Strike and Dispute FAQs

No to the bribe. Don’t sign away our future.

You shouldn’t have to give up your rights to earn the wages you’re entitled to. The University is asking you to trade terms and conditions just to get what you would get at any comparable employer.

Your questions answered.

The University’s offer

I think it’s a good deal for me, should I accept?

No. We ask everyone to do nothing for now.

We are calling on all support staff not to accept the University’s offer. If most staff don’t accept, it will put pressure on University management to work with and listen to staff representatives, to make a fairer offer for everyone.  We just ask that you do nothing for now, to allow Unison time to negotiate. Our members voted clearly to reject the offer, because it isn’t good enough and insisting on adding clauses to change terms and conditions is underhand. University management need to listen and to come back to the table to talk.

I’m not a member, what can I do?

This is affecting all support staff, and will continue to affect us all. Even if you aren’t a member, we ask that you stand with us on this issue and just don’t sign- to protect everyone’s terms and conditions for the future.

More new members are currently signing up because of this important issue. If you sign up, it will make a huge difference to our strength in negotiating a fair deal. Be assured that even outside of disputes we work hard to make the workplace better for all of our members and we would be thrilled to have your support and backing.

What is wrong with the university making offers to individuals? 

The University is attempting to divide staff by offering individual deals. It would weaken all of our bargaining power and add strings (terms changes) to what should just be pay talks, setting a very dangerous precedent.

All major changes to terms and conditions (meaning the rules that govern your contract such as how much you get paid, and how much annual leave and sick pay you get) have been negotiated with the trade unions. The outcome is much better for employees by sticking together we get a better deal. Workplaces with trade union bargaining tend to have better wages, as well as more leave and sick pay.

It sets a dangerous precedent and if it is successful they could easily use it in future to push through other changes. If staff accept this time, they could make similar offers in future- maybe in return for giving up sick pay or annual leave. Short term pay rises just aren’t worth losing those things for good.

The University has said they aren’t changing sickness policy, why is UNISON worried?

The concern isn’t that things will change based on these changes alone but that it gives the University a method they could use to do this in future.

Remember – the need to discuss things collectively with unions has acted to protect all of our contracts in the past. If the University sees this as a success, they could well use it to make changes to sick leave and annual leave entitlements in future.

If I only agree to this change though, what harm could it do?

Agreeing would set a precedent where staff are willing to trade terms and conditions for pay, opening the door to more of the same.

We get pay rises every year because we stand together to ask for them. Why would the University give us a decent pay rise ever again if they can just make trades with individual members of staff? The University is also likely to recruit new staff on the new terms and conditions, making the University a fragmented workforce. We are also concerned that this will put further strain on payroll and HR systems which already struggle to cope with current contractual arrangements. Breaking up staff into little groups on different contracts will make it easier for them to impose more contract changes in future.

What changes are being made to the terms and conditions of employment? 

The University has unilaterally changed a lot of the wording in the terms and conditions of employment – this is meant to be changed after discussion with unions but they didn’t even attempt to do this. 

Wording can be confusing here – when we generally talk about “changes to terms and conditions” we mean the actual rules about overtime rates, annual leave and similar matters. The “terms and conditions of employment” is the actual document detailing these rules – and the wording can be very important!

Normally we would have time to discuss a revised set of terms and conditions, taking advice as necessary on any particular changes (both the old and new documents say they need to be discussed with us first).

We were not able to do this with the University only giving us sight of the document around a day before it was sent to all staff. They claim that they have only made superficial changes to wording, but the exact wording in the T&Cs has been very important in the past. One particularly worrying example is the change in how working hours are determined, from “agreement” between employee and line manager to simply being “determined” by the manager alone. 

The University has said the change to wording around working hours is nothing to worry about, why are you concerned about it?

It’s vital that terms and conditions are clear and unambiguous – if the University needs to clarify the wording around working hours to resolve concerns, it’s evident that the original wording chosen is too vague and open to abuse. 

