (photo credit: Anisa Mustafa)



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UCU updated FAQs for the National Pay Dispute

UCU nationally have issued the following FAQs on the current dispute. If you have any further questions, please get in touch with the branch office on

1.  Why has the union called industrial action?

Pay in higher education has fallen in value against inflation by 14.5% since 2009. At the same time the gender pay gap remains very high in many institutions and the growth in casual contracts undermines the job security of all staff. In response to these issues, the employers have made an offer to increase salaries for 2016/17 by just 1.1%.

In a ballot which closed on 4 May 2016, 65% of members voted to support strike action and 77% voted for ‘action short of a strike’ should an acceptable offer not be made.

2.  What industrial action has the union called?

UCU has called strike action for 25 and 26 May, 2016 and has called ‘action short of a strike’ with effect from 25 May in the form of a ‘work to contract’ and an instruction not to work in excess of the maximum number of hours stipulated in your contract of employment, or, where no maximum number of hours is stipulated, 37 hours per week (pro rata as need be). Detailed guidance on each aspect of the action is set out in this guide.

3.  Is further industrial action being considered?

The Higher Education Committee is also giving consideration, should the employers not improve their offer, to called further ‘action short of a strike’ in the form of a boycott of the setting and assessment of students’ work, and strike action targeted at student admissions.

4.  Are members being asked to do anything else to support the campaign?

In order to increase the pressure on employing institutions, UCU is appealing to all members who currently hold external examiner positions to resign from any such position they may hold until the dispute is resolved. Members should ensure that when they resign, they provide the relevant institution with due notice of termination (ensuring that members are not in breach of contract) as specified under the terms of their engagement. Members are similarly asked not to accept or otherwise agree the offer of new external examiner posts until the dispute with the employers has been resolved.

Strike action

5.  What am I expected to do during a strike?

Strike action is a very serious sanction and that is why we ask that every member observes the strike. In effect it means the withdrawal of labour for the entirety of the strike days that have been called. This includes sending work emails, working from home, presenting at external conferences, doing research and preparing teaching.

Every member who does not observe the strike is directly undermining the democratic decision taken in the ballot; as well as undermining the union’s bargaining power and making it harder to secure an improved offer.

6.  Do I have to tell my employer if I am planning to take industrial action?

Before action begins you are under NO OBLIGATION to inform management as to whether you will be taking part in industrial action.

However, once action has begun, you should respond truthfully if your manager or a person in authority within the institution asks you if you participated in or are continuing to participate in industrial action. You should not volunteer this or other information about yourself or others unless and until you are asked by your manager or someone in authority within the institution.

7.  Are any members exempted from taking strike action or ‘action short of a strike’?

All UCU members employed by institutions involved in the dispute are expected to participate in industrial action. There are no exemptions. A list of participating institutions is here.

8.  Do I have to reschedule lectures cancelled because of strike action?

The purpose of industrial action is to cause disruption. If it not a normal part of your duties to re-schedule cancelled lectures, then unless and until you are instructed to do so by your manager, you should not reschedule work including lectures or classes. If you are instructed to do so, you should ask your manager in writing to indicate to you which work you should de-prioritise in order to reschedule the cancelled lectures.

9.  I have external work-related commitments on the day(s) of the strikes, should I cancel?

If your commitments are part of your normal contractual duties – for example if you would be paid normally for carrying them out – you should not attend them.

10.  How late can someone join the union and still take part in strike action?

People can join the union at any point up to and including on the picket line on the day of strike action and lawfully join the strike. People can join the union at any point during ‘action short of a strike’ and begin participating.

11.  How will taking strike action affect my pension?

Strike action affects pensionable service. However, it has generally been the experience of UCU that most employers do not withhold superannuation contributions and therefore participation in strike action has not significantly affected pensions.Detailed guidance on this may be found here.

12.  What should I tell my students?

We are a union of professionals and members do not like taking any action that affects students. However, in recent years universities have taken advantage of this professionalism with a series of below inflation pay offers. In the six pay settlements since 2010, Only in 2013 when the union took strike action did the employers finally make an offer above the Retail Price Index (RPI). You may wish to talk to your students before the action begins, explaining why the union is taking this difficult step.

