Industrial action: information and updates for staff
The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), a pension scheme for academic and professional staff, has a significant deficit. The University and College Union (UCU), a trade union that represents many of our staff, is in dispute about proposed changes to recover the shortfall and achieve a sustainable scheme for the future. Talks are taking place nationally, on behalf of all universities, to resolve the situation.
On 13 April 2018, UCU members voted to accept the new USS pension proposal put forward after further negotiations with UUK (see the UCU webpages for more information).
We are launching a programme of extra activities and services, such as free sports sessions and exam stress management, to support students' academic success and wellbeing. These are drawn from students' own suggestions and funded by the staff salaries withheld during the recent industrial action. Please encourage students to visit the dedicated ‘Supporting your studies’ webpage to find out more.
If you need to report your industrial action activity or have an HR query, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have an education query, please email the Academic Registry at email@example.com.
If you have any other questions, please call our industrial action information line: (0117) 394 0618 and leave us a message.
Frequently asked questions
- Text of the Vice-Chancellor's email to all staff (PDF, 58kB) on the UCU ballot outcome, 13 April
- A response from Denis Burn (PDF, 187kB), Chair of the Board of Trustees, to Dr Neil Davies and colleagues about the USS valuation and related issues
- Staff and students forum: full transcript (PDF, 205kB) of the 21 March discussion
- Joint statement by the Vice-Chancellor and the Bristol UCU, 15 March 2018 (PDF, 60kB)
- Letter from the Vice-Chancellor to UUK, 9 March 2018 (PDF, 25kB)
What is the strike about?
This strike is about pensions. Bristol is among 61 universities where members of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) voted in required numbers in support of strike action or action short of a strike over the proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), a national pension scheme. You can find more information about the proposals on the Universities UK website. For more about the UCU position, see the UCU website.
Do all universities support the changes to the pension scheme?
The changes to the scheme proposed by Universities UK (UUK) were developed through extensive engagement with over 350 Universities Superannuation Scheme employers that it represents. In addition, UUK held a survey of all employers in September 2017 that received responses from 116 institutions (representing 92% of USS’s active membership).
A vast majority of employers want a solution that prevents employer contributions exceeding 18%, and support benefit reform to ensure that the scheme remains affordable and sustainable. In terms of the shape of this reform, a majority of employers prefer moving to defined contribution benefits at this valuation. The proposal also includes the possible reintroduction of defined benefits if scheme funding improves at future valuations.
Why can’t the University use its own funds to fill the pension gap?
We are one of 350 organisations that are part of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), so any changes would need to be agreed by USS and the Pensions Regulator. For Bristol, every 1% additional contribution to the scheme would represent around £1.5m less to invest in our academic activities, pastoral care and infrastructure.
Who are the people behind Universities UK (UUK) and the University Superannuation Scheme (USS)?
The Pensions Act 2004 states that the trustees of all pension schemes must consult with employers on various topics relating to their scheme. The rules for the USS scheme state that UUK will represent all employers on any consultations to do with the scheme.
Strike action: what and when
When are the strike days?
The initial series of strikes ended on 16 March 2018. If further strikes are announced, we will update this section. Please note that 'action short of a strike' is set to continue until no later than 19 June 2018.
What is 'action short of a strike'?
Action short of a strike (ASOS) includes the University and College Union (UCU) members working to contract, not undertaking voluntary duties, not covering for absent colleagues and not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action. We have asked staff who are working to contract in this way to prioritise student wellbeing support activities (including personal tutoring) and the preparation and delivery of teaching, coursework assessment, marking and feedback activities.
When is 'action short of a strike' taking place?
Continuous action short of a strike began on 22 February and will end no later than 19 June 2018.
Strike action / ASOS and withholding of pay
How much pay will be deducted if I go on strike?
If you took part in the strike you will not be entitled to your contractual pay for the dates you participate in the action. The University will withhold 100% of pay, at a daily rate of 1/365th of annual salary. We support the right of our staff to take strike action and make their voices heard. We know that they will not have taken this decision lightly as they are dedicated staff who want to provide the best possible teaching for all their students.
How will you withhold my salary?
For each day of strike action you participated in, pay will be deducted at a rate of 1/365th of your annual salary (calculated on a pro-rata basis for part-time staff).
You will need to complete one or multiple 'Strike Action Notification form'(s). A different form will need to be completed for each week you participated in strike action. These are as follows:
Therefore, if you participated in all scheduled days of industrial action, or action each week, you will need to complete all four forms.
In order to help us manage the student experience and mitigate workload issues, we request that forms be completed and emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible. You can also simply confirm the dates you were on strike in an email to email@example.com. If you are a professional services staff member, we ask you to copy your manager on any forms or emails; academic staff, please copy your Head of School, as this will help in managing local plans.
