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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:


Strike dates announced> Branch meeting Wednesday 14th February 1.15 pm 3E2.1




You will be called to take action at the same time as the majority of your colleagues in UCU branches around the UK.

Thursday 22 February
Friday 23 February

Monday 26 February
Tuesday 27 February
Wednesday 28 February

Monday 5 March
Tuesday 6 March
Wednesday 7 March
Thursday 8 March

Monday 12 March
Tuesday 13 March
Wednesday 14 March
Thursday 15 March
Friday 16 March

More information



University Court tells VC and Chair of Council to go now

The HEFCE report into governance at Bath University was discussed at a meeting of the University Court yesterday.   Court is the statutory body made up of stakeholders, public, staff and student representatives.  Court requested


•             The immediate resignation and departure of the Vice Chancellor, Chair of Council and the Remuneration Committee, in whom Court expressed no confidence.

•             Full acceptance and implementation of HEFCE’s findings and recommendations.

•             A complete review of University governance, not just the “effectiveness” of the governing bodies.

•             The addition of democratically elected staff and students to the Remuneration Committee, which sets senior management pay, and the removal of powers from the Remuneration Committee.

•             Annual publishing of the University’s overall pay ratio between the lowest and highest paid staff, including perks such as grace and favour homes.

•             A Living Wage be paid to all staff and that the University commence accreditation to the Living Wage Foundation within 12 months.


University Court has also agreed that:


•             Council acted beyond its powers, violating the University Ordinances, in agreeing the Vice Chancellor’s departure package and that this has further damaged the reputation of the University.

•             The University should appoint a senior external figure (a ‘Visitor’) who could be called upon to help address any future failings of governance.


A fuller version of the text from one of the motions has been published on the University website. The meeting has already been covered in the press, including BBC and Guardian.


The decision by University Court follows another vote of no confidence in the Vice Chancellor, Chair of Council and the Remuneration Committee last week. Academic Assembly voted by 128 to 29 for their immediate departure and a full review of University governance.


Staff, students and the university stake-holder body, Court, have all requested that those responsible for the failings of management and governance finally put the university before their personal ambitions and self-interest by stepping down from their positions of authority. The joint trade unions continue to support this call.


Pensions, workloads, and why we care about pay inequality

Your latest UCU Bath newsletter

And for latest news on action to protect USS pensions

Pressure builds on divided University Council to resign

Thursday saw an unprecedented display of unity and strength from staff and students on campus, coming together to reject the Vice Chancellor’s golden handshake and demand the departure of the governors who cobbled the deal together. Almost a thousand students and staff joined the protest on campus, which received substantial press attention from the Guardian, BBC, ITV and Bath Chronicle.

The announcement of the Vice Chancellor’s departure, in 2019, with a paid ‘sabbatical’ worth £235K and the write off of a £31K car loan, has been roundly condemned outside of the university and by staff and students. That pressure, and the demonstration outside yesterday’s meeting of University Council meeting, led to a vote of no confidence in the Chair of Council, Thomas Sheppard. The vote was lost, as was to be expected from a governing body that has repeatedly demonstrated its inability to understand staff and student concerns. But Council was divided. Only 13 of the 22 voting members expressed confidence in the Chair by voting against the motion. 4 supported the motion and 5 abstained.

Also yesterday, members of Bath Students Union voted to no-confidence the whole of the University Council by 2371 to 151.

Staff and students have no confidence in the management or governance of the University of Bath. They command no loyalty from us. If they had integrity, they would have already resigned. As it is, they can only cling to the last shreds of such formal authority as remains to them.

Everybody except a few governors and those at the top of senior management now knows that a fresh start for the University is not possible under its current leadership.




Governors must go, no golden goodbye. Thursday 3.30 Wessex House

Tuesday’s announcement that the Vice Chancellor is leaving in 2019 was clearly aimed at taking the heat out of the current crisis of governance at the university.  With students holding a referendum of confidence in the governing body, and staff still seething about HEFCE’s attack on ‘poor governance’ that has damaged the university’s reputation, the prospect of a big protest outside today’s meeting of the University Council has caused panic at the top.