13.  Am I breaking my contract by taking strike action?

All effective industrial action is likely to be a breach of your contract of employment. However, UCU has carried out a statutory ballot and the action has been formally called, the law protects those who take part from dismissal whilst taking part in lawful industrial action or at any time within 12 weeks of the start of the action and, depending on the circumstances, dismissal may also be unfair if it takes place later. You will be protected whether or not you voted in the ballot.

14.  How much money will I lose?

You should expect to have a day’s salary deducted for taking part in a day of strike action. Some institutions state that 1/260th of your annual salary will be deducted for each day of action, while others deduct 1/365th. The union will challenge any deduction which we believe is unlawful.

15.  What if I am part time?

The level of deduction the employer can lawfully make depends upon your contract of employment. In general, any deduction made by the employer to the pay of part-time staff should be pro-rata and relate only to your contractual hours on the strike days. Please contact UCU for support in challenging any greater loss.

16.  What is the law on picketing?

Peaceful picketing is entirely legal. Picketing should be carried out at or near an entrance or exit from a site at which the pickets work. When others who are not in dispute come into work or use these entrances or exits, pickets may seek to persuade them but must not interfere with them. If you want to help with the picket on strike dayscontact your local branch.

17.  I am not a UCU member. Can I take part in the strike?

We would like everyone to respect the picket lines and not go into work, but if you are not a UCU member we will not be able to support you if the institution decides to take disciplinary action against you. If you are eligible for membership, you can join UCU on the day of the strike itself and participate in the action.

18.  I am a research fellow fully funded by external bodies (eg. by bodies or institutions who are not part of this dispute) but I do not want to cross the picket line. What do I do?

If your contract of employment is with an institution which is a party to the dispute you can participate in the strike action and should not cross a picket line. If your contract of employment is with the external funder which is not party to the dispute, the union cannot induce you to join the action.

19.  Will participating in strike action affect my entitlement to statutory maternity pay (SMP)?

You are entitled to SMP (subject to fulfilling the other statutory requirements) if you have been continuously employed for 26 weeks ending with the week immediately preceding the 14th week before the expected week of confinement (EWC). The calculation of continuous employment does not, however, include any week during which you participate in strike action. So, if you take strike action and have worked for your employer for less than 26 weeks up to and including the 15th week before your EWC you will lose your right to SMP. If you are in this situation, please advise your branch officers immediately.

20.  If I am a member in a non-striking institution and I have scheduled business at a striking institution, can I be dismissed if I do not cross a picket?

It is very rare that UCU members from institutions not involved in the dispute are disciplined or dismissed for refusing to cross the picket line but it is possible. If you have such business, you should contact your branch officers in the first instance.

Working to contract

21.  What is working to contract?

‘Working to contract’ is defined by the employers’ lawyers Pinsent Masons as ‘where members stick absolutely to the parameters of their contractual duties or other terms in their contract. An employee is entitled to refuse to carry out duties above and beyond those contractually required.’

22.  What does this mean in the case of UCU members?

In general, this means:

  • performing no additional voluntary duties, such as out of hours cover, covering for colleagues (unless such cover is contractually required), or attending open days etc.
  • setting and marking no work beyond that work which they you contractually obliged to set and/or mark or which you are competent to do
  • attend no meetings where such attendance is voluntary on your part
  • undertake no duties that breach statutory guidance, health and safety policies or other significant employer’s policies.

23.  What about my hours of work?

UCU has told your employer that we have called ‘action short of a strike’ in the form of ‘not working in excess of the maximum number of hours stipulated in the affected employees’ contract of employment, or, where no maximum number of hours is stipulated, 37 hours per week (or such lesser number of hours as the case may be).’

What this means is that you should work no more than the maximum number of hours stipulated in your contract, or, where the contract is silent on the maximum number of hours, 37 hours in any normal working week. In a shorter working week, eg, a week in which there is a bank holiday, or you are on strike or lawfully at work for less than a week (eg, you are on holiday or you work a fraction of a full time post) the union asks that you work the appropriate fraction of the normal working week.

