Our blog


UPDATED February 2020



Sheffield UCU committee remains hopeful that Universities UK (who represent the employers on USS matters) and UCEA (who represent the employers on pay) will table meaningful offers before we are required to undertake a further 14 days of strike action.


Our advice is that you should write to Koen Lamberts – send him an impassioned plea to intervene with the employers’ bodies on vc@sheffield.ac.uk and copy us in (ucu@sheffield.ac.uk). Ask him to exert pressure on UUK and UCEA.  Talk to your students, and ask for their support. Come along to one of our meetings, get in touch with your departmental rep, talk to your colleagues and ask them to join us. Posters and leaflets should be prominent in your department – put them on your doors and notice boards (you can download them here, or collect from our office at 2 Hounsfield Road). Talk about the dispute on social media, if you have it.


We’ll be sending you a lot of emails over the coming weeks. Please read them, and talk to us if you need to – we are here to support you. We know this is tough and we’re committed to ensuring that all of our members are supported to undertake the action asked of them.


Here is the latest information for members. This is a long document, but it’s important – please read it all!


NOTE: UCU nationally has issued detailed advice to all members, available here. Please read it, and please keep checking back for updates.


Strike Action

Action Short of a Strike

Notifying the University

Financial Support for Strike Action

Information for migrant members

Student Support for Strike Action

Teach Out Programme, Events and Pickets

Further Information and Resources

An Appeal From Your Branch Officers



Strike Action


UCU members are asked to take strike action on the following dates:

When you are on strike, you do not work.


This includes time before 9am and after 5pm and includes any activity which is part of your work such as teaching, administration, meetings, emails relating to work, marking, research, events, or conferences where you are directly or indirectly representing your employer. Don’t do any work!


We believe that the University will be deducting pay on the basis of 1/365th of your annual salary per strike day.


We don’t yet know what arrangements will be in place to ensure continuity of service in USS. We’ll update you when we have that information.


You can read the University’s FAQs on industrial action here, but please take our advice if there are differences in the messaging.


Research-only contracts:


If you are on a research-only contract and you are taking strike action, you should not work and should follow all other advice.


We have heard from several research-only members who have expressed concern that their strike action does not have an impact on the University. It does: your work will be slowed down and your email auto-responses will go to your funders, partners and colleagues. Your presence on the picket lines will help our action.


Research-only externally funded contracts:


If you are employed by the University on an externally-funded contract and you take strike action you should not work and should follow all other advice.


If your employment contract is with an external funding body, or any other body or agency, you should not strike.


Hourly-paid and GTA contracts:


If you are employed on an hourly-paid or GTA contract and you take strike action you should not work and should follow all other advice.


PLEASE NOTE: in order to be eligible to claim from the fighting fund, all GTA members must ensure that you have ‘standard free’ membership, not student membership. This is essential. You can update your membership via MyUCU (you will need your membership number, which you can find in the email welcoming to you to UCU).


Research leave:


If you are on research leave and you take strike action you should not work and should follow all other advice.


Annual leave/parental leave/sickness absence:


If you are not at work for these reasons during strike action, you cannot strike. This is the only ‘dispensation not to strike’ that our members have, and we encourage you to donate any earnings to the local hardship fund if you can.


Action Short of a Strike


Members will also be continuing to take action short of a strike during the breaks in strike action and following the completion of the strike until further notice.  This might include:


  • working to contract
  • not covering for absent colleagues (unless your contract specifies that you do; for example, being asked to cover classes or teaching for a colleague who is unwell)
  • not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action. This includes any scheduled teaching activity which would have taken place on one of UCU’s strike days and applies to all UCU members, not just those directly responsible for the relevant lecture or class. You should refuse to reschedule this activity when asked, stating in response that you are supporting UCU’s action short of a strike. You should also not share materials that would have been covered in a lecture or class cancelled due to the strike.
  • not undertaking any voluntary activities (that is, work you have a choice about. This will differ by contract but, for example, working on a Saturday is voluntary for many members)


Please note the ballot we voted on included a marking and assessment boycott as part of ASOS. We have a mandate for that action but it is not as yet being called as part of the February-March action. We will update you further if this changes.