When will pay be withheld?
Salary withheld for strike action will be phased over a three-month period in May, June and July 2018 and will be withheld in equal amounts; for example if you have taken six days' strike action you will have two days' pay withheld each month.
What happens to withheld salaries?
All money withheld from staff will be put back into student-facing activities. We are working with the Bristol SU sabbatical officers to identify the best way to invest this money.
Will annual leave be affected as well as my pay if I take strike action?
Yes. It will be deducted at the same rate as the salary, 1/365th.
Will you deduct pay if I work to contract or partially perform duties (ASOS)?
Our intention is always to be sensible and proportionate, and for clarity, working to contract and fulfilling contractual duties will not result in a withholding of salary. Our key aim in this process is to protect educational outcomes and the student experience.
We therefore ask staff to work with their Head of Department or School to deliver on our duty to help our students progress their studies during this period of strike action, and we expect that staff will prioritise student education needs ahead of other activities that they might otherwise be involved in. This includes student wellbeing support activities (including personal tutoring), health and safety duties, the preparation and delivery of teaching, coursework assessment, marking and feedback activities, exam paper submission, open/visit day activities, key bid preparation activities (including CDT bids) and PhD vivas. This is the same approach adopted in previous periods of industrial action.
The University will issue a further communication should it assess at a future date that the impact of the ASOS is causing significant problems. We have reserved the right to withhold 25% of salary at a rate of 1/365 of annual salary where action is deemed serious enough to constitute a breach of contract. Payment of the remaining 75% of salary will be discretionary and conditional on all other contractual responsibilities and attendance commitments being met.
Will you still pay my pension contributions if I am taking strike action or action short of a strike?
Yes, but you will need to do so too – and tell us in advance so that USS can receive the payments. We have been advised by USS that it is at our discretion whether or not we pay pension contributions for strike days or actions short of a strike day. As a University, we have agreed that we will still pay the UoB contribution, but the employee will also have to pay their element of the contribution as well. To do this, you will need to notify HR in advance of your intended strike action, as this cannot be done retrospectively. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org. This information will only be used for pension purposes.
What work should I prioritise if I am working to contract?
We have asked staff who are working to contract in this way to prioritise student wellbeing support activities (including personal tutoring), health and safety duties, the preparation and delivery of teaching, coursework assessment, marking and feedback activities, exam paper submission, open/visit day activities, key bid preparation activities (including CDT bids) and PhD vivas.
Am I expected to pick up the work of colleagues on strike as well as my own?
Where there are groups of staff all doing the same role it is reasonable for managers to deploy them to maximum effect on the day of the strike. However, it is not appropriate to require staff to cover duties beyond their normal role. Managers may ask for volunteers and some individuals may well assist in this way, but staff must not be pressurised to provide such cover. Further guidance can be provided by your designated HR Manager.
I'm a PGR student. If I do prep but don’t teach because I am on strike, will I get paid for my prep time?
No. Evidence of prep time is the delivery of teaching, so if you do not teach, then you will not be paid for the prep time.
I’m not in a union but I want to strike. Where do I stand?
Non-UCU members have the same protection as UCU members provided that they are not members of a different trade union. Non-UCU members would be in breach of contract by taking part in any proposed strike action and action short of strike and they should, therefore, read our previous communications carefully in relation to the potential impact on their pay.
Will open days and offer holder events still go ahead?
Yes. Some events are likely to be affected. We will be contacting all those booked to arrange a refund or an alternative visit.
What can I do if I am experiencing financial hardship?
The UCU has established a Fighting Fund that will be used to support members in the USS dispute. Application to the fund is via an online form.
Staff experiencing financial hardship as a result of their industrial action can also apply for a discretionary loan from the University. Further details will be available here soon.
How can we make sure vulnerable students are supported during this, especially if key staff are on strike?
Although colleagues planning to take industrial action are not required to inform their managers in advance, we appreciate that you may be concerned about how to mitigate the impact of any such action on vulnerable students.
If there are individual students that you or other colleagues have particular concerns about, we would suggest a conversation with them assessing their access to support and how this is being affected by industrial action, and exploring whether this raises any specific concerns that can be addressed.
You can also find information on the Your health and wellbeing webpages for current students, or contact the Vulnerable Students’ Support Service (VSSS) to discuss your concerns about any individual student and the options for supporting them, but please bear in mind that some colleagues in the service may also be members of UCU and may be taking industrial action or action short of a strike.
Strike action forms
If you took part in industrial action during February or March, please complete and return the appropriate strike action forms:
Alternatively you can email email@example.com confirming your strike dates.