24.  What should I tell my employer if they ask if I am participating in action relating to working to contract and to the maximum 37-hour week?

You should wait until you are asked by your manager or a person in authority whether you are participating in ‘action short of a strike’ and then answer as follows:

Dear [Name],

As you will be aware, following a recent ballot, UCU is calling on its members to take continuous action short of strike from 27 May 2016. This is to take the form of working to contract. I am writing to inform you that I shall be working the hours stipulated in my contract and no more. Where my contract is silent on the hours I am expected to work, I will work no more than a total of 37 hours per week, or my pro rata equivalent to take account of my personal circumstances and the length of the normal working week in question. In addition, I will perform no additional voluntary duties, such as out of hours cover, or covering for colleagues, unless this is a contractual requirement, nor will I set and mark work beyond that which I am contractually obliged to set and/or mark, nor will I attend meetings where attendance is voluntary. I will not undertake duties that breach the University’s health and safety and I will work strictly in accordance with the university’s policies or procedures having contractual force.

As I will therefore complete my contractual duties on a weekly basis and in any one week I will not expect the University to make any deductions from my salary save in respect of any strike action which I might take. I will raise a formal grievance if I am deducted pay whilst I am working in accordance with my contract.

25.  How do I know what are my contracted hours?

Your contracted hours are likely to vary depending on which institution you are in. Wherever you work, your starting point is what it says in your contract.

26.  My contract says I must work ‘such hours as are reasonably necessary to perform my duties’ – What action can I take?

The union has called ‘action short of a strike’ consisting of a refusal to work beyond a 37 hour week (pro rata as explained above). This is on the premise that the range of duties that can be lawfully and reasonably required of you to carry out in any one week can be achieved in 37 hours. The inclusion of the word ‘reasonably’ in your contract necessarily means that you are not obliged to work an unreasonable numbers of hours in any single week. You should, therefore, work no longer than a 37 hour week for the duration of the action. Work that cannot be reasonable completed in one week should be carried forward into the following week. But, to be clear, you are not being asked to decide not to do a task which is within your contractual responsibility to undertake.

Most academics have reasonable autonomy over their working time, and you should plan your work to ensure a sensible daily work/life balance and with the aim of completing your normal contractual duties, including anything which is urgent, within the 37 hours.

27.  What should I do if I believe I will not be able to complete my normal contractual duties within any particular 37-hour week limit?

You should inform your manager that you are supporting the UCU ‘action short of a strike’ (ASOS), let them know about the competing priorities you believe will be difficult to meet and ask them to tell you in writing which tasks the university wishes you to prioritise.

28.  If I do not get something done which is part of my normal contractual duties, should I do It the following week?

Yes. It is important that the tasks and functions you normally carry out are discharged. The work to contract does not mean that duties should not be done – it is simply a question of when you do them, and not exceeding the maximum hours that your contract stipulates. If you need guidance on competing priorities, you should ask your manager to set out in writing the tasks the university wishes you to prioritise.

29.  Should I do work in my own time?

You should not be working in your own time. This includes receiving or responding to emails.

30.  Should I work at weekends or evenings?

You should not work at weekends or evenings unless instructed in writing to do so and the work you are instructed to do is part of your normal contractual duties. When you do, you should insist on reasonable notice and count these hours against the 37-hour per week total. If you are consistently being asked to work at weekends or evenings you should raise a grievance, seeking a work/life balance consistent with the university’s own policies.

Additional duties

31.  What might constitute ‘additional duties’?

An additional duty is one which is beyond your normal contractual duties. This will vary but our legal advice is that you should ask yourself in this regard whether you are being asked by management to ‘go the extra mile’ in order to perform this duty. This might include being asked to ‘volunteer’ for a departmental committee or role, cover at short notice someone else’s teaching, staff a student open day, mark work which is beyond your own area of academic expertise, perform administrative duties more normally done by another member of staff and so on. Duties which are unlikely to be ‘additional’ are those which you have regularly performed before, or are customarily done by staff on your grade or in your position.

