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Leicester UCU ASOS Guide and FAQ 2021

Published: 30th April, 2021

Introduction 

Leicester UCU recently voted in favour of industrial action to defend jobs threatened by compulsory redundancy. The branch members voted overwhelmingly for both strike action, and action short of a strike (ASOS). 84.1% voted in favour of ASOS. 

This guide and FAQ covers action short of a strike only. No strike dates have been declared yet: further guidance on strike action will be published in due course. 

*This page was last updated on 10 May 2021

General Questions about ASOS, and reporting ASOS 

1. When will the ASOS start? 

Our mandate for all forms of ASOS starts on Tuesday 4th May, and can be employed continuously until the dispute is resolved. In practice, this will mean different things for different members and for individual members it will mean different things at different times. This is due to the varied nature of our roles, and how our work varies over time.  

2. What is covered by ASOS? What should you not do? More detail on each of these forms of ASOS is outlined below. 

  • Do not undertake work beyond that contracted. 
  • Do not cover for absent or otherwise unavailable colleagues. 
  • Do not reschedule lectures, classes, meetings, appointments, or other tasks cancelled due to industrial action. 
  • Do not undertake voluntary activities. Do not volunteer ideas or actions: make managers manage! 
  • Do not use any of the University’s online systems on Fridays. 
  • Do not send emails before 9.00am or after 5.00pm – and not at weekends. 
  • Do not engage in meetings over 50 minutes duration. 
  • Boycott marking and assessment. 

3. Who should undertake ASOS? 

All UCU members are expected to participate in ASOS if they are employed by the University of Leicester. If you are not a UCU member you may still participate: Once a mandate for Industrial Action has been lawfully acquired, any employee of the institution in which it taking place is allowed to join in, irrespective of union membership. If you are not a union member, however, we suggest and request that you join. If you are employed by another agency, e.g. Unitemps, then your employer is not University of Leicester and it is therefore not lawful for you to take part. 

4. Does ASOS imply breach of contract and if so, what does that mean? 

Sticking to your hours (‘working to contract’) is not a breach of contract, however anything beyond working to contract (which includes refusal to reschedule, refusal to cover for absent colleagues), could be construed as a breach of contract, but is covered under the ballot and hence implies that you cannot be disciplined for taking this action. However, you may be subject to pay deductions for breach of contract arising from ASOS.  

5. Do I have to notify my employers I will be taking ASOS?  

There is no legal obligation for you to report that you are observing ASOS in a general sense at any time, and we do not recommend that any of our members do this. Some aspects of ASOS in this current dispute are unambiguous elements of working to contract. Working to contract is not partial performance. Our employer cannot compel us to report it and cannot deduct wages because of it. 

Some elements of ASOS may legitimately be described as ‘partial performance’ and under current UK legislation our employer is legally allowed to deduct wages for this. However, in all bar one case (marking boycott), whether the action constitutes partial performance will depend upon the specific circumstances. We encourage members to use their judgement and report these actions if asked about them after the event and only if they constitute partial performance. Further guidance on when and how to report ASOS is available here

You should not use the university’s form to report ASOS, which seems designed to enable maximum wage deduction. Instead use the quick, easy and lawful reporting mechanism created by Leicester UCU, available here.  

If unsure what you should report or how to report it, please contact the branch: ucu@uculeicester.org.uk

6. Which activities should I not undertake? 

There is general guidance below for each type of ASOS (some taken from https://www.ucu.org.uk/ASOS-and-ARPS). Every member of staff is different, and general advice is difficult to provide so you may have to make your own judgement. If in doubt, you should seek advice from your UCU departmental rep, or email ucu@uculeicester.org.uk

7. Some types of ASOS and actions outlined in this document sound like they will take extra effort or more time from me. Why should I bother?  

All industrial action, including action short of a strike, is about disrupting business as usual as much as possible for the employer so that they have to respond to our demands. The forms of action we can take under ASOS are constrained by law, so it is important we all strictly observe all forms of ASOS that we can. If some of these require a bit of effort and creativity on your part, it will be worth it: 

  • Remember the amount of work that you – we – have all done for our employer during a pandemic, and how they are repaying that by trying to make our colleagues redundant. Remember all the work that has gone into supporting our at-risk colleagues over the last six months, all the work trying to persuade the University leadership to change course, and in achieving a mandate for industrial action as a last resort.  
  • If our action is done half-heartedly, or goes unnoticed by our employer, it won’t work. 
  • Do not make exceptions by thinking things like – “but it’s really important this is done on time!” – and working beyond contract to keep things running smoothly. This is precisely the point of your action: to demonstrate how your labour, routinely provided beyond (often far beyond) what your contract requires, is what keeps the University running. It is for the University leadership – not you, not us – to solve that problem: by responding to our demands.  
  • Equally, don’t let your resolve crumble by feeling sorry for colleagues not taking part in the action, if they are asked to do even more work as a result of your action short of a strike. It is for them – not you, not us – to solve that problem: by joining our union and taking part in our action. 

