PGRs: your rights to strike
Cardiff UCU recognises that PGR tutors and demonstrators are often especially exposed to the financial and practical impacts of strike action. We’re fighting for all our futures in this sector, and against deep pay inequalities, impossible workloads, declining pay, and job insecurity.
PGR tutors, demonstrators, and other precarious staff will be prioritised for support from the UCU fighting fund. Cardiff UCU passed a motion in November 2022 to support casualised members, including postgraduate researchers and those employed on variable hours or fixed-term contracts, during industrial action. The goal is that more precariously employed members do not shoulder a disproportionate burden by taking part in industrial action and do receive greater support. (Full text here.)
Why are we striking? What are our demands?
UCU voted for a national strike over deep cuts to pensions (c. 40% for many members) and over the “Four Fights”: unmanageable workloads, casualisation and job insecurity, a decade of real-terms pay cuts and the gender, ethnic and disability pay gaps. Our demands are set out here.
PGRs play an important part in this industrial action and your involvement is crucial in order to cause the greatest disruption possible to employers. Casualisation is a central issue in our dispute with our employers. Our demands include eliminating casualised and zero hours contracts from higher education; and converting hourly paid staff onto fractional contracts. UCU is also campaigning for PGRs to be recognised as members of staff. Read more about our demands on casualisation here.
UCU Cardiff’s intense local campaigning backed by the strikes of 2018-20 has challenged Cardiff University’s 2-hour contracts (which they use under the banner of ‘variable-hour contracts’ for many PGRs). University management is now implementing changes to these variable-hour contracts, moving staff to fractional contracts that guarantee a minimum of 1h/week.
UCU PGR members in Cardiff have also started grassroots campaigns in recent years that led to Cardiff UCU making it a priority to demand employment contracts for PGRs who teach. As a result of this, including work over several years, the University management is soon to introduce employment contracts for PGR Tutors and Demonstrators. These will be beneficial in terms of sick pay, annual leave, some paid training (though we believe not enough), a low level of minimum guaranteed hours (though, again, not yet enough), greater job security, stronger employment rights legally, better union protection, and other standard employment benefits. The strength of the union, including the strikes of 2018-20, and the direct involvement of UCU PGR members in the negotiations were key to the success of this campaign.
As we monitor the implementation of contracts and continue to push for fairness, namely for part-time PGRs who are being disadvantaged by the limits on the duration of the contracts, having PGRs on the pickets will be essential. We have specific guidance on striking and action short of a strike for members on casualised contracts here.
When are we striking?
We have a national strike mandate for 6 months from 21 October 2022. UCU’s Higher Executive Committee voted to serve notice on employers of three days of strike action on Thursday 24, Friday 25 and Wednesday 30 November. HEC also voted to trigger a marking and assessment boycott in the new year and to escalate action from February unless employers negotiate a settlement with UCU members.
We are also taking Action Short of a Strike (ASOS) from Wednesday 23 November onwards. This includes 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 not undertaking any voluntary activities. This does not as yet include a marking and assessment boycott.
Can I strike as a PGR staff member?
This action requires every member with any working duties in each institution to participate so that duties cannot simply be passed on to colleagues. Casualisation is one of the key issues in the Four Fights dispute. To achieve maximum leverage it is absolutely crucial that members stand together, which is why hourly paid lecturers and PGR tutors and demonstrators will be prioritised for payments from our Cardiff UCU Hardship Fund.
What if I am not a UCU member? Can I become a UCU member? Can I afford it?
Yes! It is free for postgraduates. Joining UCU gives you access to legal advice and the strike fund, and membership is free for postgraduate researchers.
Non-UCU members who take part in legal, official industrial action have the same rights as UCU members not to be dismissed as a result of taking action. However, our strong recommendation is that you join UCU so that you have the protection of a trade union before you take part in industrial action. You have trade union protection from the date of your application to join. You can even join on the picket line.
What do we do on strike days?
Not do any work for all of the days specified by the union. This includes, for instance, time before 9am and after 5pm, and includes any activity which is part of your work such as teaching, administration, meetings, emails related to work, marking, research or conferences where you are directly or indirectly representing your employer. This includes any voluntary work that you do for the university, which falls under Action Short of a Strike (ASOS).
It also means not doing any preparation for work that you are due to do when you return to work after you strike. In a nutshell, if you are employed at one of the institutions on strike, do not do any work at all on strike days.
If your external commitments arise from your employment with the institution where a strike is taking place, whether they are offline or online, then you should not fulfil them. For example, if you were due to attend a conference in your capacity as a lecturer or to give a seminar at a strike-bound university you should not go. All universities in the UK are on strike during this round of action.