32.  What should I say if I am asked to perform an additional duty?

The determination of an additional duty may not always be easy to decide. If you are clear that you are being asked to ‘go the extra mile’ you should respond, in writing, as follows:

I am supporting UCU’s ‘working to contract’ action. I consider xxxxxxxxxxx an additional duty not covered by my normal contractual duties and, having sought union advice, will not be performing it. Please be advised that in line with UCU’s ‘action short of a strike’ I am continuing to perform my normal contractual duties and that no deductions from my salary should therefore be made.

If you are unsure, you would be better advised to agree to perform the duty, but make it clear that you intend to raise a grievance about the instruction as you consider it to be unreasonable and beyond the terms of your contract. You should also ask what other duties you should de-prioritise to undertake the additional duty, having regard to the overall maximum 37 hour per week.

33.  Can I refuse to cover for absent colleagues?

Our legal advice is that unless it is explicitly stated within your contract, you should refuse to cover for colleagues unless this is a clearly established custom and practice within your department. Where custom and practice does exist and this is therefore part of your normal contractual duties, you should ask in writing that allowance be made for the cover you are providing in your workload for that week and you should count the hours you spend covering a colleague towards your 37-hour maximum.

34.  Can I refuse to undertake duties associated with my line manager if they are absent?

Yes, unless it is explicitly stated within your contract that you will undertake duties normally performed by your line manager, you should refuse to do so citing the UCU working to contract industrial action.

35.  Can I refuse to undertake cover work for which I have no expertise or which is not mentioned in my contract?

Yes. A recent Employment Appeals Tribunal case looked at whether someone who had been engaged as a lecturer in Theatre Studies could be asked to undertake teaching on an English course. It found that ‘A management instruction to carry out duties which the appellant was not contractually obliged to perform is unlikely to be reasonable.’ [see Smith v London Metropolitan University]Opens new window

36.  What freedom do management have to ask me to perform other duties which are not expressly set out in my contract?

There is a general duty upon employees to be cooperative and you should continue to be so. However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal decision mentioned above states, ‘whilst it may be necessary to imply a term of co-operation to govern performance of contractual duties it cannot be relied upon in this case to enlarge those duties’.

Setting and marking work

37.  How should I approach setting and marking of work?

If marking is part of your normal contractual duties, you should perform it within the maximum working week set out by UCU of 37 hours (or less where stipulated). If you believe there is insufficient time to do your marking and your other normal contractual duties, you should seek your line manager’s advice in writing as to which of your duties you should prioritise.

If marking is NOT part of your normal contractual duties, but you are asked to do some you should refuse citing UCU’s ‘action short of a strike’ and quoting our guidance on additional duties.

38.  What if I am being unfairly pressured to complete marking?

UCU’s industrial action is likely to lead to disruption and, in these situations, universities sometimes unfortunately seek to put pressure upon staff to speed up. However, you should remember that you have a responsibility to ensure that quality standards are maintained, even if this means deadlines have to slip. Academic staff should always therefore take due care and consideration when marking work, ensuring that they are precisely meeting the guidelines both from the university itself and from the QAA. If you are asked to do something which in your opinion would be to cut corners we advise you immediately put your concerns in writing and ask your line manager to put their instruction to you in writing, including which aspects of the marking process they wish you to cut corners on in order to speed up.

39.  Where can I get further information about the the Quality Assurance Agency’s Code of Practice for the Assurance of Academic Quality and Standards in Higher Education?

The code of practice recommends that all institutions should have transparent and fair mechanisms for marking and moderating marks. The code can be read here (pdf).Opens new windowThis may normally be determined in relation to different programmes at department or faculty level, but you can find your institution’s policies on marking and assessment.

Working in a safe environment

40.  What are my duties in relation to healthy working?

Your legal duties as an employee include:

  • taking reasonable care for your own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by what you do or do not do
  • co-operating with your employer on health and safety
  • correctly using work items provided by your employer, including personal protective equipment, in accordance with training or instructions; and
  • not interfering with or misusing anything provided for your health, safety or welfare.

41.  How do I know that I am working in a safe workplace?

Every employer must have conducted a risk assessment on your job and must have recorded significant points. Regulation 10(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 stipulates that your employer has a duty to provide you with this information.