The terms and conditions definitely imply a change to how working hours are determined from agreement to being determined solely by a manager. If the situation was as the University is claiming then they should obviously change the wording in the terms and conditions to remove this potential meaning. In addition, a brief reassurance in a separate email is not always enough to outweigh what the T&Cs say – remember that the terms and conditions will remain in place for years to come and in the past the University has claimed that the people who have written individual emails were mistaken in what they said, and the exact wording of the T&Cs should take precedence instead.

UNISON will of course always attempt to hold the University to the commitments they make – but why leave the situation so unclear and open to abuse?

Is the University’s individual offer legal? 

We are taking legal advice on this. Generally employers that engage in collective bargaining with unions can’t make individual offers to staff.

Their only defence is if they feel negotiations have completely failed and there is no prospect of finding a solution. We feel this is clearly not the case we have been willing to negotiate throughout the process, investing a lot of work and effort in making the pay spine better and fairer, as well as suggesting several ways to resolve the impasse. As soon as we know more about this we will be in touch.

What are the changes to terms and conditions and what do they mean?

In brief (more details here) :

  • Reduced rates of pay for weekends, and complete removal of non-weekend rest days for staff who normally work weekends.
  • No more shift allowance, meaning much less incentive for working unsocial hours such as night and 12 hour shifts.
  • Continued exclusion of catering staff from most additions to pay, despite claiming to make the system “fairer for everyone.”

Reducing the incentive for working outside of core hours makes it less likely people will volunteer, which in turn increases the chances they will make people work weekends, late nights and evening compulsorily.

Is it true that the unions failed to respond to the University’s offer?

No. We have poured a lot of our efforts into negotiating since we began in September 2022. We’ve been very invested in this process, provided constructive feedback at every stage and we have made it clear we are still willing to talk.

Our members have been clear that it is deeply unfair to ask us to trade terms and conditions to get a fair rate of pay, but we’ve been pragmatic throughout and have tried to find a solution to this all the same. When the University made their “final” offer to us, they did so when our ballot had already effectively started. Despite this they said they would not accept any response from us while we were balloting, making it impossible for us to respond. We went back to them straight away to try a find a solution but they stopped responding to us. We then didn’t hear anything until a few days before they made their individual offer to staff, when they sent us a very confusing message claiming we had not responded to them.

Do I need to reject the University’s offer or do anything to make it clear I’m not accepting it? 

No. We advise everyone to just not respond to the offer, and leave negotiations up to the trade unions. By not responding you are also not committing yourself either way- helping us without undermining your own position.

What will I miss out on by not accepting the offer? 

The University are asking you to sign away your terms and conditions in exchange for a one off, non-pensionable and taxable payment, and we aren’t sure of the amount of that payment yet either.

The University has said that you need to accept the offer by the 31 August for a one off payment. 

We’ve worked really hard for a one-off payment since last year, asking the university to make a good will gesture to help staff to cope with cost of living pressures, following the lead of other conscientious employers. Instead they are using it to pressure staff into taking a big risk with their contracts. As part of our negotiations we will also push the University to keep this offer on the table beyond their arbitrary deadline.

Whatever the University responds:

  • All staff will still get at least a 6% increase to pay from our normal annual pay talks
  • All staff will retain the option to move to the new pay spine after the 31 August, with the chance that you will help us win a better deal as a result.

Can I definitely choose to change contracts after the 31 August?

Yes, you definitely retain the option to move to the new arrangements after the 31 August – the University is only saying you need to accept by this date to secure the one-off payment.

It’s true that a lot of the University’s promotional material gives the impression that the 31 August is a deadline, but you can see from their own FAQs, that staff will definitely retain the option to move over later. It will obviously be very much in the interests of the University for people to move over, even “late”, and by holding out you help us make the case for improvements.

What are you doing to try and resolve the situation? 

We are still very much open to negotiating with the university, but we are prepared for strike action if they refuse to come back to the table and listen. We’ve also asked to involve more senior staff in further negotiations.

Based on feedback from members we do think a solution is possible. Concessions around shift allowances are likely to be key (as the University has said that these changes are not financially motivated, that should be achievable) as well as an improvement to our annual pay offer. Any final deal would need to be democratically accepted by our members.

