News and events

Industrial action

Queen Mary is one of 74 higher education institutions where members of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) voted in support of strike action and/or action short of a strike over pay and working conditions, and the proposed changes to the USS pension scheme. You can find more information about the issues on the Universities UK website

Information that has already been sent to staff in relation to the issues around pensions can be found here.

Pay and pensions are nationally-negotiated issues, and much as everyone is working hard to find a solution, it is likely the industrial action will go ahead.

UCU has announced 14 days of strike action.  We have been informed by UCU that the strike action will take place locally at our University on:

  • Thursday 20 and Friday 21 February (2 days)
  • Monday 24 to Wednesday 26 February (3 days)
  • Monday 9 to Friday 13 March (5 days)
  • Monday 16 to Thursday 19 March (4 days)

We understand the uncertainty the industrial action may cause and hope that the dispute can be resolved. We would like to reassure you that we’re meeting regularly, at the university, faculty and school level, to carefully manage the potential impact this industrial action may have on our University community.  Particularly, we want to ensure we have measures in place so as not to disadvantage our students. The FAQs below are designed to answer any questions you may have. If you feel something is missing, do, please contact your Head of School or School Manager, or Head of Institute.

Frequently asked questions for students relating to industrial action by University and College Union (UCU) members

Could this industrial action affect my assessment or degree outcome?

No. We will make sure you are not disadvantaged in your assessments. For example, you may be told that certain questions are on material that has not been covered owing to the strike action, so you may choose not to answer those questions. Examination Boards will also be looking for any anomalies in scores on questions, and if there are such anomalies will be asking if these could have been a result of the strike.  

What is being done to minimise the impact of industrial action on students?

We understand that you will be worried about the impact on your studies. Every member of staff at Queen Mary is passionate about providing the very best education and experience for you, and it is our responsibility to minimise any disruption that you may experience as a result of this industrial action. We are therefore working extremely hard with your Heads of School or Institute to minimise the impact on your teaching, learning and overall experience. Many of the mitigations will vary between schools, and so your Head of School or Institute will contact you separately to explain what is being done.

UCU misinformation: corrections. Includes pay and pensions, gender/ethnicity pay gaps, casualisation, workload, the Principal's pay

Pay and Pensions

UCU is demanding a pay increase of RPI+3.5% (6%). At Queen Mary the average pay rise this year for staff was 3.5%, with the staff on our lowest pay scales receiving a higher increase of 4.7%. This uplift has increased the University’s overall pay budget by £9.5m. Please note the 3.5% includes increments, but does not include promotions.

As we explained in 2018, if the current USS benefit pension scheme is maintained for future accrued pensions, then contributions must increase. The University contribution has increased by 3.1% (from 18% to 21.1%) increasing the University’s overall pay budget by £4.5m to cover those staff in the USS pension scheme.

These two increases in pay and pension contributions has resulted in an overall increase in the University’s pay budget of £14m per year. This increase is against an overall sector challenge of home student fees reducing in real terms, a reduction in the teaching block grant from government and Brexit, leading to a need to reduce our overall costs. Meeting the UCU demands on increases in pay and university pension contributions clearly would be extremely challenging.

The 35%/65% split in any increases in pension contributions for staff and universities in the USS scheme was originally agreed by UCU for the benefit of staff members to stop any increased contributions being split 50%/50%.

There are comments in the public domain that if the JEP1 recommendations are applied to the 2018 valuation then contributions do not have to increase. This is not true. It should also be noted that the pension sector is heavily regulated and restricts any action that puts the pension scheme at risk.

The JEP2 report and recent positive meetings between the Chair of the JEP, UCU, UUK, USS and the pension regulator provides the best way forward since these talks (which are ongoing) will hopefully allow all parties involved to fully understand the true position of the USS pension and the wider sector.

UCU’s claim that at Queen Mary, women are paid 14% less than men, BAME staff are paid 22% less than white staff and BAME women are paid 31% less than white men

To suggest that female or BAME staff are paid less than their white or male counterparts for doing jobs of equal value is simply untrue. There is no evidence to support this claim: Queen Mary pays the same rate for equal work, no matter who is doing that work. Like many other organisations, Queen Mary has gender and ethnic pay gaps. This means that we do not have an equal gender and ethnic balance of staff across all of our roles in the University: there are more men in senior roles, particularly among academic staff, and less women and BAME staff in senior roles. Queen Mary’s median gender pay gap last year was 10.07%, compared to a sector average of 13.7%. To close the pay gap we need to work towards an equal balance of gender and ethnic staff across each job role within the University. Work in this area has begun, and will be taken forward by our new VP (People, Culture and Inclusion).