8. My role includes a significant/senior leadership role within my School, College or Division, and I’m not sure what action I can take?  

Experienced members of UCU who themselves are in this position will lead a workshop on Tuesday 4 May at 16.00 for members at Grade 10 and Grade 9 members who hold management/leadership positions at the university. Being in a management/leadership position can often place people in a difficult and egregious position, and it can feel both lonely and isolating. This meeting will be a useful means of providing collective support for each other and to share ideas for using these positions to bring the university leadership to account for their actions. An email with a meeting link was circulated to all members on 28 April – check your email for details. If you can’t find it, email the branch Professorial reps

9. Can my employer deduct wages if I undertake ASOS? 

This depends upon the type of ASOS you are taking. In cases of partial performance, it has been established as lawful for employers to take up to 100% of wages. Currently, the University is threatening to take 25% where ASOS is reported using their preferred systems, and 33% where it is not. We have explained here why we think this is a trap (circulated via email on 29 April). We are committed to minimising the economic cost to individual staff members and maximising disruption to the employer with this action and this is a key aim of the present document. Please be aware, however, that the University may decide to go to lengths to ensure that participating staff are penalised as severely as possible. This could certainly include taking action against us in the form of wage deductions that may, at a later date, prove to have been unlawful. We would need to challenge this as a union. 

10. I am not a UCU member. Can I undertake ASOS?

Yes. 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. We have received reports that some senior managers are telling staff that if they are a non-union member, or a member of a different trade union to UCU, that they cannot legally take part in the industrial action. This is factually incorrect. The government’s guidance is here. Given that some senior managers don’t know this (or are deliberately misleading people), however, we strongly recommend that you do join UCU if you’re not already a member. That way, we can support you if any difficulties arise. Plus, if you’re undertaking ASOS without enjoying the benefits of union membership, you’re clearly awesome!

11. There is no part of my job that can be done without using the University’s online systems (ASOS no. 5). What should I do?

This is a tricky one. Approaches to some types of ASOS may be best decided at the local level, because of the varied nature of our jobs across the University: for we are legion! If possible, discuss this issue with your colleagues in your team to decide on an approach you can all collectively take. Some pragmatism and imagination may be needed because if you cannot do any of your job without using the University’s online systems, strictly observing this type of ASOS won’t be possible. In discussing with the colleagues in your team, remember the key principles of Action Short of a Strike: maximise disruption to “business as usual”, minimise disruption to you. ASOS means we are still doing our jobs but in such a way as to interrupt the normal operations of work at the University and to show that it cannot function properly without our goodwill and our efforts beyond what is contractually required.

TYPES OF ASOS 

1. Not to undertake work beyond that contracted (you do not need to report this) 

This means being extremely strict in working exactly to the minimum required by your own contract, which will vary according to your job type/grade. Since we all typically labour under excessive workload expectations, this will mean: 

  • Some of your work will be late, some will simply not get done.  
  • Get used to it, and don’t make exceptions 
  • Remember, the point of industrial action is to cause disruption to business as usual 
  • It may be useful to keep a work diary, to be able to demonstrate if challenged that you are meeting your contractual obligations, as below 
  • If the employer doesn’t like it, there’s an easy solution: meet our demands.  

a. What does working to contract mean if I have stipulated working hours?  

  • Work exactly the number of hours per week, or day, that your contract states. Do not start early and do not finish late. If your working day is defined, for instance starting at 9am and finishing at 5pm, then do exactly that.  
  • Make sure you take your full lunch break, every day. If your contract allows breaks, take your breaks. 
  • Do not check or respond to emails outside of your working hours. If you have a work phone, leave it at your desk when you leave for the evening. 
  • Take the time you need to complete your work during any action short of a strike. 
  • Make managers manage. If you cannot complete all of your assigned work duties within your contracted working hours, or this prevents you from meeting deadlines, ask your line manager to instruct you what to prioritize. It may be useful to keep a rough work diary. Do not worry about creating more work for your manager. This is not your problem, it’s theirs – and if they are also a UCU member, they will make it their manager’s problem… and so on up to the University Executive Board. 

b. What does working to contract mean if my contract stipulates ‘indeterminate hours’? 

