The main union for academic staff, Goldsmiths University and College Union (UCU), is planning to take industrial action as part of a nationwide dispute over pensions.
Goldsmiths is one of 61 institutions across the country where strikes are set to take place on 14 teaching days.
The expected strike dates are:
- Thu 22, Fri 23 February
- Mon 26, Tue 27, Wed 28 February
- Mon 5, Tue 6, Wed 7, Thu 8 March
- Mon 12, Tue 13, Wed 14, Thu 15, Fri 16 March
Why is my lecturer striking?
The main union for academic staff, University and College Union (UCU), is dissatisfied with the outcome of national pensions negotiations which followed a major revaluation of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension last year.
The revaluation suggested there was a £7.5 billion funding gap between the scheme’s liabilities (i.e. the amounts it needs to pay retired staff) and its assets. Discussions between the UCU and Universities UK (UUK), which represents 350 institutions whose staff belong to the USS scheme, on how to address this gap have been ongoing for well over a year.
UCU is unhappy with the proposal eventually agreed by the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) on 23 January 2018, which would see future service accruing pension benefits on a defined contribution basis rather than the more generous defined benefit basis which is currently in place. The UCU has calculated that this change would result in a significant difference in the average pension of a retired member of staff, though the precise figures are disputed by UUK.
The UCU had already balloted members on potential strike action in a large number of institutions. Goldsmiths UCU members voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action. Those institutions where a majority of registered members cast a ballot and where the majority of those voting voted for strike action have now been asked to take part in escalating action totalling 14 days from 22 February 2018.
How many Goldsmiths staff are likely to strike?
UCU has over 500 members at Goldsmiths, around one third of our total workforce. It is possible that not all UCU members will strike; it is also possible that some other staff may decline to cross the picket line.
Why couldn’t Goldsmiths avoid this?
Goldsmiths is not in a position to resolve this dispute locally. Negotiations over pensions are conducted through a national group called the Joint Negotiating Committee, which includes representatives of the UCU and Universities UK. Unions and employers are committed to this national-level process (“collective bargaining”) as it helps ensure fairness and parity for employees across the country. All we can do is encourage those negotiating to continue dialogue with commitment to resolution on both sides, as the Warden called for in his recent letter, which you can read here.
What is Goldsmiths doing to minimise disruption for students?
Departments are contingency planning where possible. Although legally, staff do not have to notify of the intention to strike in advance of a day of strike action, our experience is that staff will often do this and wherever possible your department will let you know of any changes in advance.
We have also asked all UCU members who intend to strike to ‘self-declare’ which ensures their pay can be transferred to the Student Hardship Fund for the respective number of days for which they do not work.
We have also established a Strike Mitigation Working Group to support departments in addressing any impact the strikes may have on academic assessments and to encourage a consistency of approach across the College. We have invited the Students’ Union to provide representation on this group.
What if College activities are cancelled?
We remain hopeful that no student will face cancellation of a significant amount of contact time when viewed as a proportion of the total academic year. However, we have yet to see the extent to which academic activities might be disrupted, a task made more difficult by the fact that staff are under no obligation to inform the College in advance if they intend to strike. We appreciate the frustration this causes, but need to be upfront about the challenges the College faces in this situation.
Our priority will be rescheduling activities, but where this is not feasible, we will work in other ways to ensure that students suffer no detriment in their studies, or assessment outcomes. If any individual student feels that this has not been achieved, we will deal with formal complaints through our usual processes.
Will the College extend term to allow for teaching to catch up?
There are currently no plans to formally extend the College term. Departments will be taking steps to seek to rearrange any disrupted activity before the scheduled end of term where possible, within the constraints of official industrial action. Where this proves impossible we will work to ensure assessment outcomes are not unduly affected by any industrial action.
What is the College doing to compensate students?
It is not possible for the College to assess the impact of the strike on your studies before any strikes begin. It would therefore be premature to consider formal complaints relating to how your academic experience may be affected at this stage.
We remain hopeful of timely resolution of the national dispute and departments are seeking to take steps to make contingency arrangements, within the constraints of official industrial action.
As and when any strikes have taken place, if a student can demonstrate the industrial action has been of detriment to their studies, we will deal with formal complaints through our usual processes. The College’s approach to considering such complaints will be guided by principles being developed by the Strike Mitigation Working Group, a taskforce established to support departments in addressing any impact the strikes may have on academic assessments and to encourage a consistency of approach across the College. We have invited the Students’ Union to provide representation on this group.
Will the library be open during industrial action?
We expect to run a full library service during the industrial action and will notify students should library staffing levels fall below appropriate levels.
Where are picket lines going to be formed?
The location of picket lines is a matter for Goldsmiths UCU, though we understand from a FAQ on the Students’ Union website that those participating in action will avoid certain buildings to ensure students can access core services, and facilities such as studio space.
What student wellbeing support is the university providing around the strike?
We are acutely aware of the concerns some students have about the possible impact of any strikes. In addition to the support offered by your department, we will work flexibly to ensure our student wellbeing team can be accessed during their usual working hours without the need for students to cross a picket line. Information on the full range of our wellbeing services can be found here.
Will the strike affect my visa?
The strike will not impact on your student visa eligibility at this stage. Your student visa status will not change as a result of the strike and if you have any concerns about this you can contact the Immigration Advisory Service (email@example.com) for assurance at any time.
Information last updated: 16 Feb 2018
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