If you have already rescheduled lectures or classes that were scheduled during strike action, or your Head of Department has rescheduled them, then once action short of a strike has resumed you should not teach them.


If you are a professional services member of staff, you too are covered by ASOS and working to contract and there is specific guidance for PS staff from UCU nationally available here.


Working to contract means abiding strictly by the terms of your employment contract.


If you’re in any doubt about what you are required to do, check your contractual documents –  your offer letter, statement of main terms and conditions and/or any staff handbook. Contact us for further advice if you need it.


Taking action short of a strike does not mean that you can refuse a reasonable request from your manager to undertake something that isn’t covered by the examples above.


How reasonable any request is will depend on the terms of your contract and custom and practice. If in doubt – or if your actions are challenged by someone senior to you – temporarily suspend your action and contact us for guidance.


The University is unlikely to make punitive salary deductions when you are legitimately working to contract.


Notifying the University


You are NOT required to formally notify anyone in advance of 20th February that you are intending to take action. If your manager asks you in advance, you can reply that your union has advised you that you shouldn’t answer this.


If your manager asks you whether you are taking action short of a strike, you should answer them truthfully. However, you should not answer any such query while you are undertaking strike action.


If your manager asks you after strike action whether you took it, answer them truthfully.


We recommend that you complete a notification form for strike action as soon as possible after you have taken the strike action. The university has agreed for the present time not to collect information regarding action short of a strike. 


If you experience problems or need guidance on notifications, get in touch and we’ll help.




Once again, the university has agreed to spread out deductions for strike action. For this round of action, deductions will be spread over March (5 days deductions),  April (4 days deductions) and May (5 days deductions).


Financial Support for Strike Action


UCU Fighting Fund


Members earning over £30,000 pa can claim strike pay after the third day of action for up to £50 per day (subject to a cap of £800). Members earning below £30,000 pa can claim £75 per day from the second day of action (subject to a cap of £1,100). Financial support will be prioritised to lower paid members and those on insecure contracts. Full information and details of how to apply will be circulated as soon as we have them.


We strongly encourage you to apply to the fighting fund if you need to. Applications can be made once deductions of salary can be evidenced by following this link.

If you can manage without, or claim a lower amount, please do.


SUCU Hardship Fund


Your first port of call should be the central fighting fund – UCU nationally has vastly more resources than we do locally. We recognise, though, that national strike pay may still leave some members experiencing hardship; either because of the level of deductions or because of their personal situation.


Members who are sole-income households, or are on precarious or part-time or temporary contracts, may be particularly affected. Applications to the SUCU Hardship Fund can be made at this link. Please note that applicants do not need to wait to evidence salary deductions before applying to this fund.


The SUCU Hardship Fund is made up of solidarity donations and branch funds.


Information for migrant members


Since the UCU industrial action in early 2018, there have been changes to the immigration rules that make explicit that unpaid leave for the purposes of industrial action is exempt from the reporting duties for sponsors of Tier 2 and Tier 5  visas.


The change was announced in July 2018 by Sajid Javid (see full statement here): “It is not the Government’s policy to prevent migrant workers from engaging in legal strike action; and, to date, I am not aware of any case where a migrant worker has had their leave curtailed, or been removed, as a result of having engaged in legal industrial action. However, to put the matter beyond doubt, I will be making changes to the guidance and Immigration Rules for migrant workers (under the Tier 2 and 5 immigration routes) and their sponsors.”


You can view the updated rules here, and the updated guidance for sponsors here.


UCU’s specific guidance for migrant members taking action is here.



