HE strike for fair pay FAQs

HE fair pay banner

On Thursday 31 October members of Unite, UCU and UNISON working in higher education went on strike action at universities across the UK.

The action followed an industrial ballot over the employer’s refusal to improve the one per cent pay offer for 2014. Since 2008, below inflation pay rises have led to a 13 per cent real terms pay cut for staff working in higher education. The advice below was

What am I expected to do during a strike?
Strike action is never taken lightly. It is a measure of the last resort when every other avenue of influence and negotiation has been exhausted. Unite has decided to progress to strike action following an industrial ballot which showed that the majority of members rejected the employers’ final one per cent pay offer.

All eligible Unite members are expected to take part in lawful industrial action called following a ballot of members. Strike action is a very serious sanction which is why we ask that every member observe the strike. Members who do not observe the strike are directly undermining the union’s bargaining power and making it harder for Unite to protect all its members. 

When Unite calls a strike we ask that members do not come into work, but instead contact your rep or branch officers and volunteer to take part on the picket line. Show your employers that you are serious and united in taking action.

Do I have to tell my employer that I am taking strike action?
No, your employer may write to you asking that you declare whether you will be taking industrial action. You are under no obligation to inform your employer in advance that you are taking part in industrial action.
Unite is legally required to give employers some statistical information about Unite members taking industrial action, but we do not give individual names.

I have outside work commitments on the day(s) of the strike(s) should I cancel?
If your commitments are part of your normal work for the university or college you should NOT attend them. 

What if I am not a member of the union, is it too late to join and take part in the action?
No, people can join a union at any point up to and including on the day of the action and lawfully join the strike.

How much money will I lose?
You should expect to have a day’s salary deducted for taking part in the strike. 

I don’t think I can afford to take strike action?
Unite understands the financial pressures you are facing as the cost of living soars. Taking strike action is never an easy option, but the below inflation pay rises we have received over the past few years has cost you more.

Unite will support members who are called to take part in strike action. Members taking part in strike action for at least one day are entitled to claim and receive dispute benefit of £30 per day if you are a full time member and you meet the union’s eligibility rules for payment. Dispute benefit for members on other rates of subscription vary.

Will taking action affect my pension?
There is a possibility that your employer could withhold pension contributions, but past experience suggests that taking part in one-day strike action generally does not affect pensions. Also institutions that do choose to withhold contributions usually make provision for members to make up pensions and AVC deficits from their pay. 

Am I breaking my contract by taking strike action?

All effective industrial action is likely to be a breach of your contract of employment. But there is a legal entitlement for workers to take part in lawful industrial action. Unite has ensured that its industrial action instructions meet the provisions of the legislation. The law protects workers from dismissal while 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.

If your employer makes hostile comments or seeks to put pressure on you as a result of the ballot being called then you should advise your employer that:
•    you have a legal and democratic right to ballot and take action;
•    the action is national and is nothing personal to them as an employer but is the only vehicle by which the         trade dispute with the UCEA can be addressed and resolved.

Unite will strongly defend any members who are threatened as a result of participating in the ballot and subsequent action.

What is the law on picketing?
Peaceful picketing is entirely legal. It is perfectly lawful for pickets to approach members to communicate information to them on the merits of their dispute and to peacefully persuade them to honour the picket by abstaining from working.

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 must not interfere with them. Please wear a high vis vest to show you are on duty. Placards and posters should be displayed, stating ‘OFFICIAL PICKET’.

What if I am part time?

Unite believes that any deduction must be pro-rata for part time staff. The deduction must only be for your contracted hours. Please contact your local Unite rep if your employer attempts to deduct more than they should.

JOIN UNITE – stronger together