Action Short of Strike (ASOS) Q&A
As we return back to work, we’ve been receiving a number of questions about what it actually means to carry out action short of strike (ASOS). In response to these queries, we have developed the following Q&A. It is a work in progress, so please check with us regularly and let us know if you have any further questions and/ or queries.
- What does ASOS mean?
- Does ASOS imply breach of contract and if so, what does that mean?
- What is Warwick’s current position regarding ASOS Pay Deductions?
- What specifically is working to contract and what does that look like?
- What does ASOS and working to contract look like for workers on hourly paid contracts (VAM / STP)?
- What does this all mean on the ground?
- What does ASOS mean?
According to the UCU national, Action Short of a Strike, or ASOS includes the following:
- refuse to reschedule classes or lectures which are cancelled due to the strikes
- refuse to provide cover for absent colleagues
- refuse to undertake voluntary work
- work to contract.
Universities, and many other organizations operate on goodwill, rather than contractual obligation, and the point of ASOS is to draw attention to this fact. This will result in the university running at slower pace than usual. The following tips should also be kept in mind:
- It is management’s job to be specific in terms of both the task you do and the order which they are undertaken
- If you are unsure about what your priorities ought to be you should refer your query to your line manager or HoD
In general, while engaging in ASOS, if you are asked to do a specific task, seek clarification as to why it is being asked, what it involves and what you should deprioritise instead. Based on the provided information, decide whether this counts as you having to redo work you were already docked pay for or not. If you’re ever unclear, ask for further clarification and contact us.
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 (see point 3 below).
As of now, our Vice Chancellor Stuart Croft has said there will be no deductions for working to contract. But the University did not guarantee that it won’t reserve its right to deduct pay for ASOS beyond working to contract (i.e. where ASOS would involve what they consider as a breach of contract). They also haven’t clarified whether not rescheduling classes, for example, would be interpreted as breach of contract, and whether or not they’d deduct for a refusal to reschedule classes. At many other universities, such as Cardiff, Sussex, Southampton, Royal Holloway, Goldsmiths, Kent, VCs have provided such guarantees. Please feel free to contact our VC that you would like these guarantees provided as well. As UCU, we are also following up on this matter.
Working to contract means abiding strictly by the terms of your contract of employment in regard to your specified hours of work; breaks; workload; or other matters that your employment or work contract may specify. In practice, working to contract will look different for colleagues in different roles.
- Working to contract for Administrative Staff
ASOS for administrative / professional services staff members is unlikely to look much different to a normal working day as ‘working to contract’ is often close to the actual working practice – especially at the grades which specify working hours. But, there may be opportunities to not attend committee meetings, departmental meetings, team meetings as these are rarely mandated as part of a contract. In particular, as with other roles, stick to your 36.5 hours (or whatever is stated in your contract) per week, take your lunch breaks, take your Health and Safety mandated breaks away from your computer.
- Working to contract for Academic, Research only and Teaching only posts (Grade 6 or above)
Working to contract for academic employees is complicated because these contracts stipulate that there are no fixed hours of work and that “The University reserves the right to ask you to undertake other work activities on behalf of the University in line with your grade as may be reasonably required from time to time.”
“There are no normal hours of work specified for Academic, Research only and Teaching only posts. The duration of your working time is largely not measured or pre-determined and can be self-determined to a significant extent. You are expected to work such hours as are necessary to meet the responsibilities of your position and while not bound by the provisions of the Working Time Regulations’ limits on average working hours, you are not expected to work excessive hours. If you find that you are regularly working excessive hours you should bring this to the attention of your Head of Department.
The notional working week is 36.5 hours and you are not eligible for overtime payments.
The University operates its activities over seven (7) days.”
One may ask how to marry the idea of working “as may be reasonably required” whilst not regularly working excessive hours, and still maintaining flexible working.
We suggest the following:
- You should not work more than 36.5 hours in a week unless explicitly instructed by your HoD or line manager.
- Avoid checking emails or doing work on weekends or evenings, unless there is a specific reason to do so; and ensure that any work done on weekends/evenings is included in your weekly total of 36.5 hours.
