Coronavirus: act now

The World Health Organisation has now announced that Covid-19 is a pandemic. There will be huge consequences for the health and safety of staff and students (not just a challenge to finances and business models). Branches should insist on protective measures going forward, with implementation of social distancing and closure policies (though bearing in mind the difficulty of ‘shutting’ campuses down when many students will have no other places to go). Online delivery is now essential in the short term but we should also make sure that the resources are provided for it and that it does not act as a precedent for the future when the crisis is over. We reproduce below some advice from UCU and motions and statements from different branches. We need to act now!

Advice, agreements, motions and statements

Thanks to UCL UCU, 16 March

TUC advice on home working (18 March) makes it clear that: “Bosses should pay for wi-fi for workers who don’t have internet access at home”

Andrew Chitty’s comprehensive list of sources on Covid-19 and UK higher education

Useful and concise legal advice from Lee Jones, Queen Mary UCU

Goldsmiths UCU proposal: Forward planning for May exams (19 March)

Newcastle UCU: ASOS and Coronavirus (17 March) – powerful letter to members

Excellent letter from Queen Mary UCU to students about teaching and assessment (16 March)

Brighton UCU advice to members (15 March)

Statement by Leeds UCU on the Covid-19 Crisis (15 March)

Sussex UCU letter to management (15 March)

Sheffield UCU response to coronavirus (14 March)

NEC motions on Co-vid-19 (13 March)

Liverpool UCU letter to management (13 March)

KCL UCU statement to SMT (13 March)

Comprehensive letter to HR from the Chair of Roehampton UCU (12 March)

Cambridge UCU motion on coronavirus (9 March)

Coventry UCU advice on coronavirus (11 March)

Birmingham UCU information for members (12 March)

Open Letter to Jo Grady and NEC calling for the ‘immediate suspension of all in-person academic activities’

@punk_academic’s blog on ‘Universities and the Coronavirus: questions of leadership”

Goldsmiths UCU statement of solidarity with Asian and Chinese communities

Southampton UCU

The following advice was circulated in early March (before most institutions moved to online provision) from UCU and should help shape your branch’s response. Full UCU advice on Coronavirus is here.  

A number of HEIs are considering a resort to on-line teaching with academics largely working outside the university.  While superficially this conforms to government encouragement to work from home, it raises a number of issues: 

  • Courses are not validated for on-line delivery and students are not prepared for this 
  • Teaching staff are not trained to deliver material online – what will happen after the ‘emergency’ is over?  Will academics be forced to continue this mode of delivery?  Will the University acquire copyright into material they would not otherwise obtain? 
  • The institution’s IT equipment, software and support is unlikely to be adequate 
  • Staff may not have the facilities (quiet space, wifi of sufficient quality, computing equipment etc.) to work from home: will they be pressured into doing this? 
  • There will have been no assessment of working conditions, especially of desks, chairs and equipment which is vital for ensuring that employees work safely 
  • There have been no risk assessments over psychological impact, working hours and stress 
  • Who will pay for additional costs such as heating, light, new insurance, telephone etc? 
  • How will an enforced shut-down directly affect professional services and other non-teaching staff? We need to consider the impact on wider roles (e.g. technicians, library, finance etc)       

On the other hand, there are a number of measures that universities could take, at relatively low cost and with little planning necessary.  Branches should therefore press them to take these steps under the Health and Safety at Work Act which puts an onus on employers to exercise a duty of care towards staff and under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations 2002 which cover biological threats.  Covid-19 is a known risk and employers should be taking reasonable steps to protect their workers including:   

  • Provision of posters encouraging everyone to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly and not to touch their face. 
  • Provision of more soap and towels in all toilets
  • Provision of hand gel where water and soap are impractical 
  • Provision of tissues and additional bins in every room so that they may be thrown away as soon as possible. 
  • Additional cleaning of frequently-touched surfaces such as doors, desks, equipment etc. 
  • Protective equipment – most likely to be gloves – for those such as cleaners in contact with potentially-contaminated surfaces 

Public Health England has identified hand washing and care not to touch the face as the best way to reduce transmission of the virus.  The measures above would go a long way to encouraging such hygiene. 

Those who may have been in contact with someone who has acquired the virus, who have travelled to areas with high numbers of cases and those who have the symptoms of Covid-19 are asked to stay at home until a test proves negative.  If workers are not being paid for this time, we believe that they will be reluctant to declare their status for fear of loss of income, especially the most vulnerable: low-paid workers and hourly-paid staff. 

