UCU strike action

About the strike

The strike continues to be in response to the implemented changes to the employee and employer contribution rates to maintain benefits applicable to members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme when they retire and to the final pay offer made by the employers in the 19/20 pay negotiations.

Discussions on pension changes have been taking place over a long period of time at Essex, we expressed our support for maintaining a defined benefit element within the pension scheme, maintaining a link between each member of staff’s salary and how much pension they receive; but we were part of a very small minority of universities who took this position.

We implemented the final national pay offer so that staff received this is in their August pay packets with an undertaking to adjust this (including ensuring staff receive any back pay) should there be a subsequent agreement for a higher award. This undertaking stands.

Our Vice-Chancellor expressed his view on the importance of the USS pension scheme in his piece for the Times Higher in February 2018. In November 2019, he also published a comment piece on the issues that have resulted in this period of strike action, expressing disappointment that the negotiations have not delivered an agreed outcome.  

Strike dates

The strike will take place on fourteen days during the following periods during the Spring term:

  • 20 to 26 February 2020
  • 2 to 5 March 2020
  • 9 to 13 March 2020

Action short of a strike may also take place during this period and up to 29 April 2020 when the mandate for this ballot expires.

Are all staff going on strike?

Not all members of staff are members of the union which is going on strike – the University and College Union (UCU). Even if staff are members of the union, they may choose not to go on strike.

However, non-union members can participate in the strike action.  As Unison and Unite did not get a mandate from members to strike, those union members are not able to participate in the strike action. 

Should I come into University on the strike days?

Yes. We expect that many lectures and teaching sessions will still take place, despite the strike action.

If you come to campus and your lecture or class does not take place – you could use the time for individual or group study. Our libraries and other facilities will be open as normal. We will be working with your Department or School to provide you with as much advice and guidance as possible.

If you decide not to come to campus and your lecture or class does take place – your non-attendance will be recorded, but will not appear negatively on your record.

If you come to campus and your lecture or class does take place as scheduled – just tap in as normal. 

We understand that some students who commute a long way to campus may decide not to come in on strike affected days. Your department will be keeping in touch with you and you should check your Essex email account regularly for any updates.

If you have deadlines for the submission of coursework that fall on days affected by the strikes, you should submit your coursework as normal.


Will I have to pay to park if I come to campus but my lecture is cancelled

For those with a general or occasional student permit, who pay for parking by the hour, parking on Colchester campus is free on strike affected days.

Will my attendance record be affected by the strike?

No. If your lecture or class takes place – just tap in as normal.

If you come to campus and your lecture or class does not take place – you don’t need to tap in, our records will reflect these particular circumstances.

If you decide not to come to campus and your lecture or class does take place – your non-attendance will be recorded but will not appear negatively on your record.

Again our records will reflect these particular circumstances. This will also apply to any contribution that your attendance makes to your module assessment.

What will be the impact on my lectures / exams / course?

The impact on teaching will vary depending on exactly what modules you are doing. Your department will let you know of any changes as soon as they are known.


What if I miss vital content for exams or coursework?

Each department is making plans to ensure that the learning outcomes of cancelled lectures and classes are safeguarded. Your department will be able to give you more details (but it may take a few days for this to happen).

Where possible, lecture notes and slides will be made available in the usual way and the room that your teaching was due to take place in will be available for group study during the time your teaching was scheduled.

Can we have stand-in lectures so we don't have to miss any of our course?

UK law does not require staff taking part in strike action to inform us in advance of their intention to do so. It is not possible, therefore, to be certain how the action will affect individual modules, which makes it difficult to arrange cover for lectures and classes.

The University is not operating a policy of requiring other members of staff to cover for colleagues who are not delivering lectures as part of the strike action.

However, we are trying to predict the impact the strike may have on your lectures and classes and will let you know details if we are able to do so. 

Will I be reimbursed for any lectures that are cancelled?

Our focus during the period of industrial action will be on supporting departments to ensure that you are still able to achieve the learning outcomes of your course. We want to ensure that any adverse impact on your studies is minimised.  Each department has been asked to make plans to ensure that the learning outcomes are safeguarded.

We recognise that a period of industrial action will inevitably have a negative impact, notwithstanding our efforts to minimise it. We have agreed to continue our scheme of goodwill payments if you have lectures and classes cancelled as a result of this latest strike action, in recognition of the reduction in learning opportunities. Further details will be confirmed during the Spring term. In making these payments, we do recognise that financial payments can never fully offset the impact of strike action on our students’ overall University experience.

What will the University do to support my learning during the strikes?

The University is unable to assess the likely impact of the industrial action on your learning at this stage. However we will do everything we can to minimise disruption to you, including:

  • The room that your teaching was scheduled to take place in will be available for individual or group study during the time your teaching was scheduled.
  • Our Albert Sloman Library is open 24/7 and their online library chat function is open Monday to Friday 10am-5pm.
  • If your lecture has been given previously – where possible, a recording of it will be made available on Listen Again.
  • Your attendance record will not be affected if you do not attend classes on a strike affected day.
  • Where possible, course slides and lecture notes will be made available.
  • Car parking charges will be waived on strike days.

How can I raise a issues and complain about the impact of the strikes?

 If you have any concerns about your academic supervision for dissertations or other coursework, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, please contact your Department or School, and they will advise you on the appropriate next steps depending on your circumstances.

Where you feel your academic performance has been affected adversely by the strike, you should consider submitting an extenuating circumstances application, along with evidence of the impact you have personally experienced. The Board of Examiners will consider every application carefully and determine if and how it should be taken into account. You can find information about the extenuating circumstances process on our website and the issues you should consider before applying. The Board of Examiners will also be made aware of any significant strike impact on particular courses or modules so they are in a position to take it into account.

It is our intention to ensure that the overall impact on your learning is as minimal as possible and that all of your intended learning outcomes are met. We are committed to ensuring that you will still be able to access the wealth of materials on offer to support your education and that you will be fairly and properly assessed. 

How can I support staff who are striking?

The University and College Union website contains some useful information on the strike, including resources for students.

How will the University communicate strike updates?

Where possible, we will communicate all strike updates via your Essex email address, so keep an eye on your University email account.

Any room changes and last minute cancellations may also be communicated, where possible, via text message.

As well as all-student communications, you may also receive updates direct from your department – again via email and text message.

Why can't the University provide more detailed information about the likely impact?

We’re telling you as much as we can. UK law does not require staff taking part in strike action to inform us in advance of their intention to do so.

It is not possible, therefore, to be certain how the action will affect individual modules, which makes it difficult to arrange cover for lectures and classes. We will communicate any news with you as quickly as possible via your Essex email address.

Who can I contact to find out more?

In the first instance check your Essex email account regularly for any updates. If you are still unsure, please contact your departmental administrative team.  

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