- If an HoD or line manager insists that you work over these hours, in the evenings or over weekends (e.g. to urgently mark essays or exam scripts), we advise that you ask your line manager to put the instruction in writing and you keep a record of all these instructions to work more than the notional working week. While those on academic, research and teaching contracts at grade 6 and above, have by signing these contracts, taken the individual managerial derogation from the Working Time Directive, its provisions and definitions of reasonableness may still be relevant when the university comes to seek accreditation for its working practices. We urge members to record evidence of an excessive work culture and of specific managerial instruction to work long hours.
Moreover, in light of the University’s commitment to Athena Swan and the Race Equality Charter, there is an increasing understanding of the need for understanding management systems that allow flexible working and deadlines. We think the Vice Chancellor, who is the current Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Equality Challenge Unit, would be very concerned if he heard that departments were placing undue demands on their staff (whether taking ASOS or not) that would undermine these management systems and the movements towards greater equality that they are meant to facilitate.
“Working to contract” will look quite different for staff engaged through hourly paid worker contracts such as STP / VAM. Where employees receive a fixed salary for their work, and the content of the specific work they do is flexible (and potentially subject to directions of their HoD), STP contracts already specify the content of the work undertaken (i.e. you are paid for specific tasks, and only if and when you actually deliver them), and the specific hours of work that you are contracted to do.
Working to contract, therefore, means sticking strictly to the hours that you are paid for, and not doing any additional unpaid work out of goodwill. This means, for example, not exceeding the allocated preparation time for seminars/lectures; not doing any additional admin and advice and feedback work besides your allocated and paid hours; not spending any more time than what you are allocated for marking essays and exam scripts. If you find that you cannot fulfil your workload by sticking to your contracted hours, we advise that you refer to your HoD or module convenor, advise that you are working to contract and ask for instructions about how to deal with your excess workload. This includes marking. If you find that you cannot finish your marking in the allocated hours, perhaps as a result of unreasonable expectations set out in the STP framework, we advise you to contact your HoD. Explain that you have fulfilled all your contractual hours, but that a portion of the marking remains unfinished. Consequentially, inform your HoD that you will not be carrying out any unpaid work as part of ASOS. You can also ask them for alternative solutions.
HR has also given us clarification on how ASOS will be treated in relation to workers hired on STP/VAM, and whether tutors can / will be expected to reschedule classes:
“STP tutors are not obliged to work additional hours to those for which they are contracted when they return from strike action but (as with other staff) HODs or equivalent can legitimately ask that they replace planned work with work to make up lost teaching.”
Therefore, tutors can be asked, but should not be expected and cannot be required, to do additional (paid) work. This means, for example, that HOD’s can legitimately ask you to cover the content of a class missed during the strike in an already scheduled revision class in term 3, but they cannot force you to schedule an additional class or add any hours to your existing contract.
This is because the terms and conditions of our contracts also make us responsive to directions by departments (STP terms & conditions, par. 20):
“a) You will co-operate with the department’s reasonable instructions and accept the direction and supervision of any appropriate person in the department
- b) You will observe any relevant rules and regulation of the department (including normal hours of work) to which attention has been drawn or to which you might reasonably be expected to assent”
Overall, however, your contractual obligations are very much limited in comparison to employees, and this protects you from taking on any additional work that is not yet part of your assignment. You therefore do not have to reschedule classes which have been missed, and you cannot be forced to take on any additional work.
And while HoDs may ask you to reschedule teaching missed during strike weeks (which then would have to be paid), you are in no way obliged to accept doing so.
In terms of working times (relevant mainly for marking deadlines, see below), STP contracts are covered by the EU working time directive (see above): you need to take a break of 20 minutes if working more than 6 consecutive hours, you need to take a rest period of at least 11 hours between working days, and 35 hours of rest once a week. However, our advice would be to insist on being treated according to “nominal” working times of employees, i.e. 36.5 hrs per week, unless explicitly advised otherwise by a HoD (similar to employees, see above).
If you experience any pressures from HoDs or other members of departments, let us know immediately (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Everything that follows essentially boils down to the question of what is a “reasonable request” by management and how can we deal with it collectively and within the spirit of ASOS. This is general and non-exhaustive advice and it may not cover all circumstances, so please feel free to contact us if you have any more specific queries.
