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180220 Latest update for Reading UCU members

Dear all,
This one is LONG.  Sorry.  Highlighted text should steer you through if you need to skim read.  Another email will follow about a general meeting on Monday, about the documents you might need, about a buddy system, and about the picketing.
You will all have had John Brady’s email about industrial action late yesterday afternoon: some of you will have arrived in to see it.  If you remember, I’d said yesterday that “at this stage the University will resort to using language that might come over as intimidating” and this email is a lovely example.  Combined with David Bell’s open letter, this is now time for us to stand up to this bullying, and stand together, hand in hand, to make it clear to senior management that we are not taking any of this lightly.
The email John Brady sent is also at, and, indeed, if you go to will find an article which links to the open letter, to John Brady’s two messages, and to a page which holds a pdf of the advice issued to students. I note that the advice to students has now been put behind a username controlled firewall. 
John says in his email that “if you wish to maintain your pension contributions during any period of industrial action in which you are participating please confirm your agreement by e-mail to no later than 12 noon on Wednesday 21 February 2018 to ensure that your pension cover remains in place during this period. Please note that this requirement is distinct from notification of participation in strike action and action short of strike outlined below.”  I have spoken to UCU Head office and they confirm that this is a USS arrangement, not a Reading policy.  You will all see the potential trap here: if you email John Brady to say you want your pension cover to remain in place, then you are declaring in advance that you are a member of the union, and that you are planning to take strike action.  John does say that the requirement is ‘distinct from’ notification of participation in strike action, which simply means that he’s asking you to email again to confirm that you have taken strike action – but there is no guarantee here that this information will not be used by the University to mitigate the action.  To quote the immortal Monty Python here, “our chief weapon is surprise” – well, we have far more weapons than that, but we will only achieve maximum disruption if nobody knows in advance that we will not be here.  UCU Head office advise that the amount of potential loss to your final pension by not declaring in advance is “tiny”.  Our advice is not to email John Brady in advance to say that you want to maintain your pension contributions. If, however, you do email him, please use the wording “Please note in the event I take part in industrial action either in the forthcoming dispute or in the future, I wish the University to maintain my pension contributions during that period.  Please note that this not a declaration of membership of UCU or any other trade union, nor is it a declaration of an intent to take industrial action.” This wording can be used by anyone – members or non-members.
In terms of confirming your participation in strike action, our advice is to email John Brady as requested as soon as possible after each period of strike action ends, to confirm that you have taken part.  I will send out a reminder after each period of strike action has completed: please then send your email to him as soon as possible after that.
John Brady says “that on resumption of full duties the University reserves the right to require relevant colleagues to prioritise missed work over other work”.  This is an empty statement.  In some cases it will not be possible to prioritise missed work over other work; in other cases it will be too late.  And in many cases, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing anyway – our staff have integrity and professionalism and a clear sense of the priorities of their roles. Bear in mind, too, that there may be no way of monitoring this in some cases. It’s just a sentence that is being used to bully us.
His approach to the definition of action short of a strike (ASOS) has actually softened slightly as he’s accepted that it’s a case of working to contract.  This does mean working to contract – it means that you’re working the hours you should work, you’re doing the job you’re paid to do, and you’re not taking on other things.  It’s a nebulous thing, a University contract: I know, for example, that if I was asked, for example, to clean the staff loos, I would know that it’s not what I’m paid to do, but on the other hand there might be some aspects of my role which I don’t generally do on a daily or even annual basis, but which I would not be surprised to be asked to take on.
Then he waves his fist a little about ‘partial performance’ and threatens to dock salaries by 10%.  Partial performance would be extremely difficult to prove and would rely on a line manager making a statement to HR about someone not carrying out their duties.  This would probably indicate further issues between you and your line manager, and would be something that we would be getting very involved in and would be defending on your behalf. So you can ignore that paragraph. 
In terms of confirming your participation in action short of a strike (ASOS), our advice is that there is no need to confirm this to John Brady as you are simply working to contract.  You are doing what you are paid to do and just not doing all the extra stuff that you do out of the goodness of your heart.  This is not a disciplinary matter: if you are doing the job you are paid to do, then the University hasn’t a snowball’s chance of taking disciplinary action.

Then, much to our amusement, he threatens to join us 
“as a party to any claim for breach of contract brought against the University as a result of this action”.  Good luck with that!  There has never been a successful case of doing this (and it’s only been tried once, in a colliery dispute in the early 20th century).
The big question is whether the University values us.  It doesn’t seem that way when threats are issued about joining us in legal action, or when threats are issued about docking pay and reserving the right to dock even more for people who have given their time and energy, above and beyond the expectations of their role, who have worked long and hard hours, and who are being told that the University cannot afford to pay them what was promised – but can pay 46 people over £100,000, and can spend £2.5m on a botched redundancy process, £36m on PAS and £53m on Malaysia.
Sally Pellow
Reading UCU

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