Branches should ask management to ensure that the following steps are taken and that all staff, included those contracted out, are informed: 

  • That all staff have access to paid sick leave from the first day of illness 
  • That in suspected cases of Covid-19, the requirement for a fit note on the 8th day of absence is suspended 
  • That ‘self-isolation’ or formal quarantine is fully paid and does not count towards sickness absence totals. 

Without these measures, employers may be in breach of the regulations in that they would not be addressing a known risk for transmission of the virus, in the same way as additional hygiene measures.  

Institutions that have moved to online delivery

List (regularly updated) from WonkHE

University library closures

Crowdsourced list available here.

10 questions to ask your senior management

While many of us are currently involved in national disputes over pay, equalities and pensions. we should continue to apply pressure on our own managements. We need to press them over a range of issues from excessive pay for vice-chancellors to pay gaps for women and BME staff and from increased use of casualisation to their use of outsourcing. We’ve expanded on six questions originally posed to their own VC by Sheffield UCU to suggest ten questions that you can put to your management.

(1) How did you respond in the recent USS consultation? Were you one of the two VCs who agreed to increase contributions by 1%? One of the 14 who agreed to increase your share by 0.5%? Or were you one of the remainder who are still unwilling to take on any more contributions?

(2) If you are unwilling to pay RPI +3%, what improvements to the headline pay offer of 1.8% are you willing to make, in order to reverse over a decade of real terms pay cuts?

(3) Can you commit to providing a workload model based in hours to all of your staff? If not, why not? How do you propose tackling the sector-wide stress and overwork crisis if staff are not able to accurately measure their workload?

(4) Given that over a decade of data – gathered by, among others, yourselves – has repeatedly shown a systemic differential in pay, based on gender & ethnicity, are you willing to commit to developing a concrete action plan to close these equalities pay gaps?

(5) Are you willing to eliminate the use of zero-hours contracts at your university? 

(6) Are you willing to reduce the number of fixed term contracts used by your university? 

(7) Do you have a formal agreement governing the contractual conditions of hourly-paid staff?

(8) If you outsource your catering, security or cleaning services, are you willing to discuss bringing these services in-house? 

(9) Do you have a formal change management policy that involves meaningful consultation before announcing redundancies, either voluntary or compulsory? Are you willing to negotiate a redundancy avoidance agreement?

(10) Do you have a staff or student representative on your remuneration committee that considers the salary of senior management including the vice-chancellor? Does your VC attend the meetings where their pay is established? If so, why?

Resources for #UCUStrikesBack 2020

The Strikes Are Working!

‘Go with the flow’ – how to persuade people to join UCU & support the pickets

Thanks to @bronterre1 and @PlacardSticks

Strike Websites



New branch leaflets

Treasure trove of resources – posters, bunting design, badges & more – available HERE

What’s it all about?

The UCU has produced a short explainer on USS here

New Videos

thanks to Tassia Kobylinska, Goldsmiths UCU
Thanks to Sussex UCU

Have you set your out-of-office message yet?

I am not able to check email today as members of xxxx UCU are taking industrial action, along with members at 73 other universities, in opposition to threats to our pension, deteriorating conditions and pay inequalities [amend as necessary]. Members of xxxx UCU will be on strike on the following days: Thursday 20 and Friday 21 February, Monday 24 through to Wednesday 26 February, Monday 2 through to Thursday 5 March, and Monday 9 through to Friday 13 March [amend as necessary]. If you would like more information about the dispute please go here and here [amend as necessary], and do contact my vice-chancellor, xxxx,, to find out what steps the institution is taking to avoid a dispute. 

2020 Teach-Out Schedules

SOAS schedule

Queen Mary UCU

Goldsmiths schedule

Newcastle UCU

Liverpool schedule

Music for the picket line

UCU strike lgbtq + disco (with thanks to Kirsteen Paton)

GU Collective’s 30 songs for UCU picket lines on Spotify

Liverpool UCU strike playlist

Birmingham Law strike playlist

We are the University strike playlist (Grace Krause)

UCL -IOE UCU strike playlist

Rosa Campbell’s Strike songs playlist on Spotify 

Leah Chan’s playlist for 2019 UCU strikes on Spotify

10 best union songs of all time (thanks to CBC)

Protest in Harmony (Edinburgh UCU) songsheet

Strike handbooks & guidance for members

KCL Student strike FAQs

Really comprehensive guide to strike activities and advice from Exeter UCU and Bristol UCU

Sheffield Hallam UCU

Comprehensive guide from the National Union of Students (February 2020) to supporting the strikes

James Sumner’s 2020 strike handbook

Sheffield UCU detailed guidance for members (2019)

Effective strike participation guidance (Jo McNeill)

Leicester UCU strike handbook (2019)

