Following proposals to significantly increase employee contributions to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the University and College Union (UCU) has called a series of strikes at 60 universities. Strike action is also being taken in a second dispute on the universities' failure to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.
A number of BMA members either employed by or undertaking work for these universities have asked how they should respond to the strike action. The BMA has issued statements in response from its medical academic staff committee (MASC) and medical students committee (MSC), as well as providing guidance to doctors who may be affected by the dispute.
Statement from MASC
We would like to express our solidarity with our colleagues in the UCU and the decision they have taken to protest against the proposed changes to academics’ pensions.
The USS has proposed changes on the basis of the worst-case scenario. We share UCU’s anger and concern at this significant increase in the costs to members of the scheme. We believe that this will be damaging for current medical academics and also for the future of academic medicine as it creates a deterrent to taking up academic activity as a long-term career.
We will, of course, support any BMA member who is also a member of the UCU or is otherwise affected by the industrial action. However, it would not be lawful for BMA members who are not members of the UCU to participate in the industrial action. If you need advice you can contact the BMA on 0300 123 1233 or email us on [email protected].
Statement from MSC
The BMA’s medical students committee would like to offer its solidarity and support to all UCU members that have made the brave decision to go on strike in defence of their pensions, for fair pay and for fair workplace conditions.
We recognise that the real-terms pay cuts of the past decade are unacceptable, and that the proposed changes to the USS pension scheme will leave many more people significantly out of pocket. Coupled with an increasing workload and increased casualisation of the teaching workforce, this has led to a precarious and difficult working environment for many academics. This is the root cause of this round of industrial action. Such practices need to be stamped out to guarantee secure and sustainable jobs for our academics.
We urge universities to take actions to rectify the problems facing our lecturers and academics in their workplaces. We insist that any detriment to students' progress must be avoided, for example by taking account of the strike action when calculating mandatory attendance quotas for medical students.
Advice for BMA members
May I support a picket line?
Supporting a picket would amount to participating and furthering the objective of the picket which includes encouraging others to strike. This would be unlawful for a non-UCU member (that is, someone not involved in the trade dispute) because it would be inducing others to breach their contracts, which is a statutory tort.
Where the member is not a party to the dispute they would not be protected under statute and would, therefore, run the risk of being held by the employer to be breaching their employment contract. The BMA does not recommend or suggest that its members take part in this industrial action.
Do I have to cross a picket line?
BMA members who are not also members of UCU will not be legally protected if they participate in the industrial action. Therefore, they should attend work as normal and as required under their employment contract, unless they have agreed something different with their employer in advance.
If it is physically not possible to get into the place of work because of a picket line then members need to report their absence using their employer’s normal absence reporting procedure.
I am responsible for teaching medical students in my hospital on the day of the action. I am not paid by the university and the work is not in my job plan. Am I still obliged to undertake the teaching?
You are responsible through your main NHS employer to undertake the teaching and, even if it is not formally included in your job plan, if it is something that you have done consistently, it is likely to form an implied part of your employment contract.
How can I show my support for colleagues in the UCU?
If you are not a member of the UCU, you will not be legally protected if you get involved in the industrial action. You can show moral support any way you like provided it does not amount to taking industrial action yourself or participating to encourage others to take industrial action (see above).
You can show support by not obstructing or discouraging colleagues from pursuing their legitimate right to take industrial action.
You may also take part in any demonstrations on the issue as long as this is in your own time and the demonstration is not designed to discourage people from working. Any support you provide must not compromise your own position as a professional and employee who is not directly part of the dispute.
If you are a BMA member and you have further questions, please call our employment advisers on 0300 123 1233 or email us on [email protected].