The joint trade unions have been critical of the VC’s inflated salary, and we share the widely held view that the terms of her departure are inappropriate, not least because the same terms would not be available to any other member of staff, particularly one whose mistakes had played such a big part in creating the crisis.  The VC does not believe that she has lost the confidence of the majority of the staff.

Our attention now, though, has to be focused on those who bear greater responsibility for the problems we are facing, and who show no sign of understanding that.  They led us into this mess, they can’t lead us out of it.

That is why we are calling on all our members to demonstrate to members of the University Council that when they discuss the HEFCE report today they should consider very carefully what they have done, and what they have not done that has contributed to the failings of governance identified in the report.  We are calling for a fresh start and that means a fresh look at who is running the university and how it is run.

Join your colleagues and students today at Wessex House.  We will assemble in 5W2.1 from 3.15 and demonstrate our feelings to Council members as they arrive for their meeting at 3.45.

University of Bath UCU branch committee

See Michael Carley’s account of the current crisis of governance at the university.

Now is the time to ask your colleagues to join UCU.



Pensions ballot starts tomorrow – vote YES and YES to action

Employers are divided over the future of the USS pension scheme, with Warwick VC today making public his concerns about proposals to end the current scheme and transfer all risks to members.  Bath VC Glynis Breakwell, who sits on the board of USS, has not revealed Bath University’s view.

UCU members are now being balloted for strike action to defeat the proposals.  The ballot opens tomorrow, but members at Bath may not get their ballot papers untial a week later after Bath’s HR raised objections to the ballot process.

For more information go to the national UCU website and see the latest Bath UCU newsletter

Breakwell and Sheppard told to leave now

Hundreds of staff crowded into 5West lecture theatre today to express their anger and concern about the findings of Monday’s HEFCE report which was highly critical of many aspects of the way the university is run.  Many more staff were diverted to another lecture theatre next door after security raised safety concerns.  The meeting backed the unions’ call for the VC and Chair of Council and the Remuneration Committee to go ‘with immediate effect’, and agreed to join students protesting at next Thursday’s meeting of University Council if both are still in position by that time.

HEFCE report slams university for poor governance practice – but you are not allowed to comment.

Yesterday HEFCE (the HE Funding Council for England) published a report that is highly critical of many aspects of the way the university is run.

The Vice-Chancellor and senior managers did not act “in good faith” when their pay was discussed at Court in February (Findings 25 and 26).

The university has been in breach of its own statutes for fifty years by not having standing orders for Court (Conclusion 10).

HEFCE is disappointed that university management “did not respond more proactively to the representations made about the Remuneration Committee” over recent years (Conclusion 12).

Consideration should be given to including staff and/or student representatives on the Remuneration Committee (Recommendation 11).

The governing body has ignored official guidance on the practice of remuneration committees, even though it was published more than two years ago (Finding 30).

There is not “sufficient evidence that Council has considered these matters [remuneration] as thoroughly as it should” (Finding 32).

The university’s poor governance practice has damaged the reputation of the university (Conclusion 9 and multiple recommendations)

Just before the HEFCE report was published, a new 3.9% pay rise for the Vice Chancellor was disclosed. The pay rise was only revealed following a Freedom of Information request. The trade unions’ view of this is that the university’s reputation for teaching and research excellence is built on the hard work of all its staff – including the large numbers on zero hours and other insecure contracts. The view of those who run the university is that the Vice Chancellor and other senior managers are responsible for the university’s success, and deserve big pay rises while everybody else gets a pay cut.

The Chair of the University Council (governing body of the University)and University Remuneration Committee Thomas Sheppard has issued a response to the report, but he did not include a copy of or a link to the HEFCE report in his message.  You can see some of the headlines from it above.

Despite the local and national interest in this matter, nobody is able to respond to this message because the comments function has been disabled.

Mr Sheppard occupies an important role, but he is not the University.

If you don’t want your comments to be disabled by Mr. Sheppard, come to tomorrow’s emergency all staff meeting from 12.15 – 1.00 in 5W2.4


USS: UCU moves to a ballot for action to defend pensions

A well attended conference for delegates from UCU branches in pre-92 universities was held in Manchester on November 9th. The conference voted unanimously to move to a ballot of members for action to defend pensions. For a full report on the conference click here.

For more background to the dispute over USS see Post by Sam Marsh (Sheffield UCU) at HE Marketsation