Sussex UCU Tumblr site (2019) (filled with goodies)

Guidance for autistic workers and UCU branches (produced by Anna Nibbs, Sheffield UCU, and Janine Booth, TUC Disabled Workers Committee)


South West Region Strike Rally and March, Wednesday 26 February, Meet 11am at the Victoria Rooms, 88 Queens Road, Clifton, Bristol


Southampton Solidarity Rally, 12.30pm Wednesday 26 February, Jubilee Plaza (Highfield)

UCU Scotland Strike Rally: 11.30am, Tuesday 25 February, Bristol Square, Edinburgh

London Strike Solidarity Assembly, 6.30pm Tuesday 25 February, Imperial Hotel, 61 Russell Square (with John McDonnell, Mark Serwotka, Jane Loftus, Lowkey & others)

Information about local hardship funds (from 2019)

Exeter UCU

Goldsmiths UCU

Leeds UCU

Strathclyde UCU

Liverpool UCU

York UCU

Cambridge UCU

Stirling UCU

Heriot-Watt UCU

Bangor UCU

Open University UCU

Pay deductions

See Andrew Chitty’s googledoc for up to date pay deductions in relation to the November/December strikes. Effectively, as of January 2020, most universities chose to deduct pay over one or two months. To the best of our knowledge, only eight institutions agreed to deductions spread over three monthsUSS Briefs have compiled a dossier of communications from vice-chancellors which contains some of this information. (Please email for updates on whether your branch has been able to negotiate staggered deductions). 

Goldsmiths UCU has issued some guidance to members in the light of its management’s refusal initially to spread deductions which contains some interesting proposals. Following pressure, management agreed to deduct pay over two months but in April and May 2020, i.e. five months after the action in order to allow members to prepare.

Branches get ready: are you preparing a strike timetable?

Newcastle UCU have asked up to post this very useful strike timetable (as well as a list of what needs to go into the ‘strike box’) in the run-up to the next period of action in #ucustrikesback.

Plus don’t forget that every picket line needs some ballet dancers (with thanks to striking dancers at the Paris Opera) so you will need to organise this in advance.

Solidarity motions and statements for Sunderland and SOAS UCU

Employers’ offensives are taking place at Sunderland – with the cutting of programmes in History, Politics and Modern Languages and the potential redundancy of 30 members of staff – and at SOAS – where management have unilaterally suspended research leave and slashed fractional budgets, piling up additional workload for permanent staff.

There has been a fantastic response from branches up and down the country. These are disputes of national significance and we encourage every branch to pass motions and invite speakers from both SOAS and Sunderland. This is what the market is doing to our sector – we need a vociferous and immediate response!

Message of support to SOAS UCU from Essex UCU


We are appalled by the decision of the SOAS management to suspend research leave and implement major cuts to fractional budgets.  This once again demonstrates that rising workloads and job insecurity are two sides of the same coin, and should be fought against simultaneously, as we are doing in our ‘Four Fights-One Voice’ campaign. 

SOAS staff are not alone – either in the attack they face, or in their fight against it in the increasingly profit-driven, cut-throat work environment of HE.

We support SOAS staff’s struggle for their rights and jobs, and send our solidarity. 

University of Essex UCU Branch

Message of support to Sunderland UCU from Essex UCU

Dear Sunderland UCU,

Members of Essex University UCU note with concern the decision by Sunderland University’s Board of Governors to close the history and modern languages departments. The Board’s newly announced ‘career-focused and professions-facing’ vision jeopardizes both the livelihoods of 34 academic staff and the idea of the University as a public good. Essex UCU urges the Board of Governors to reconsider their decision, thereby preventing any compulsory redundancies and the short-sighted narrowing of the University’s raison d’être.

University of Essex UCU Branch

Message of support to Sunderland and SOAS UCU from Newcastle UCU branch committee

Newcastle University UCU branch committee notes:

1. The suspension of research leave and slashing of fractional budgets at SOAS in London.

2. The closing down of modern languages, history, politics and public health courses at the University of Sunderland

We affirm that no member of staff – especially the most vulnerable ones on precarious contracts – should be held responsible for deficits caused by the introduction of a cut-throat market logic into higher education. No university should be left to “fail” and no institution should be left to fight alone. We send our solidarity to all staff and students at SOAS and Sunderland University and demand that the cuts be immediately reversed. If the government was willing to bail out bankers who presided over a massive economic crisis, then the government should bail out universities who are providing a vital public service.

Message of support to SOAS UCU from Glasgow UCU branch committee

The University of Glasgow UCU Branch Committee is shocked and horrified at news that SOAS management has unilaterally decided to cut the fractional staff budget and suspended institutionally-funded research leave starting in 2020-2021.