Your institution will have a health and safety policy that lays out the responsibilities of employees and various layers of management for dealing with health and safety issues.

42.  What should I do if I do not have or have not seen a copy of a recent risk assessment on my job?

You should request a copy of the risk assessment on your job and workspace. Your institution has a legal duty to provide you with a copy of this risk assessment document. This will probably sit with your line manager or the university’s safety office. You should write to your line manager or head of department in the first instance.

43.  What should I do if I do NOT receive a copy of my risk assessment?

If you do not receive a copy within two weeks, you should complain to your line manager in writing to the effect that you are concerned that no assessment has been undertaken and that you do not wish to become complicit in your employer failing in a legal duty by working in a potentially unsafe environment. You can use the template text below:

Dear xxxxxxxxx

As an employee of xxxxxxxxxx, I am aware that I have the following rights in relation to Health and Safety regulations,

  • as far as possible, to have any risks to my health and safety properly controlled
  • to be provided, free of charge, with any personal protective and safety equipment
  • to stop work and leave your work area, without being disciplined if I have reasonable concerns about my safety.

I am concerned that my employer is not currently fulfilling its duties in respect of these rights in the following ways______

I am mindful of my duty to work safely and of my right to stop work and leave my work area. Unless my concerns are immediately dealt with, I will consult my union about further steps.

44.  What if I do receive a copy of my risk assessment?

If you do receive a copy of your risk assessment, you should assess it, preferably in conjunction with your local UCU health and safety representative or branch health and safety officer. Identify whether or not the risk assessment is ‘suitable and sufficient’: have all hazards been identified; is the assessed level of risk appropriate; are the proposed control measures effective and operational; does the risk assessment need to be reviewed?

If you and your safety reps are satisfied that there are hazards in your workspace that are not identified in the risk assessment, you should immediately demand that another is conducted by a competent person, stating that you are concerned about safety in your job using the following wording:

Dear xxxxxxxxx

As an employee of xxxxxxxxxx, I am aware that I have the following rights in relation to health and safety regulations,

  • as far as possible, to have any risks to my health and safety properly controlled
  • to be provided, free of charge, with any personal protective and safety equipment
  • to stop work and leave your work area, without being disciplined if I have reasonable concerns about my safety.

I am concerned that my employer is not currently fulfilling its duties in respect of these rights in the following ways______

I am mindful of my duty to work safely and of my right to stop work and leave my work area. Unless my concerns are immediately dealt with, I will consult my union about further steps.

45.  What should health and safety reps do to help ensure that my workplace is safe?

  • Write to the university’s health and safety office requesting in writing, copies of all risk assessments requested by members of staff for which they have responsibility.
  • Complain in every case where these are not provided, citing the legal duty on the employer to maintain and provide such records.
  • Assess whether or not these are adequate risk assessment documents, using our guidance here.
  • Call for the establishment of a joint committee to monitor and control all risk assessments in the college/university.

46.  Am I protected in my use of display screen equipment (DSE)?

As the HSE says, ‘Computer workstations or equipment can be associated with neck, shoulder, back or arm pain, as well as with fatigue and eyestrain. Surveys have found that a high proportion of DSE workers report aches, pains or eye discomfort. These aches and pains are sometimes called upper limb disorders (ULDs), which can include a range of medical conditions such as RSI. Most of these conditions do not indicate any serious ill health, but it makes sense to avoid them as far as possible. The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 aim to protect the health of people who work with DSE. The Regulations were introduced because DSE has become one of the most common kinds of work equipment.’

UCU believes that most members fall under the category of DSE users. That means that they are covered by these Health and Safety regulations.

47.  Does my employer have to do ensure that I am safely using display screen equipment?

Yes. The regulations do not contain detailed technical specifications or lists of approved equipment. Instead, they set more general objectives. Employers have to:

  • analyse workstations, and assess and reduce risks – employers need to look at the whole workstation including equipment, furniture, and the work environment; the job being done; and any special needs of individual staff
  • ensure workstations meet minimum requirements
  • plan work so there are breaks or changes of activity
  • on request arrange eye tests, and provide spectacles if special ones are needed
  • provide health and safety training and information.

