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Open letter to Postgrads & Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs)

Strikes are exceptional times. The local UCU understands that you may have many questions that require clarification. This open letter provides explanations to a number of questions that some of you have asked us, ahead of the strike. They are structured in the form of Questions and Answers.

(1) What is the strike about? Should I care?

(2) Can I strike?

(3) Can the University/Department force me NOT to strike?

(4) What happens in these ‘picket lines’?

(5) I will lose money if I go on strike. Can I get some support?

(6) I am on a zero-hour contract. How can I claim lost income if I strike?

(7) I have sympathy with the strike but I am quite nervous. I have not been on a strike before. Can I be arrested? Would something bad happen to me?

(8) I care for the students. Isn’t the strike going to negatively affect their studies?

(9) What else can I do to help?



(1)  What is the strike about? Should I care?

* On February 22nd staff at 61 universities across the country will be going on strike. Our Union, the UCU, has called for 14 days of action across four weeks. During this time, staff will not be teaching, answering e-mails, giving office hours, or marking.

* We did not want to go on strike, losing money and disrupting the students’ programme of studies. We were forced to because our employers – Universities UK management – many of whom receive massive salaries and have secured huge pensions – broke their promise about our pension, as agreed in our contracts. They want to change the way our future pensions are calculated and, effectively, destroy our pensions’ scheme (called USS). Some staff will lose as much as 50% of their pensions, an unprecedented loss in the history of USS, but management refuses to budge or bargain.

*  We are resorting to going on strike because it is the only way we can persuade Vice Chancellors to negotiate.

*  This strike is about defending your future pension.

* You may find the video below from the Warwick Student-Staff Solidarity group illuminating:


(2)  Can I strike?

YES – you are our colleague and co-worker. If you aspire to become an academic in the UK, your future pension will be directly affected by these horrible changes. If you are not already a member of the UCU, you can join easily by following the link below. Joining the UCU is FREE for GTAs, doctoral students and recent doctoral graduates. To join click below:


(3)  Can the University/Department force me NOT to strike?

GTAs who are UCU members are protected by the Union in case they will be put under pressure if they decide to go on strike.

It is unlawful to be put under pressure or bullied NOT to strike, especially if you are a member of the Union. If you are put under any pressure to break the strike, contact


(4)  What happens in these ‘picket lines’?

Your colleagues and other striking academics, members of the UCU, will be standing in the so-called picket lines in the 3 entrances to the University during the days of the strike. They will be there to ask members of the University to support the strike and to encourage them NOT to cross the picket line.

Crossing the picket line undermines the collective effort to defend our pensions, including your future pension.

All who participate in picket lines get clear instructions about what constitutes appropriate action in a picket line. In general, there is a positive atmosphere in a picket line.

We will be there to inform, to encourage, to seek support; not to confront.

There is nothing unlawful about picket lines. They are a form of free speech which is protected when you are on strike.. The police cannot arrest anyone just for being on a picket line.


(5)  Will I lose money if I go on strike? Can I get some support?

All those who strike will lose money. Some of us will lose very substantial amounts.  GTAs who are members of UCU can apply to recover their lost income for the hours planned, by showing evidence of the lost pay. They can access the so-called  Hardship Fund. Thus, it is to your benefit to be a member of the Union and it is FREE. See the link above about becoming a member.


(6)  I am on zero hours contract. How can I claim lost income if I strike?

Your engagement as GTA involves turning up in seminars/workshops in particular days and hours. If you strike you can make a claim to the UCU hardship fund to recover the pay you would have otherwise earned. But you can only do this if you are a UCU member. You will need to provide details of these units/days/times.


(7)  I have sympathy with the issues but I am quite nervous. I have not been on a strike before. Can I be arrested? Would something bad happen to me?

Strike action is LAWFUL in this country. In all striking Universities UCU members were lawfully balloted. We voted overwhelmingly (in some University support for the strike was up to 80%) to strike as the only action left to defend the pension levels we were promised (and the employers agreed to) in our contracts. This strike action is as legal as it gets.

UCU is a legal organization with numerous lawyers and law experts on their side, representing thousands of academics. UCU is recognized by the employers as the collective voice representing ALL academics in pay negotiations, even those who are not in the union.

