Guidance on UCU pickets

UCU members at 60 Universities in the UK will be going on strike for 8 consecutive days between Mon 25th November and Wednesday 4th of December. Our colleagues in the Birmingham UCU branch have had a fantastic turnout for both ballots:

  • the turnout for the pay/ casualisation/ equality/ workloads ballot was 58%, with 77% of members voting yes for strike action;
  • the turnout for the pensions ballot (USS) was 57.92%, with 82% of members voting yes for strike action.

Birmingham UCU are asking their members and supporters to help spread the word about their campaigns and to encourage academic and academic-related colleagues who aren’t yet union members to join UCU. We would like to express our wholehearted solidarity with our colleagues in UCU.

UNISON cannot call on members to take strike action on dates when UCU alone are striking. Members and non-members of all grades may choose themselves to refuse to cross UCU’s picket lines, as it is your right not to cross. The guidance below gives more details on your rights to do this at the University (including references to University guidance). This position is based on our JUC (formal negotiating) meetings with the University and we are planning to raise it again at the JUC on Thursday.

The guidance also details alternative ways to support UCU’s action (including attending any rallies UCU hold).

Guidance on not crossing picket lines:

This guidance applies to days when UCU is taking action but UNISON are not. By definition, UNISON is not calling you out on strike on these days, and this guidance does not represent a call to action. Based on our own recent strike action and on the University’s policies, UNISON believe you have the right to refuse to cross UCU’s pickets and be treated in the same way as a striking member of UCU.

This is based on the following guidance (which was itself circulated by UCU prior to our own action):
• “Non-union members who take part in legal, official industrial action have the same rights as union members not to be dismissed as a result of taking action.” gov.uk guidance

• “The law allows pickets to seek to explain their case to those entering or leaving the picketed premises, and/or to ask them not to enter or leave the premises where the dispute is taking place. This may be done by speaking to people, or it may involve the distribution of leaflets or the carrying of banners or placards putting the pickets’ case.” CoP on picketing

• “Where picketing takes place, employees not directly involved in the industrial action may refuse to cross picket lines. Such employees can normally be regarded as being on strike and treated accordingly.” LGA guidance

• “If you decide not to cross a picket line and therefore you do not attend for work, you will be considered to be on strike yourself, and have your pay withheld for the period.” University guidance on Industrial Action

• HR confirmed at a support staff JUC (negotiating meeting) in June that staff will not face disciplinary action for refusing to cross the picket lines of other unions

It is your individual choice whether to support UCU’s action in this way. We encourage you to read UCU’s materials and updates for details of their dispute and how it relates to the situation at the University – https://birminghamucu.org/.

Because we are not calling you out on these days, we cannot reimburse you for your pay lost (just as UCU could not reimburse their members who joined our pickets this year) but you will receive UNISON’s support in any other way if you refuse to cross the picket lines.

Alternatives to refusing to cross the picket line include:

  • Donating to UCU’s national fighting fund, or to Birmingham UCU directly (sort code 60-83-01 a/c 20057910)
  • Attending their demonstrations at lunchtime
  • Sending messages of solidarity and support on Twitter, Facebook or by email to admin@birminghamucu.org

If you do attend work, ensure you are not pressured to cover the work of any striking colleagues or moved from your normal duties due to the industrial action. Any work you are asked to do needs to be in line with your contract of employment (and employment law tends to place a stringent interpretation on the frequently used “other duties as reasonably requested” clause). Please contact us if you have any queries about this.

Annual leave bans and changes in duties

A few members have contacted us regarding actions taken by managers in reference to UCU’s action. Some managers have enforced leave bans for all staff for the entire period of UCU’s action, while others are expecting staff to undertake duties that specifically relate to UCU’s strike.

In relation to these steps, UNISON advise that:

  • Any ban on taking annual leave is equivalent to automatically denying all leave requests for a particular period. Managers can refuse specific requests for annual leave in the normal course of things but this needs to be proportionate and reasonable. UNISON believe blanket leave bans for support staff purely because UCU members are on strike are potentially disproportionate given the limited crossover between duties
  • You do not have to undertake work that is designed to frustrate strike action or is out of line with your contract of employment (i.e. you can say no if you are asked to do anything that an academic or AR colleague would normally do)

Please send us any examples of this.

Special duties staff are being asked to cover relating to the UCU strike

You have the right to refuse duties outside of the scope of your contract of employment and we do strongly feel that staff have the right to refuse any duty that is designed to frustrate or undermine the industrial action of others. This includes things like checking to see if lectures are taking place and reporting back the names of striking lecturers.

In terms of answering questions from students about action – our advice is that support staff can be requested to give students factual information about the industrial action and specific questions. Staff are not required to repeat subjective opinion authored by senior managers about the action.

At our latest negotiation meeting we reiterated UNISON’s position that while it is not calling on  anyone to take action on UCU strike days, support staff do retain the individual right not to cross the picket line. This position was reaffirmed by the University.

If you do need advice on your individual situation please do get in touch.


Our UCU friends have asked us to circulate the following information regarding their upcoming strike action (Monday 25th November – Wednesday 4th December):

‘In light of the intimidatory email recently sent by the University, suggesting that picketing on campus has the potential to amount to trespass, and given concerns expressed by some of our members, we have decided that:

All picket activities and strike activities will take place off-campus. Pickets will be at the Entrance Gates to the campus, arranged by College:

  • East Gate (Engineering and Physical Sciences, and Professional Services)
  • West Gate (Life and Environmental Sciences, and Medical and Dentistry School)
  • North Gate (Social Sciences)
  • South Gate (Arts and Law)’

The pickets will be followed by rallies by the train station at 12pm (we encourage you to attend them in your lunchtime, if you are at work on the day). This will be followed by ‘teach-out’ sessions between 1-3pm in three locations off campus. The programme is available here.

While UNISON cannot call you out, we fully support UCU’s campaign and urge you to support your UCU colleagues in any way you can. More information on this can be found here. BUCU’s strike page: https://birminghamucu.org/ucu-strikes-back/

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