UCU’s claim that 63% of academics at Queen Mary are on temporary or atypical contracts

This figure of 63% is wrong: it is based on historical data from 2013/14; and uses a flawed metric called ‘count of contract’. Count of contract is unreliable and prone to exaggerate the issue because, for example, it counts as equal one full-time member of staff and a visiting academic contracted to give a one-off guest lecture. It also means that if a guest lecturer comes to give a lecture three times, they are counted as three contracts. This is also true for students: each time we hire a student to work on an open day, undertake demonstrating etc, the number of times they are hired is counted, rather than the number of individuals. Another problem with this figure is that it does not distinguish between staff and students who help with teaching, demonstrating and other activities for which they are rightly paid. We also employ undergraduate students on fixed-term contracts, for example to work at open days.

This was discussed at length in Senate and contract types continue to be discussed with faculties/schools/institutes, who ultimately decide what type of contract to use.

UCU statement on workload

We recognise colleagues feel overworked, and we have established a Task & Finish group to engage with staff across the University to address the issue of workload. We also recognise that we need to reduce the number of non-viable teaching modules across the University to significantly reduce the workload for all our staff and become more effective and efficient, as well improving the overall education experience for our students.

Professor Colin Bailey’s pay

UCU claims that Professor Colin Bailey’s pay and benefits have kept pace with inflation. This is not true. Professor Colin Bailey’s annual salary has remained unchanged since he took up his position in September 2017 and will remain so, at his request, until at least September 2022.

What should I do on strike days?

Unless you are informed otherwise by your school or institute, you should come in to University as normal for your timetabled sessions. Please do keep checking your Queen Mary email account for the latest information. Not all members of staff are taking part in the industrial action and many lectures and other classes will run as normal. Wherever possible, we will let you know in advance if any of your teaching sessions are likely to be affected; however, staff do not have to tell us if they are going on strike so in some cases this will not be possible.

What happens if I get to my class and my lecturer doesn’t turn up?

We know that many lecturers who are taking industrial action are telling their students in advance if teaching is cancelled. You should assume your class is running if you haven’t been told otherwise. If you attend a class and find the lecturer is not there, please wait for 15 minutes past the start time. If at the end of that time your lecturer has still not appeared, you can assume they are not coming and leave. If you are unsure about anything or want to talk to anyone about untaught lectures or seminars, please contact your Head of School or Institute.

Can I apply for a partial refund of my fees if some of my teaching time is missed?

We are working hard to mitigate the impact of strike action on you, and continue to focus on ensuring you have the best possible overall experience at Queen Mary. Your fee covers all aspects of your time at Queen Mary and all the facilities that are available to you.  Your fee is also based on the delivery of your overall experience for the full duration of your course, rather than for a specific set of teaching contact hours. Once we understand better any possible overall impact of strike action on your entire educational programme, we will then be able to look at whether any adjustment to fees is appropriate.  Whilst the industrial action is ongoing we are continuing to monitor the situation closely.

Our terms and conditions describe our approach to delivering and changing programmes.

We advise you to keep a record of any situation where you think we have not responded adequately. If you are unsatisfied with the outcome, you can make a formal complaint. If at the end of the academic year, you think you have been disadvantaged in your assessment, in spite of the arrangements put in place, you should speak to your school or institute in the first instance.

Will my lectures and other teaching be rescheduled?

It is possible that some teaching can be rescheduled, but we cannot guarantee that this will be the case as we cannot require staff taking industrial action to complete work that they have missed due to a strike day.

Can I ask for an extension for submissions of work falling in the strike period?

This will vary between schools and institutes. Please assume that deadlines still apply as normal unless you are contacted by your Head of School to say that an extension has been granted.

Will my work be marked if my lecturer is on strike? Do I still need to submit my work for marking?

Please complete and submit work as normal. Your school or institute will let you know if there is to be a delay to marking.

Will the library and student services, including student wellbeing services and advice and counselling, be affected by the industrial action?

The library and student wellbeing services, including advice and counselling, will not be affected and will be open as normal.  

Should I submit an ‘extenuating circumstances’ claim if any of my teaching is cancelled?

If your teaching is cancelled because of strike action, your school or institute will be aware of what you have missed so it will not be necessary to submit an extenuating circumstances claim. Please do not submit extenuating circumstances claims just because you think you might have been affected. Only submit a claim for a clearly defined issue that is specific to you as an individual.

I want to raise a complaint as a result of the strike action, what should I do?