No-one can be arrested for taking part in a lawful strike action in the UK. No-one.

Finally, there is always a feeling of anxiety when one joins other human beings to take collective action. This is normal. But this feeling disappears quickly when one joins their colleagues in the strike. Usually, it is feelings of empowerment and solidarity that rise to take the place of anxiety. Joining your colleagues and friends in a fight for a just cause is an incredible experience!


(8)  I care for the students. Isn’t the strike going to negatively affect their studies?

The purpose of a strike is to create an impact that will make the employers feel uncomfortable enough to move their negotiating position. Our purpose is not to harm students, many of whom support us. It is to defend our pensions – and the sector.

Departments and the University will take into account the impact of the strike on the students’ performance and studies – this is called taking into account ‘structural mitigation’. Students can register their feelings by complaining to the University management, and UCU encourages them to do so. They can ask the University management what action are taking to end the strike and demand that they should go back to the negotiating table to find an acceptable solution.

Local UCU also support the petition urging “the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Learning and Teaching to commit to ensuring that all money saved on the wages of striking staff goes into the University of Bath Hardship Fund and towards improving mental health support for staff and students”. You can sign the petition here:


(9) What else can I do to help?

The most direct help you can give is to join the UCU action. That means taking strike action on the 22nd, 23rd, 26th, 27th, 28th February, and 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 12th to 16th March; which makes 14 days in total. Once industrial action has started it also means “work to contract”, meaning work no more than contracted hours, and volunteer for nothing – in particular do not cover for absent colleagues.

If you are not in the UCU, then you can join at any time. You are able to take action with UCU without joining, but UCU is able to offer both legal protection and a hardship fund. Otherwise:  not cross a picket line; not cover for striking colleagues; and most especially bear in mind that colleagues who are taking action are losing pay, and defending your pension too – so, do nothing to undermine the action of colleagues.

As said above you can also support the petition supported by local UCU urging “the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Learning and Teaching to commit to ensuring that all money saved on the wages of striking staff goes into the University of Bath Hardship Fund and towards improving mental health support for staff and students”. You can sign the petition here:


Free membership for all postgrads – even if you are in paid work

Thousands of postgrads are signing up for UCU’s free membership offer. UCU negotiates your pay, your contract and your pension. The more of us there are the stronger we can be in our negotiations with the vice-chancellors and their similarly well paid representatives. To join UCU for free see here.

Underpaid, (semi) casualised, mainly women and now the SACK ! Foreign Languages Centre staff need your support NOW !

Γειά σου ! Cześć ! Здравствуйте !

Last week we submitted our response on behalf of 18 members of staff in the Foreign Languages Centre who face being made redundant in August. The redundancies would be part of a 20% cut in FLC provision. We called for a 12-month freeze on the proposals to allow wider consultation with students, staff and members of the local community about the future of the FLC. On Thursday we presented a 2600 name petition to the Chair of University Council calling on the University to mark its 50th anniversary by expanding its foreign language teaching, not cutting it. The petition has support from a wide range of staff, students and local people who have taken the community language courses. It is the largest petition ever presented to the University.

There has been no response to the petition, but on Friday University managers rejected our call for a 12-month freeze and started to implement the proposals on Monday. The 18 members of staff in the Foreign Languages Centre who face being made redundant in August represent all the issues at the heart of our current national dispute over unfair pay, casualization and the gender pay gap.

Unfair pay

In addition to the 14% cut in the value of pay that all of us have faced since 2009, these staff are paid at Grade 6 for professional teaching work. This is less than the rate for the job at most other universities. They were promised that they could expect to progress to Grade 7, but this has not happened as the University has failed to honour its agreement with UCU about that. There are hundreds of people working here, mainly GTAs, who are in the same position. They are not alone. Staff in professional and technical grades are frequently paid less by Bath than other universities, and many are given responsibilities above their paygrade.


For years the FLC staff have been strung along on zero hours contracts. UCU did secure a marginal improvement in their position in 2009, but 20% of the work is still done on zero hours contracts, some by staff who have worked here for many years. In 2013, Bath came out on top in a survey of the use of zero-hours contracts for teaching and research.