- What do I do if I’m asked to rewrite exams?
It is fine to check exam papers, but it should not usually be necessary to rewrite them. If you are to get pressured into doing so, please ask for specific and detailed feedback and information on the kind of revisions that are considered necessary and why, then get in touch with us.
- What if I’m asked to arrange make up contact hours?
It is common for staff not to be on campus during the Easter break and thus should not be pressured to come onto campus to hold additional office hours.
- What if I’m asked to phone or skype students?
While it is reasonable that over the Easter break, staff might be in contact with students regarding essays, dissertations, or other assessed work, you should not feel that you need to make up for missed office hours by phone, skype and/ or email. It is fine to phone or skype with students as you would normally do during Easter break, but don’t do so as a means to reschedule work.
- What will happen with marking and marking deadlines that I missed because of the strike? Do I still have to keep to the 20-day marking deadline?
It is reasonable that marking deadlines might be missed as a result of strike action. The UCU is currently engaging with HR seeking to relax the 20-day turnover rule in cases where there has been a significant loss of working days due to the strike. It also tries to obtain reassurances that staff or workers will not be penalised for missing a marking deadline as a result of strike action. Until further notice, our understanding is that the University wants to maintain the 20-day turnover rule, but it acknowledges that there may be delays in specific circumstances.
If you receive pressure from your HOD to hand in your marking on time, we recommend the following:
For employees: write to your line manager asking them if they would like marking to be your priority and, if so, what they would like to be deprioritised. In case they ask you to prioritise marking, consider this to a reasonable request. However, we would suggest that you stick to the notional working week of 36.5 hours and not to work beyond that.
Hourly paid staff: you are also subject to your department’s regulations on marking deadlines. However, it is reasonable that marking deadlines will be missed as a result of the strike action. Our advice is that hourly paid staff act similarly to employees: Prioritise your marking to the extent that is reasonable in relation to your additional commitments stemming from alternative roles (including PhD work or second job related activities). This is to ensure that your total weekly working hours do not exceed 36.5 hours. Do not put yourself under unreasonable pressure to carry out marking at greater speed. With regard to marking, we advise you to stick strictly to your contractual hours. If you find that you cannot finish your marking in these allocated hours, perhaps as a result of unreasonable expectations set out in the STP framework, we advise you to contact your HoD. Explain that you have fulfilled all your contractual hours, but that a portion of the marking remains unfinished. Consequentially, inform your HoD that you will not be carrying out any unpaid work as part of ASOS. You can also ask them for alternative solutions.
If you receive pressure from your HoD/ members of your department to commit to marking as a priority, this might, under circumstances, be seen as reasonable, but please do get in touch with the UCU, your departmental contact or email email@example.com.
- What if I’m asked to report or provide content of missed sessions (whether through an online form or email)?
It is entirely reasonable for you to inform your line manager on the missed sessions (e.g. my students missed the classes in Week 7 or between Date X and Y), but you don’t need to elaborate any further.
- What should I do if I’m an Hourly Paid Tutor and offered extra hours?
You’re not obliged to take on additional hours, but if you want to do so, that is up to you. However, we would ask you to be mindful that what you are asked to do will not cover for activities that have been missed as a result of strike action. We also ask that you do not more work than you’re being paid for. The general rule to keep in mind is that the point of ASOS is to ensure that the disruptive effects of the strike are not covered in the aftermath. Hence, we would encourage you to only take up additional work that does not undermine the strike disruption.
Suggested email signature
Some colleagues may wish to make it known that they are working to contract or participating in ASOS. A common way to do this is to change your work email signature to include a line such as:
“Please note that I am currently taking action short of a strike as part of the University and College Union’s (UCU) industrial action to defend our right to a fair pension. Response times may be slower for the duration of the dispute, especially outside of normal working hours. Please support university staff by writing to university management asking them to listen to staff concerns and agree to a decent, guaranteed pension for myself and colleagues. https://www.ucu.org.uk/why-we-are-taking-action-over-USS