Student Support for Strike Action


UCU and the NUS are sister unions, and we have support for this action from them both nationally and locally. A motion was passed at Sheffield’s SU Council in early November in support of the action, and NUS nationally released a joint statement with UCU in early September:


“NUS stands shoulder to shoulder with UCU and asks its members to:


call for higher education employers to recognise the seriousness of the situation, agree to reopen negotiations on casualisation, workload and pay inequality and put pressure on USS to implement all of the recommendations of the JEP

write to their institution head to raise concerns about the impact such disputes will have on their learning

participate in local demonstrative solidarity action, both during the disputes and the likely strikes, in support of UCU members.


In response, UCU agrees to:


work closely with NUS to explain to students why action is taking place and to update students as matters progress

commit to meaningful negotiations to resolve the disputes

continue to support NUS in the wider struggle for a fair and just education system.”


You may find an updated press release from the NUS here.


We are working closely with Sheffield SU on this action and we are incredibly grateful for their support and solidarity.


Please talk to your students about the action, and ask them for their support. Our working conditions are their learning conditions, and we’d like them to join us in writing to Koen Lamberts directly with messages of support, asking him to exert pressure on Universities UK and UCEA to go back to meaningful negotiations immediately. The email address is vc@sheffield.ac.uk.



Teach Out Programme, Events, and Pickets


We’re thrilled to have put together a programme of alternative events for strike days. Members from across the University will be delivering talks in the Students’ Union in the afternoons of all strike days on a whole host of topics that showcase some of the fascinating work we do here.


A preliminary schedule of teach-outs for the first five days of the strike is available below. If you’d like to volunteer to deliver a talk in the final 9 days of the strike, please contact Katy Fox-Hodess at katy.fox-hodess@sheffield.ac.uk.



Please also join one of our picket lines. If you were a member in 2018 and 2019, you will remember that our pickets were scenes of fun, creativity, home-baking, music and fancy dress. We will be picketing all major University buildings, and you can collect placards and at the union office at 2 Hounsfield Road (it’s just behind the Sainsbury’s at the University tram stop, opposite the back of the Harley, and has big UCU signage – you can’t miss it) from 7.30am on strike days. Get your colleagues involved!


Making picketing more accessible:


We appreciate that being outside for extended periods of time, often standing up, and holding placards can be challenging. Here’s some advice on how to make that process easier:


  • Organise picketing shifts within your department so that not everyone needs to be there for the whole picketing period (your departmental rep/contact should be able to help with this)
  • Feel free to bring along a small camping chair or similar if you need one, but do take care not to block the pavement or prevent anyone else’s access to the building
  • If you have a medical condition that might require immediate access to a toilet, feel free to use the one closest to you regardless of whether or not it is behind a picket
  • Remember that coffee shops, pubs, the union office at 2 Hounsfield Road and the Students’ Union are all ‘neutral spaces’ that you are free to use throughout strike days.
  • Feel free to take a break from the picket if you need one.
  • Free sandwiches from John’s Van are available to all picketers wearing an armband or carrying a placard or otherwise identifiable as a striker on strike days: please make use of this
  • Please read and familiarise yourself with UCU’s guidance on picketing. If in doubt, please call the picket supervisor.



Further Information and Resources


Upcoming meetings


We’ll email you about these and publicise them on twitter – please do come along. If you’re having a departmental UCU meeting and you’d like a branch officer to come along too, get in touch.


Background to the dispute


There is an enormous amount of information now in the public domain about our ongoing disputes over both the USS scheme and pay and equalities. Please browse our blog, watch the videos from our branch officers and national negotiators, and email us or come along to a branch meeting if you have any questions.


Email auto-responses


We recommend that you set these up starting from the 20th February and leave one or both on (depending on the date) until the dispute is over. If you need help setting up an auto-response, see here.


ON STRIKE: I am on strike today until [date] as part of UCU’s industrial action over the USS pension scheme and our pay and conditions.  Your email will not be read and you will need to resend it on [date].


ACTION SHORT OF A STRIKE: I am working to contract as part of UCU’s action short of a strike over the USS pension scheme and our pay and conditions. There may be a delay in my response due to workload issues.


You might like to include links to further information about the disputes in your out-of-office messages, or direct any students you work with to alternative sources of support.