Gender pay gap

Most of the FLC staff facing the sack are women. As well as having a greater of chance of being on the receiving end of unfair pay and casualization, women are more likely to lose their income altogether. We already know this is the case because the regular notices we receive from HR about the termination of fixed term contracts always contain more women than men. And when people are made redundant from the University of Bath they learn that the University has the meanest redundancy payments in the whole country.

Consultative ballot for action in support of FLC staff facing redundancy

UCU has formally registered a ‘failure to agree’ with the University, and this will now be dealt with under a procedure agreed between UCU and the University in 2011. We are calling on all members to support our colleagues in the Foreign Languages Centre. We will be consulting you about this with an electronic ballot for action in the next ten days. If you are taking holiday in this period and want to be kept informed of the ballot without opening your University email (we are, after all, still working to contract) please contact




Big vote for action on pay, casualization and gender pay inequality

Members have voted overwhelmingly in favour of action to support our joint union claim, following a miserable 1.1% offer from employers and no promises of action on casualization and the gender pay gap.

A 2-day strike is planned for Wednesday 25th and Thursday 26th May, unless employers improve their offer.   All members are asked to support this action. (more…)

Members call for more job security for hourly paid staff

A well attended members’ meeting on 25th February agreed to lodge a formal reference with our employer over its use of casual contracts.  The University of Bath was revealed as one of the country’s heaviest users of casual contracts for teaching and research, and despite an undertaking last October from the Vice Chancellor last to reduce its dependence on casual contracts we have seen no movement.

Our growing number of members who are hourly paid are looking for support from those on more secure contracts to win some improvements, and the branch has put its weight behind them.

The meeting also called on University managers to:

  • modify the University’s disproportionate’ response to the Prevent legislation
  • honour its 2007 agreement with UCU that staff on Grade 6 should progress to Grade 7
  • improve access for those with sensory and mobility impairments trying to get from the bus terminus to the Parade

Full report of this members’ meeting

Rectify the albatross: Avian militancy at Bath

Professor Yoda's union card

Professor Yoda’s union card

Press: Immediate release (into the wild)


Following recent merger talks with ASCHUFF (Associated Society of Condors and Hawks, Fur and Feather), Bath UCU has acquired a president not only of the branch, but on the branch, a dedicated militant of the class struggle, red in tooth and claw. ASCHUFF, founded by Big Jim Lark, brings a long history of industrial action and a welcome ability to eat the internal organs of class enemies.
Baby owls on a branch

Branch meeting

Professor Yoda The Owl, well known for his role as a flying picket in the Mynahs’ Strike, and author of the oral history “Magpie! Magpie! Magpie! Out! Out! Out!”, is the first new member of staff taken on after management’s reversal of policy on so-called Zero-Owl Contracts. Professor The Owl’s presidency comes at a time of increased militancy on the branch, amidst staff concerns at uncontrolled rises in the pay of the Vice-Chaffinch at a time when ordinary members of staff are suffering real terms cuts to their chicken-feed.

Asked to respond to public unease about the size of her remuneration, in the midst of renewed avian militancy, Professor Dame Glynis Broadbill said of her all-the-seed-you-can-eat package, and exclusive nest on that gutter over the chip shop on Kingsmead Square: “I’m worth it. Tweet. Woo! Is that an abandoned plate of chips?”

The new branch president’s first act has been to negotiate a reversal of the Bath Against Cats policy of opposing cats, in the interest of building a Popular Front Against Them Fecking Seagulls, a city-wide movement opposed to seagulls nicking chips and generally making life a misery for hard-working families and drunks.

“Loose lips lose chips” said Professor The Owl when asked to justify this apparent Claws Four moment and reversal of traditional Liver policy. “If hard-working families are to enjoy the birthright of the working class, a bag of chips and some dodgy ketchup, then the scourge of scab seagulls will have to be dealt with, and by God it will be. We perch with all drinkers trying to get a falafel down on their way to the Brew House for a couple of scoops after a picket. Them up in Wessex House with their skinny so-called chips can expect just the solidarity they gave us. From a height.”

A union source has refused to confirm or deny rumours that Professor The Owl would rather eat mice than University of Bath campus food.