If you wish to raise a complaint, please follow the University’s normal complaints procedure. Information about this can be found here

For independent and confidential advice about their complaint, you can get advice from Annie Mitchell, our Advocacy and Representation Manager in Queen Mary’s Students’ Union: a.c.mitchell@qmul.ac.uk (please note Annie is a staff member of QMSU, not a student officer).

Will lecture capture still be available?

Lecture capture will continue to be used as normal for those teaching events that take place.

Should students still record their attendance at lectures?

Where teaching has gone ahead, attendance will be monitored as normal.

What does this mean for the attendance records of international students on a Tier 4 visa?

There will be no impact on student visa status. If any of the students’ timetabled teaching time was cancelled, the School or Institute should have informed the Registry Office, and they will ensure that students will not be marked as out of attendance.

Will this affect students on postgraduate research programmes?

Supervisions, review meetings and vivas for research students are arranged on an individual basis. Please contact your school or institute in the first instance if you have any concerns. Alternatively you can contact the Research Degrees Office: researchdegrees@qmul.ac.uk.

How will any money withheld from staff as a result of their taking part in industrial action be used?

Any money withheld from staff as a result of their taking part in industrial action will be used to support students’ education.

What is the industrial action about?

This is a legally conducted national-level strike about pensions, pay and working conditions. No one who goes on strike will have taken the decision lightly: staff at Queen Mary are dedicated to teaching their subject and hate the idea of causing disruption to students.

Not all staff will go on strike. Some do not agree with the dispute or are not members of the trade union UCU; others may agree with the principles of the dispute, but be unable to strike for financial or personal reasons. As a University we respect everyone’s position and the choices they make.

What is a picket line?

Staff who are members of a trade union, and who have had a lawful vote to take strike action, create a picket line by standing outside buildings and explaining to people why they are on strike. They hope to persuade fellow union members not to cross the picket line, so that as many members as possible take strike action.

As a University, we respect trade union members’ right to take part in industrial action. The trade union UCU has issued guidance to its members about behaviour on picket lines. All pickets should be peaceful in nature. Staff on picket lines may explain to you why they are on strike, but they should not block your way, or be abusive in any way.

I don’t want to cross a picket line. What should I do?

Please do attend University as normal, unless you have been informed that a session has been cancelled. The campus will be open as normal on strike days and staff, students and visitors will be able to go into all buildings.

Access to campus entrances will not be blocked and you should feel able to pass freely and easily without confrontation. If you have any concerns about behaviour on the picket line, or feel intimidated, please ask security (who will be present on the picket lines) for help or call security on 020 7882 3333.

Who can take part in strike action and ASOS?

Any Queen Mary member of staff may take part in strike action and will have the same rights as union members.

What constitutes strike action, and ‘action short of a strike’ (ASOS)?

Taking strike action generally means the individual will not work for that day, or period of days. Action short of a strike (ASOS) can mean activities such as not covering for absent colleagues, not sharing teaching materials from tutorials and lectures that are cancelled owing to strike action and working to contract.

Do staff who are members of UCU have to take part in the industrial action?

No. It is up to each UCU member whether they take part.

What are the positions of the employers’ associations (Universities UK and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UUK and UCEA))?

UUK and UCEA published an open letter to university staff impacted by the industrial action [PDF 114KB] on 19 November 2019.

A further letter to UCU colleagues on the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) [PDF 89KB] was delivered on 20 November 2019.

This Leaflet on UCEA's offer on contractual arrangements [PDF 53KB] summarises what UCEA, on behalf of 147 university employers in the New JNCHES arrangements for 2019-20, is offering to the trade unions in its new modified offer presented on 27 January 2020.

UUK and UCEA published a joint letter to all staff at universities affected by strike action on 19 February 2020. The letter, which provides an update on the significant progress made so far to address concerns of university employees on pay, working conditions and pensions, can be found on both the UUK website and USS employers website.

UCEA issued an update on talks with UCU on Friday 6 March 2020, which can be found on the UCEA website.

Who should I contact if I have a query that isn’t answered here?

Students can raise and track a query through Student Enquiry Centre Online, email studentenquiry@qmul.ac.uk, or talk with their school or institute (contact details can be found here).

If you would like to request an update or addition to these FAQs, please contact student-update@qmul.ac.uk

Communications with students

The Principal Professor Colin Bailey and other members of the senior leadership team provide regular updates on the planned industrial action.

Title and linkDate
Message from the Principal: impact of industrial action and compensation Thursday 27 February 2020
Message from the Principal: Industrial action Wednesday 5 February 2020
Message from the Principal: Industrial action Thursday 5 December 2020
Message from the Principal: Industrial action update 25 November-4 December 2019 Friday 22 November 2019
Message from the Principal: Industrial action 25 November-4 December 2019 Monday 11 November 2019