An Appeal from your Branch Officers


We need your help. This is voluntary work on our part – the paid time we get to undertake UCU business, which is called facility time, doesn’t remotely match the work on our own time we do on behalf of all our members. We support individual members through casework, negotiate policy, contracts and terms and conditions, campaign on important issues facing the sector and much besides.


If you’d like to get involved with any aspect of the current dispute, or are interested in otherwise becoming more active in SUCU, please contact us on ucu@sheffield.ac.uk.







ASOS Guidance on Saturday Open Days

This is a reminder that we are currently taking Action Short of a Strike in defence of USS. As such, we recommend that members refuse requests to work outside of their normal contracted days.

For most staff, this would include refusing a request to work at Saturday Open Days, and to withdraw any such offer already made.

We expect this to apply to almost all staff who don’t have Saturday working or admissions/recruitment explicitly written into their contracts.

If you have any doubts as to whether your contract or role would make working at the Saturday Open Day fall outside the remit of UCU’s Action Short of a Strike, you should seek clarification from your line manager/head of department urgently. We recommend using the template email below for this purpose.

If you encounter any significant difficulties as a result of this advice, please let us know.

Sheffield UCU Committee


Suggested email to line manager/head of department seeking clarification on a request to work at the Saturday Open Day

(Note: this email is only necessary for those who have doubts about the status of their contracts or departmental roles.)

Dear _______,

I am writing regarding the request for me to work on the Saturday Open Day [on DATE].

My understanding is that working on Saturday [DATE] would fall outside of my normal contracted days. As such, I will be declining the request to work on Saturday [DATE] in line with UCU’s Action Short of a Strike. If this is not the case, I would be grateful if you would clarify the situation by the end of [ONE WEEK PRIOR], with particular reference to the University’s Guidance for HoD’s and Department Managers.

Kind regards,

Democracy Commission

Ahead of the Special Congress to discuss the recommendations of the Democracy Commission, we wanted to set out the position of the SUCU delegates in discussion with the branch president.

The Democracy Commission is an elected panel of UCU members who have spent the last 12 months discussing in long meetings (the minutes of which are publicly available here and have been circulated to members) the structures and democracy of the union. The Commission was set up following motions submitted to 2018 Congress, one of them Sheffield’s, and we have two members (Sam Morecroft and Jess Meacham) who sat on Commission.

The progress of the Commission’s work has been at times slower than we would have all liked. This is, as ever, an issue of resources and facilities time and workload. You can read the minutes of all the meetings and the various reports that have been issued here.

At Sheffield we have reported back regularly in branch meetings about the progress of the Commission’s work and we have held two stand alone meetings specifically to invite members to come along and discuss the issues and proposals. We have also asked members to contact us via other means with any thoughts they have about this.

We recently held an EGM at which more than 100 members came to discuss the progress of our current industrial action and questions of union democracy were prominent in the discussion. We are under no illusion that active union members want to avoid any re-run of the events of 2018 and we see the recommendations of the Democracy Commission as an important step in what should be an ongoing conversation among all of us about how representative democracy functions within the union.

We understand that Unite, who represent staff working for UCU, have expressed some concerns over the content of the Democracy Commission’s report. We understand there are two main issues here, one of which is the terms and conditions of the General Secretary’s role and the terms and conditions of other existing staff. The Democracy Commission has made every effort to ensure that our written outputs have been mindful of the potential concerns that Unite might have had, and have been qualified accordingly in writing. It was and is the intent of the Democracy Commission that these issues should be considered carefully by all parties and in line with the relevant recognition agreement should these changes be passed by the Special Congress.

We would like to take the opportunity to remind members that the current General Secretary was elected based on a manifesto that stated the following:

“I not only promise to abide by any rule changes agreed by Congress and other relevant parties: I strongly encourage Congress delegates to vote for all of the recommended changes to the GS’s role that have been put forward.”

We are looking forward to the discussion in Manchester in Saturday and hope that all parties involved in the Special Congress will work together constructively to debate and vote on these very important issues.