  • You should strictly observe a 37.5 hour working week for the duration of ASOS. 
  • The principle of “mutuality of flexibility” that underpins the University’s policy on the operation of indeterminate hours is not observable during ASOS as the employer asserts their right to withhold up to 100% of pay for partial performance during ASOS. Even where the employer doesn’t exercise this right, they still assert it. The policy explicitly states that for the purposes of pay-related calculations the “working week for staff in Grade 6 and above is regarded as 37.5 hours”. 
  • Take the time you need to complete your work during any action short of a strike. 
  • Make managers manage. If you cannot complete all of your assigned work duties within 37.5 hours per week, or this prevents you from meeting deadlines, wait for your line manager to instruct you what to prioritize before changing your approach according to their instructions. It may be useful to keep a rough work diary. 

2&3. Not covering for absent or unavailable colleagues and no rescheduling of lectures, classes, meetings, appointments, or other tasks cancelled due to industrial action (you may need to report this, depending on circumstances) 

  • If a colleague is off sick or on leave during the live action period, do not help management by picking up their work. Remember you are working to the minimum required by YOUR contract. You can say NO
  • If a colleague normally expected to attend meetings or other events in their role is unavailable to attend, do not agree to cover for them. 
  • It’s important to decline requests politely and respectfully, for instance: ‘I am currently working to contract, in protest at proposed redundancies proposed by the Executive Board of the University of Leicester.  All UCU members are advised not to cover for absent colleagues or undertake voluntary activities as part of this action. For this reason I am unable to…’ 

4. Not undertaking voluntary activities (you do not need to report this) 

  • If you voluntarily attend meetings that you are not contracted to, stop volunteering to do so. 
  • If you undertake support work on a voluntary basis, stop volunteering to do so. 
  • You can say NO if you are asked to complete a survey, consultation, or a questionnaire. (“I’d prefer not to.”) 
  • If you are asked to volunteer at open days or away days, you can say NO.  
  • If you are asked to volunteer to attend meetings or events outside of your working hours or during your lunch hour, you can say NO
  • If you are asked to volunteer ideas (for a new module, procedure or whatever), you can say NO (“I’m sorry I can’t think of anything right now.”) 
  • If you are asked to do anything else which does not form part of your formal roles and responsibilities, you can say NO
  • It’s important to decline requests politely and respectfully, for instance: ‘I am currently working to contract, in protest at proposed redundancies proposed by the Executive Board of the University of Leicester.  All UCU members are advised not to cover for absent colleagues or undertake voluntary activities as part of this action. For this reason I am unable to…’ 

5. Not using university online systems on Fridays (you may need to report this, depending on circumstances) 

In the spirit of the University’s Digital Wellbeing Protocol, Fridays should be used for work, but not online, to enable a digital detox that is healthier for everyone than the University’s own half-measure of keeping Friday afternoons free from Teams meetings. 

  • Log-out of, or do not log-into, Microsoft Teams, Outlook, Sharepoint, and other applications in Office365; Blackboard, SITS and SAP; switch off work mobile phones and carry on other work offline. 
  • In general terms, if you have to authenticate with a UoL username (i.e. you have to ‘log-in’) then you are using a UoL on-line system – at least initially. Therefore this is in scope of ASOS. Logging into your University laptop would be an exception. 

Examples of work you could do offline: 

  • Write documents using Word or other software, but not Word Online. 
  • Attend a telephone-based meeting, but not an Online Teams meeting. 
  • Collate information to be uploaded into online systems such as Blackboard, SITS or SAP, but not access those online systems to complete the task until another day. 
  • Read a book relevant to your work. 
  • If you are unsure, ask your line-manager to allocate you work that you can carry out offline. 

6. Refrain from sending emails before 9.00am or after 5.00pm (you do not need to report this) 

In line with the University’s Digital Wellbeing Protocol, you should refrain from working outside of standard hours (unless you are contracted otherwise). The sending of emails is work, and this should not be done in your own time. This is simply working to contract.  

7. Do not engage in meetings over 50 minutes duration (you may need to report this, depending on circumstances) 

The University has introduced guidance that meetings should not be arranged for longer than 50 minutes, although in practice this is often breached. The 50-minute limit should be strictly adhered to. If your contract requires you to attend a meeting scheduled for longer than this, we recommend attending the first 50 minutes of the meeting and then leave citing ASOS as the reason.  

This applies to meetings only. Teaching sessions longer than 50 minutes are not included in this form of ASOS and should be carried out as normal.  

8. To boycott marking and assessment (you will likely need to report this, if it’s part of your role)

Do not set assessments, such as writing and submitting exam papers. 

Do not mark assessments, including exam scripts, essays and other assessed coursework, dissertations and theses. This applies to UG, PGT and PGR assessments.

Do not complete moderation or second marking.   

If you have partially marked a set of assessments before the onset of ASOS on 4 May, stop marking and leave it partially marked.  