I feel like I have to accept the offer because of my circumstances, what will this mean for striking and support from UNISON?

We completely understand that the University’s individual offer, and their use of the one off payment to put pressure on people to accept, will put a lot of people in a very difficult position.

We are only asking people to hold out as long as they can to help us make the case for a better deal and we do of course need to be absolutely up front and honest with you about the genuine risks we can see in accepting the offer as it stands now.

With all that said, members who accept will of course still be as much as a part of our branch as anyone else – the situation is not of their making. We will still ask for your support by striking with us for a better deal (which will of course apply to everyone when we win it!) and we will of course still support all members whatever contract terms they end up on. You can absolutely still participate in the strike just as any other member would.

Can UNISON still negotiate for staff who have moved to the new contracts?

Yes we can – but as with sickness policy, the worry is more about the message this sends if the University can end negotiations when they like and approach staff directly.

Most of what we actually get in our negotiations comes from the fact we speak on behalf of members. We are deeply concerned by the fact the University now seems prepared to completely ignore this and approach staff on an individual basis (putting those staff in a very difficult position) when it suits them. The ability to “benefit” from future agreements is abstract – what matters is what can we achieve on the basis of our collective strength, and the willingness of the University to negotiate in good faith. By holding off on agreeing as long as you can and (most importantly) joining our strike on Thursday, you help us in both respects by showing our strength and helping us to persuade the University to negotiate properly now and in the future.

Questions about the pay changes themselves

See more detail on our pay spine information page.

What issues does UNISON have with the pay spine changes?

From the outset we agreed with University management’s assessment that support staff are underpaid compared to similar roles offered by other employers. We were always clear that pay needed to be examined separately from other terms and conditions and the process would have been resolved simply if University management were not insistent that terms and conditions were included. Experienced staff will also see far less return than new recruits.

They have insisted the changes would only affect a minority of staff, we think they could be a slippery slope to:

  • Further changes to working hours, like those in cleaning and catering, with staff in catering forced onto hyper-flexible “annualised hours” contracts that give them no fixed working hours at all.
  • Pressure on staff to work weekends compulsorily, because staff no longer volunteer for those shifts.

The changes would have an impact on key areas across the University like security, accommodation, library services and estates. These departments already struggle to recruit staff but it will prove much more difficult with unrewarding and unforgiving contracts.

Aside from this, the increases to pay are much more modest for more experienced staff. If this can’t be fixed as part of pay spine changes then it needs to be addressed as part of the standard annual pay rise (so this needs to be more than 6%). The aim seems to be towards recruitment rather than rewarding long-serving staff.

Why is the situation in catering a concern?

The changes to catering are relevant to pay spine changes precisely because it shows a very worrying trajectory for all staff. It also shows the transparent hypocrisy of the current proposals’ claims to make things fairer, while continuing to exclude catering staff, purely because they think they can.

Staff in catering have been on annualised hours contracts since the highly controversial restructure last year. After safeguarding the working hours of many existing members via flexible working requests, we elected not to move to a ballot over this at the time, but we remain in dispute over the changes. Under the system staff are given no regular working hours and can be told that they need to start work as early as 7am and finish as late as 11pm (or later sometimes for those staff involved in bar and event work). Despite this, they receive very few of the enhancements other staff are eligible for and generally only get enhanced pay if they work over a certain number of hours in a year (hence the term “annualised hours”).

Why are the pay increases so different for each grade?

The offer from University is based on matching pay with comparable employers, and they claim that this is most drastic for newer staff. We have highlighted the huge amount of value experienced staff add at the University, and the extent to which many staff rely on them.

One solution we suggested was to more spinal points available to normal yearly progression (so not requiring any performance related increments). The University responded that it would be far too expensive. Depending on the leverage we can exercise, we will continue to push for this and for our standard annual pay rise to be increased, because this will benefit all staff equally.

How will the PDR scheme and performance related pay work in the new structure? 

We don’t know this for certain University management suggested negotiating this following agreement of the pay spine, however initial impressions were not encouraging.