“Marx my words, a vote for Jeremy Corvid as leader of the Liver party is a vote for hard-working raptors and against the creeping Blairism of Liz Kestrel and the accomodationism of Andy Bushtit and Yvette Condor”, said Professor The Owl after a packed branch meeting agreed to endorse Corvid’s leadership bid.

“No, I will not be tweeting messages of support. What kind of cheep satire do you think this is?”

Pay talks stall but UCU makes national and local gains for members

Last week’s branch meeting heard a detailed report from our delegates to UCU national congress, and also news of a couple of wins for union members nationally and locally.

The employers’ pay offer remains at 1%, with slightly higher increases for those in Grades 1 and 2.   UCU is recommending members to reject this offer, which consolidates our 15% loss of pay since 2009.  Members will be consulted on the offer in an e-ballot starting this week

Nationally UCU have defeated an attempt by the University of Warwick to create a new agency for hourly paid teaching staff, TeachHigher.   Terms and conditions of employment would have been even worse than those on offer to hourly paid staff currently.  Their plan was to roll this out nationally, so its collapse is a significant victory.

Locally UCU is continuing to seek improvements to the terms and conditions of casualised staff at the University of Bath, and there will be a further meeting with university managers on this later in June.

The university has withdrawn its plan to change the way that lecture recording is organised.  The existing system, where staff opt IN to recording rather than opting OUT, will continue.  This follows strong representations from local UCU reps.

UCU has won concessions for some of our student members who are resident tutors.   Those who are Tier 4 visa holders were facing the prospect of losing all their opportunities for paid work but following a productive dialogue with university managers this has been mitigated.

UCU is supporting the anti-austerity demonstration in London on 20th June.   There are coaches from Bath.


SUCCESS! Joint Campaign Forces University of Warwick  to back down  over ‘TeachHigher’

 Friday 19th June – Anti-casualisation Assembly, Warwick

University of Warwick has been intending to ‘insource’ all of its hourly paid academic staff via a scheme called ‘TeachHigher’. The scheme entrenches a two-tier system where hourly paid academics are contracted by a third party and further separated from those on secure contracts. It also makes it increasingly easy for the university to take on more hourly paid staff on casualised, insecure contracts, decreasing the number of permanent positions. The staff working through TeachHigher would have been employed on worse terms and conditions than are currently offered to hourly paid staff.










In addition, the Warwick Employment Group were planning to sell TeachHigher as a commercial franchise to other universities, and so there was a real risk that we could have ended up in the same situation here at Bath.

However, Warwick UCU, Warwick for Free Education, and NCAFC, along with Warwick Student’s Union, have successfully campaigned against the programme, building for a large demonstration on University of Warwick’s open day in June. As a result, it was announced on Tuesday that the scheme would be disbanded!

This is a great example of how collective action works – through public meetings, extensive media coverage, direct action and a departmental boycotts of the scheme, staff and students at Warwick have achieved a massive victory. As well as the abandonment of TeachHigher, the university has announced it will run pilot schemes in individual departments to improve the current casualised system and to ensure PGs are paid at nationally-agreed rates.

There will be an assembly at Warwick university on the 19th to discuss how best to campaign against casualisation nationally – TeachHigher was indicative of a movement towards casualisation in HE that is still a real threat to job security and quality of teaching. If you would like to join our delegation, please contact

More info:


New UCU rep for hourly paid and early careers staff

Young members, early career academics and researchers at the University of Bath now have a dedicated UCU branch rep. Harry Pitts, a PhD student and graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Social and Policy Sciences, took on the the new role in December.

Drop-in session for hourly paid staff, postgrads and early careers staff

If you want advice, help or support with any aspect of your work at the University of Bath, call in at our drop-in session.

No need to make an appointment.

Wednesday 22nd April

2.30-4.00 pm

1E2.1 (ex-ICIA box office


Another win for hourly paid workers at Bath

The trade unions have been informed that one part of our demand for hourly paid workers to be treated the same as permanent staff has been agreed. From next week hourly paid workers will be paid a minimum of £7.85 an hour. Hundreds of campus workers, many of them students, will benefit from this, which was welcomed in the SU newspaper Bath Impact. (more…)