We are concerned about the effects on the livelihoods and well-being of all staff, especially female and BAME workers who are disproportionately affected by casualisation. No member of staff should be made to pay for the bad decisions of management.

What we are seeing at SOAS is the result of the market-driven transformation of higher education across the UK. Pay and conditions are deteriorating even as the sector as a whole has a £1 billion surplus. Inevitably, students and other beneficiaries of higher education will suffer too.

Education should be a public good and staff should be treated with the respect that they deserve. We stand in solidarity with SOAS UCU and staff and wish them well in their struggle against this injustice.

Message of support to SOAS UCU from UCL UCU

The HE market has caused many employers to invest over-ambitiously. Others, particularly post 92 universities, are already haemorrhaging courses and staff.

What happens at SOAS will be used by other employers as they try to decide what they can get away with.

If they can threaten job cuts or pay cuts – and we know 3 employers, Cumbria, Hull and Northampton, have so far implemented the 1.8% imposed – then they can scare members into not fighting over pay and conditions nationally, and leave the union fighting a series of local battles, all circumscribed by emplpoyer ‘affordability’.

What is happening in SOAS is not separate fromthe Four Fights dispute – it is a clear example of employers counter-attacking on casualisation and workload by threatening our members if they dare to fight for more than a few crumbs.

This is a dangerous time for the UCU. We need to find every opportunity to build solidarity and to make your dispute a “local dispute of national importance” in deeds not just words.

Messages of support to Sunderland

via Twitter: @SunderlandUCU; via Email to the Branch Secretary:

You can read more on events at Sunderland here and here

Messages of support to SOAS

via Twitter: @ucusoas; via Email to the President: Tom Armstrong:

You can read more on what’s happening at SOAS here and here

Don’t separate, escalate!

Ahead of the Higher Education Committee meeting on 30 January, branches have been asked to consult with members about how best to take the pensions and pay & equalities fights forward. There have been some discussions about the logic of fighting on two fronts simultaneously and whether the disputes should be “decoupled”. We offer three contributions below as a way of stimulating further debate and, crucially, to focus members’ minds on what action is needed to secure the concessions we deserve from the employers on all fronts. We also reproduce two motions – one written by ‘four fights’ negotiators and one by Andrew Chitty of Sussex UCU – that could be the basis of a discussion at your next branch meeting.

Rhian Elinor (Exeter UCU)

I’m really concerned about the number of messages I’ve been receiving from colleagues in reballoting branches who are concerned about discussions of decoupling equalities and pension disputes. This is really dangerous.

I was initially sceptical about balloting for both together. But in the course of the disputes I’ve seen why it’s essential.

We got over the line on anti-casualisation this time – after crushing disappointments for casualised staff like me from the last few ballots – precisely because of the momentum from fighting two disputes at once.

I can’t explain, as an hourly paid staff member who is struggling with casualised conditions exacerbating physical and mental health, quite what it meant to feel colleagues were willing to stand with us, as we had on #ussstrike.And it was a long time coming. 

Standing on the picket line with colleagues striking on all of the issues also helped with branch awareness and understanding, fostering solidarity between generations of workers.

I’m now really worried to see colleagues – often speaking from positions of relative employment security – advocating to undermine this solidarity. I’m not even sure what the strategy would be.

Separate strike dates for both is being mooted. This would be disastrous. It would mean casualised workers in USS branches hit hardest, and would increase feeling that some senior colleagues willing to strike over pensions but not working conditions of colleagues.

Also, it would undermine post-92 colleagues striking over conditions but not pensions. The whole point of a union is we stand together or we fall. An injury to one is an injury to all, and we don’t pick and choose what constitutes injury based on what affects us personally.

And now we’re in a peculiar position where we are reballoting branches at a point when powerful sections of the union are actively undermining this. It’s disappointing and frustrating. We need to be supporting the reballot, not throwing those branches under the bus.

We’re at the sharp end of the working conditions the disputes are supposed to combat. Please don’t abandon us now. We didn’t abandon you in 2018.

Graham Kirkwood (Newcastle UCU)

The current negotiations in both disputes really do seem to lack any sense of urgency from the employers. They exhibit a lack of concern that students have already lost eight days from their studies and are about to lose a further 14 days if the next wave of strikes go ahead. This is looking increasingly likely given the snail’s pace the employers are moving at.

As was the case in other striking universities in December last year, we had a bigger turnout on strike days here at Newcastle University than in the previous strike wave back in February and March 2018. There has been a bigger call on our local strike fund this time round due to the greater involvement of casualised and precarious staff. There is no mood here to uncouple the two disputes, our strength is in going forward together.