This includes the digital picket line, including work-related emails, tweets, or online admin – find out more here.
The best possible thing you can do is contact your UCU branch and volunteer to help at the picket lines! Our email is email@example.com .
How do we access the striking fund and how much can we claim?
Members can access the National UCU Fighting Fund as well as our local Hardship Fund which will prioritize PGRs and casual staff. Find out more here.
For the Cardiff UCU Hardship Fund, when PGR staff are due to submit their timesheets for payment, the Branch will accept those and make payment for any loss of income on strike days (according to the limits of the strike fund rules) into your bank account. Full details of how this will work are going to follow shortly for all UCU members.
If you have any questions about this just drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Do I have to tell my line manager or office that I am taking strike action?
No! You are under no obligation to inform management in advance as to whether you will be taking part in strike action or action short of a strike. UCU will provide your employer with all the information about the action required by law including those categories of members who we are calling on to take action.
Once you are back to work following the strike action, you should respond truthfully to any query from your employer as to whether you have taken or are taking industrial action. You should not, however, respond to any such query while you are on strike.
What if I am an international student? Will my visa be affected?
UCU has made a full briefing on your legal rights here for Tier 2, Tier 5, Global Talent (Tier 1) and Tier 4 student visa holders.
If you are on a Tier 4 visa, there is no specific prohibition on you taking part in industrial action, nor any requirement for a sponsor to withdraw sponsorship on that basis. Where someone on a Tier 4 visa is employed and taking part in lawful strike action that prevents them working as normal, the restrictions on absence that relate to Tier 2 migrants do not apply.
What if I’m not working on the strike days – what do I do?
You can legally take part in industrial action (striking or action short of a strike) for research, teaching, and other paid work that you do outside of being PGRs/PhD students (e.g. if you do paid work as a graduate teaching assistant, research assistant, or professional services at or above grade 6). If you do not undertake such work for your institution, you cannot legally take part in industrial action from your postgraduate research work, however you can and should still support this action, including by not crossing the picket lines. Your SU team have organised PGR work spaces in the Student Union for strike days so you can avoid crossing picket lines on strike days – see the SU website.
UCU believes that postgraduate researchers should be considered as staff for all their work. Please see the PGR as staff campaign.
What if PGRs are penalised or targeted for participating in the strike?
Hourly paid or paid-by-assessment colleagues cannot be penalised more harshly than permanent/salaried colleagues. Aside from pay deductions, it is unlawful to target or penalise any member of staff, including tutors, for taking part in industrial action – Cardiff UCU support any members who face unfair treatment and help can be requested here.
What if I’m asked to cover for a striking member of staff?
You can and should decline.
What if I’m asked to reschedule?
Do not agree to reschedule. Rescheduling undermines our strike action and increases our already too-heavy workloads.
Should I inform my students? What if a student asks to come to another seminar?
Students are already being informed by the university that their classes may be disrupted by strike action. If you want to, you can tell them in person that a teaching session will be disrupted, or email them to warn them that teaching may be disrupted by strike action. You can remind students of the reasons for the strike, and ask them to direct their complaints to the Head of School.
We suggest saying no to students asking to switch seminars, and telling them that we would appreciate their support for the strike. You can link them to the strike FAQs and ask them to email your Head of School.
Vote on the Student Union AGM motion on supporting industrial action
On the 24th November, the Students’ Union (SU) will be hosting one of the biggest democratic events of the year. Similar to last year, a motion has been proposed that resolves to mandate the Students’ Union to support the National UCU Industrial Action taking place during the academic year 2022/2023. All students attending the AGM will have the chance to vote for or against the motion – read it in the agenda here.
It is important that this motion passes to ensure that the SU and Sabbatical Officers can continue to support and protect the PGR community and staff members during any industrial action throughout this (2022/23) academic year.
The motion’s resolutions include items such as: a mandate for the Sabbatical Officer Team to work with UCU and lobby the UEB to meet the demands of university staff and PGRs, raise awareness and share information regarding UCU industrial action, provide wellbeing support for all students affected by the strikes, and allows the VP Postgraduate (Angie Flores Acuña) to encourage students to support and engage with rallies and on picket lines.
AGM event details:
- Time: 5:30 PM – 9:00 PM, 24th November 2022
- Location: Great Hall – 1st Floor, Students’ Union
- Requirements: Student ID
More information regarding the AGM and motion can be found here.
I cannot attend but I would like to vote: what do I do?
If you can’t attend SU AGM but a friend can, you can register a proxy vote. Click on the link above or Google ‘cardiffstudents AGM’ – click on link to the form for a proxy vote. This must be done ASAP.