Every employer will have a DSE policy. Find out more details about what your employer should be doing here.

48.  How do I request an eye test, a risk assessment or other support from my employer?

Your institution will have a specific policy which will tell you how they propose to comply with the regulations and how you can request an assessment of your work station and access eye tests and other remedial actions and resources. Every member should make use of this policy.

49.  How can my employer help me avoid injuries at work through manual handling?

Manual handling is one of the most common causes of injury at work and causes over a third of all workplace injuries which include work related Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) such as upper and lower limb pain/disorders, joint and repetitive strain injuries of various kinds.

Your employer must abide by the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992. These apply to a wide range of manual handling activities, including lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling or carrying.

The regulations require employers to:

  • avoid the need for hazardous manual handling, so far as is reasonably practicable
  • assess the risk of injury from any hazardous manual handling that can’t be avoided; and
  • reduce the risk of injury from hazardous manual handling, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Your employer will have a specific policy adapting these regulations for your workplace. Your employer has an obligation to undertake manual handling risk assessments and ensure that employees receive manual handling training.

All employees covered by a risk assessment – including generic assessments – should be told about the risks it identifies, so you should ask for a copy of the manual handling risk assessment on your job and workspace.

Your institution will have a specific manual handling policy that will tell you more about your and your employer’s responsibilities.

50.  What should I do if I think that I have identified hazardous handling activities?

Employees have duties too. They should:

  • follow appropriate systems of work laid down for their safety
  • make proper use of equipment provided for their safety
  • co-operate with their employer on health and safety matters
  • inform the employer if they identify hazardous handling activities
  • take care to ensure that their activities do not put others at risk.

You should avoid and report any high risk activities in your working processes to your management. Examples of high risk activities are twisting the trunk; stooping; reaching upwards or forwards from the trunk; considerable lifting and lowering distances and any combination of the above movements.

It is then your employer’s responsibility to modify your work activities or workplace to minimise these risks.

51.  Should I undertake work which I have not been fully trained to carry out?

Under no circumstances should you operate equipment upon which you have not been properly trained and for which there has not been a recent risk assessment.

You and your employer

52.  Can I have all or some of my pay reduced when I participate in the UCU action short of strike?

If you are performing your normal duties but not undertaking activities over and above that, the employer has no legal justification for deducting your salary. Some employers may inform you that they will reduce your pay by a certain percentage (eg, 10%) during your participation in UCU’s working to contract. You should not do anything to signify your assent to this practice, or agree that the percentage itself is a reasonable one. UCU will challenge any attempts to make deductions from staff who are following the advice we have given.

53.  I have been invited to an interview to discuss my participation in the action, what should I say and do?

If you are invited to attend an interview, ensure that you take a UCU representative with you. In the interview, which should take place only between yourself and a line manager with a UCU representative present, you or your representative should politely state that you are following lawful industrial action, and ask that any threats or other comments are put in writing. If you are instructed to do additional duties you should follow the union’s advice above.

Advice for members who are heads of department

54.  I am a head of department, line manager or other senior academic/related role. How can I best support the action?

Many of the union’s strongest members are in senior roles as heads of department or schools. Senior staff can play an active role in the dispute by working to contract just like everyone else and also as follows:

  • working within your own contract and not acting up for other staff
  • encourage your staff to seek clarity from yourself on an individual basis on whether they should be performing any given tasks in relation to the dispute
  • make sure that you refer each individual query and avoid issuing blanket guidance
  • ensure that you support your staff who are following to the letter the quality guidelines in place for marking and second marking and as far as possible shield them from pressure
  • boost morale in the department by making it clear to all that you are supporting the union’s work to contract action.

For example, in a recent strike, one head of department wrote to their members of staff the following:

‘Being in a managerial position, I expect that colleagues will bombard me with requests. UCU’s advice is that I should forward these requests to my Head of School. In principle, if enough requests are generated, decision making will become paralysed. In practice, many managers will try to issue guidance covering all situations. UCU’s advice is to ignore blanket guidance and to ask about every single piece of activity that has not been agreed in advance with a manager and which is not clearly covered by the standard contract.’

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