We have been using this time to plan the next round of action. Colleagues are currently being surveyed on what they thought went well in December and what we could do to improve. We are firming up and expanding our layer of branch representatives across the university and fine tuning our action plan leading up to the strike days.

Although we had sufficient numbers out on strike in December to carry the dispute, it is a fact that there are still too many UCU members who work through the strike. This weakens the action and isolates them from the dispute. When the dates are announced we need to get out in a similar way to getting the vote out to get the strike out. Going round floor to floor, department to department talking to people and arguing for maximum involvement for a speedy resolution. In addition colleagues have been going over to help at our neighbouring Northumbria University UCU branch to assist with their re-ballot. The two universities out on strike together will make a significant impact on this city.

Jo McNeill (Liverpool UCU)

I have been a little surprised to see the narrative emerging from some UCU members around decoupling the two disputes. 

The idea to run the four fights and USS disputes together was brought to HEC by Lancaster UCU. When moving the motion Julie Hearn, a HEC Rep from Lancaster, spoke of how members would benefit from running both disputes together and the added strength it would give negotiators in each legally distinct dispute. I voted for this motion. I was aware of how branches had struggled to meet the Tory turnout threshold in previous pay/equalities disputes to the major detriment of our most vulnerable members. I voted for this strategy because we had to do something differently and this worked. We saw record turnout in the pay/equalities ballot.

Members told us how they felt this made sense to ballot and to take action on both disputes at the same time. This strategy builds solidarity: a fundamental trade union principle! 

Yet now we have a group of people seemingly doing all they can to publicly undermine this strategy with an aim to decouple the two disputes. Their reasons for this appear to be ill informed.

For example, I’ve seen questions like ‘what if one dispute resolves earlier than the other?’ If this is the case, and it may be, then we consult members on their opinion on the offer made. If they agree to accept, then we close down that legally distinct dispute. The other dispute continues. This isn’t new. Many branches have run two disputes, usually a national and a local one.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s quite a simple industrial strategy. Some branches have both disputes running simultaneously; others just have the four fights. If the USS dispute resolves first, then all the big Russell group branches stay out with all the smaller branches.

If the four fights resolves first then we have all the bigger USS branches still out.

This adds pressure, provides solidarity, and gives additional strength to negotiators (which I’m one of). We have some branches re-balloting right now and it will be great to have them join us. But the main factor right now is the decision HEC make on the next round of action. 

USS branches had a Special Higher Education Sector Conference (SHESC) to debate this and carried a motion from Liverpool recommending 14 days. There hasn’t been a four fights SHESC so we (the ‘four fights’ negotiators) are recommending these branches move a model motion we’ve written in advance of the next HEC Jan 30th.

Draft motion (prepared by ‘four fights’ negotiators)

This branch acknowledges the need to fight back against increasing casualisation, damaging workloads, antiquated gender and race pay gaps and a decade long erosion of our pay.

This branch notes the decision from HEC to coordinate ballot distribution and strike days for the Four Fights and USS disputes.  This strategy allowed for UCU’s most successful ballot turnout results on pay ever and led to eight days of impactful strike action which is empowering our national negotiators.

This branch recognises the need to increase pressure at this point and that in order to win we have to move towards escalating our industrial strategy.

This branch supports this existing strategy towards our two ongoing disputes in HE, and believes that strike action in pursuit of the Four Fights should continue to escalate simultaneously with action over USS, beginning with the 14 days endorsed by HESC in December 2019.

Draft motion: The need for consultation (Andrew Chitty, Sussex UCU)

This branch notes:

1. The Special HE Sector Conference on the USS dispute in December voted for 14 more days of action over USS in February and March and another round of ballots over USS in February to April.

2. There has been no equivalent opportunity for branches to have their say about further action in the pay and conditions dispute.

3. This especially risks disenfranchising branches, including post-92 branches, that have voted for industrial action in the pay and conditions dispute but are outside the USS dispute, when the HEC meets on 30th January to consider calling further action in both disputes.

This branch resolves:

a. To call on the HEC on 30th January to urgently arrange a formal consultation of all branches holding a mandate for industrial action in the pay and conditions dispute on how to take that dispute forward, if possible culminating in a national branch delegates meeting, before HEC makes a decision on this question at its next meeting.

b. The consultation should lay out at least two options, offering different degrees and timescales of escalation.

National Activists’ Meeting, 11am, Saturday 25 January in central London (called by Goldsmiths UCU, Imperial UCU, Queen Mary UCU and UCL UCU; organised by London Region UCU. Details here.