Do not participate in exam panels and exam boards, both UG and PGT, or PhD vivas, either as examiners or chairs, and do not complete associated paperwork.   

If your role involves administration relating to marking and assessment, you can refuse to undertake that work as part of the action. Examples might include the preparation of examination board materials, the allocation of marking and moderation duties, or any other administrative tasks related to assessment or marking. 

Work related to cases of plagiarism in students’ assessed work is considered ‘discipline’ rather than assessment and is therefore not part of the marking and assessment boycott.

Commenting on and discussing plans for assignments with students are considered ‘teaching’ rather than assessment and is therefore not part of the marking and assessment boycott. Likewise, conducting supervision meetings and reading drafts of ongoing work as part of the supervision of PGR students is considered ‘teaching’ rather than assessment and is therefore not part of the marking and assessment boycott.

There are two elements of a marking boycott that make it a special case in relation to the other elements of ASOS. The first is that we would expect it to be considered ‘partial performance’ in all cases (the exception would be if you were being asked to volunteer to do marking. In this case it would come under refusing undertake voluntary activities and would not constitute a boycott or partial performance). This means that it is likely that pay will be deducted.  

The second is that you will not be in a position to say you have observed a marking boycott until the final opportunity to mark the work has expiredRemember: the dispute could be resolved, and the boycott called off, at any time. We would caution against members treating the formal marking deadline as the expiry of the opportunity to mark the work as this can be extended. If asked whether you intend to mark the work, our advice would be to make it clear to your manager that you are ready and willing to do so as soon as the dispute is resolved. Once the final opportunity to do the marking has expired (either because the work has been undertaken by a colleague who is not supporting our struggle against redundancies or because a decision has been taken to assess students based on averages or some other mechanism) we recommend that, if asked, you declare that you have observed a marking boycott for the number of days it would typically take you to do the marking, counting backwards from the expiry of the opportunity to do it. 

What else can I do? 

You should also explain to colleagues why you are undertaking ASOS, refer them to the Leicester UCU website, and explain that ASOS (and strike action, if it comes to that) is our last resort and that we hope to persuade the University to rescind its threat of compulsory redundancies.  

Are you following the University’s guidance on looking after your mental and physical health, and managing your workload? 

Prioritise your wellbeing: The Executive Board claims to care about our wellbeing, and Occupational Health have put together a range of tools and events to support us. Consider taking the time to make use of these if you are worried about your wellbeing or are experiencing stress. 

Work from Home Safely: The Executive Board has a legal responsibility to ensure that we work in safe environments, yet how many of us haven’t taken the time to work through this guidance because we have been too busy? Prioritise your health – it’s our legal duty as employees to do so. 

Review how the Workload Allocation Model works for you: The Workload Allocation Model is going to be reviewed shortly, so your input around how it works for you, will help improve this model for you and your colleagues. Take the time to understand how it works and how your department has applied it, and feed back to your line manager and WAM administrator. 

Consider using an email signature or out-of-office reply set for all times outside of your working hours to help raise awareness of our action 

We recommend the following form of words, emphasising working to contract only – rather than ASOS in general – to avoid this constituting a ‘reporting’ of something that might be construed as partial performance by the employer. Working to contract is not partial performance.  

Out-of-office: 
Thank you for your email. 

I am a member of the University and College Union (UCU) and am currently working to contract in protest at compulsory redundancies proposed by the Executive Board of the University of Leicester. This may cause some delay in email correspondence.   

Since 4 May UCU has instituted ‘Action Short of a Strike’. Such actions include:

  • Not undertaking work beyond that contracted.
  • Not covering for absent or otherwise unavailable colleagues.
  • Not rescheduling lectures, classes, meetings, appointments, or other tasks cancelled due to industrial action.
  • Not undertaking voluntary activities or volunteering ideas or actions: make managers manage!
  • Not using any of the University’s online systems on Fridays.
  • Not sending emails before 9.00am or after 5.00pm – and not at weekends.
  • Not engaging in meetings over 50 minutes duration.
  • Boycotting marking and assessment.

For more about the reasons for our action, please see Redundancies | University of Leicester UCU (uculeicester.org.uk) 

Email signature 

Dr. A.S.O.S. Strike-Action Ph.D., MA. 
Lecturer in …Department of…. 

University of Leicester 
 
As a member of UCU I am currently working to contract, in protest at proposed redundancies proposed by the Executive Board of the University of Leicester. This may cause some delay in email correspondence.    

For more about the reasons for our action, please see Redundancies | University of Leicester UCU (uculeicester.org.uk) 

Other guidance: 

https://www.ucu.org.uk/working-to-contract

https://www.ucu.org.uk/ASOS-and-ARPS