The University said the new performance related points would only be awarded for “sustained exceptional performance,” so you would need to perform over and above for more than one year to get it. According to the current offer, increases in pay for existing staff will mostly come from increments, meaning experienced staff would have limited opportunities for progression under the new system:

  • The percentage increases promised by the University from pay spine changes should be taken with a big pinch of salt – for experienced staff much of this comes from giving up your future progression.
  • There are unanswered questions about how PDRs and performance related pay will work – negotiating this successfully will depend on leverage that unions have, holding off on signing will help enormously.

Questions about strike action

When will any strike action take place? 

Strike action is now due to take place on the 20, 21 and 22 March. 

Will I need to tell my manager that I am striking? 

You do not need to tell your manager that you will be striking. The law already requires UNISON to notify employers on behalf of all support staff two weeks before the action takes place. Legally, there is no need to do so individually but you will likely by email that you must notify your manager, don’t feel pressured as it isn’t necessary.

Can I get in trouble for striking?

No. You are fully protected by the law when taking lawfully called industrial action and you should not suffer any detriment for taking action. You will also be protected because you will be one of hundreds of members of support staff all striking at the same time, meaning that none of us can be singled out.

I would like to strike, but I’m worried about losing pay, is there any support available? 

Yes there will be two types of support available, we will cover the loss of your wages from taking part in strike action.

  • Strike pay from UNISON, which will be at a fixed rate per strike day and will be paid to every member who confirms and verifies that they took action – this will likely be at either £50 or £70 per day, based on the request we make to UNISON when calling our strike days.
  • Our local strike fund – this will be available to any member who requests additional support up to the actual loss of pay you suffered. We make our process quick and easy so you’ll likely only need to show proof of deduction to claim.

I am support staff but not a UNISON member, can I take strike action?

Members of support staff who are not union members are equally protected if they decide to join strike action called by us. We would, however, recommend you join to ensure you can get our support, our strike pay and local strike fund.

I am not a member of support staff, can I take strike action?

AOR staff – We will not be able to ask you to take part in strike action. We only have a valid ballot for support staff and therefore we can only call on support staff to take strike action as part of this dispute.

The University has generally issued guidance ahead of any action stating that they will treat any member of staff who individually decides not to cross a picket line as if they were striking themselves (and not subjecting them to any detriment). They have confirmed that this will be the case for this strike too.

What are the plans for the strike day?

We’ve published a detailed post on all of the plans – in brief though officers will be about on designated pickets from first thing in the morning, with all entrances covered by 7:30am. The post has details of where you should be able to find your colleagues, but there will be someone to ask on every gate. There will be a rally at 11:30am at the station, so if you can only come to one thing, come to that!

Is there a quiet picket / place for those concerned about noise and overstimulation?

Yes, East gate is our designated quiet picket area – the council chambers in the Guild has also been booked for our use, so it will be another quiet place available for use by any member to use if they feel anxious or overstimulated in any way. We will have several noise-muffling headphone sets available to help members who have sensory or auditory processing issues to participate and join in our picket line. There will also be some camping chairs available.

If you have any questions about our arrangements, drop us an email beforehand or ask a picket steward on the day. (wearing hi-vis jackets and/or armbands)

If I can’t come on the day, how can I participate in the strike?

We know not all members will be able to make it for a variety of reasons, but by not working on the strike day, you are still doing your bit! You can help support the action by sharing our posts and photos on social media. We also have a padlet where you can leave messages for your colleagues to read. 

What is the atmosphere like on strike days?

We do our best to make strike days lively occasions, with plenty of music and colour and an inclusive, positive atmosphere. We set up designated picket lines for members to meet and arrange for departments to head to the same one, so that you should be able to meet people you work with. Lots of people bring along family and pets to join the ranks, which is great! We spend the first part of the day chatting with people coming in and out of campus, letting them know why we are there and that we are fighting with our colleagues for fair pay, encouraging staff to join in the strike by not crossing the picket line. We always make sure to have food and drink on hand at the pickets to keep everyone’s strength up. After a few hours we all gather for the main event- lunch(provided by us) and a rally, with music and speakers. The feedback we collected after our first strike day in 2019 gives a good idea of what you can expect.