Craig Brandist
Sam Marsh
Jess Meacham
Sam Morecroft
Robyn Orfitelli

Autism and Strike Action: Guidance for Autistic Workers and UCU branches

By: Anna Nibbs (University of Sheffield) and Janine Booth (TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee)

Whilst striking can be difficult for anyone, there are extra layers of difficulty for many autistics. By placing autistic (and other disabled) workers front and centre in your plans for industrial action, you’re likely to:

  • improve the experience for all those taking part
  • improve the effectiveness, visibility and reach of the action
  • set a precedent for wider inclusive practice

1. Uncertainty

Because our experience of the world is so overwhelming, we like to be able to have control, plan, and prepare wherever possible. The nature of industrial action means that this is very tricky.

Basic details (eg. dates of action) are often only communicated a matter of weeks before it takes place. Specific details are communicated at even shorter notice, and continue to change up to, and even during, the action. The strike could be called off at the last minute.


Autistic workers:

  • If the employer knows the full details of the union’s action well in advance, then it will have more time to prepare to undermine and defeat your campaign. So please be aware that the union will release some information at relatively short notice.
  • There may be a forum in your branch such as a strike committee. If you get involved, you can be part of making decisions and keep up-to-date with all developments.



  • We understand that If the employer knows the full details of the union’s action well in advance, then it will have more time to prepare to undermine and defeat the strike. But it would help if the union explained this to members, and gave a timetable of what information would be circulated when (and how).
  • The most effective way of communicating decisions that change the course of the action is to involve members in making those decisions. Branches can set up strike committees that discuss and decide tactics such as when and where to picket.
  • If you do this, allocate someone to take written notes during the meeting (not an autistic participant – allow them to focus on one form of communication at a time!) and circulate these to members as soon as possible afterwards. Written information is easier for many autistic people to process.
  • Maintain a ‘strike calendar’ on the branch’s website, social media page and at branch HQ. Include all meetings, pickets, and expected times of decisions and announcements.

2. Discussing our plans

We don’t know whether to tell people our plans or not. The nature of strike action is that no-one needs to communicate their intentions ahead of time – but this is difficult for autistics to deal with!


Autistic workers:

  • You do not have to tell your employer whether you intend to strike. If your managers know what you’re planning to do, they will have more time to prepare, which may contribute to undermining and defeating the wider campaign.
  • If you want to, you can discuss your plans with a union representative.



  • It is important to tell autistic workers that they don’t have to tell the employer their plans, but do explain why this is the case.
  • It may also be useful for branches to brief reps on the sort of issues and questions that autistic workers may like to discuss with them.

3. Financial support

It can be very disconcerting for autistic workers to not know what financial support will be available to them to contribute towards refunding their lost earnings. Many autistics are underpaid and/or overqualified for the roles in which they are working. It may be that a disproportionately large number of autistics are at the lower end of the paygrade spectrum represented by a union such as UCU.

Autistics are more likely to be in insecure employment. We may have co-occurring conditions or impairments: we’re often multiply disabled. Being disabled is expensive. Many of us have reduced, limited or even no disposable income.


Autistic workers:

  • The union may be able to provide you with financial assistance to help offset your loss of wages during the strike. Ask your branch secretary for information.



  • Please circulate information to members about available financial support – if it isn’t possible to do this well in advance, provide a clear timeline of when this information will be available, and how it will be circulated.
  • Because of information overload, and executive functioning difficulties – challenges with planning, prioritising and organising – some autistic members may need additional advice or support with completing forms to request financial support. If possible, anticipate this upfront and plan for this help to be available, with clear information on how to access it.
  • Please also consider taking disability into account when making discretionary payments.
  • As well as money, there are other material ways in which the union can support strikers eg. providing food, transport, childcare, etc.

4. Information overload

This is HUGE. All those last-minute communications. A mishmash of emails, tweets, shared Google Docs, WhatsApp group conversations, websites and so on. Not to mention all the extra conversations going on in the office.

“Like many autistic people, I struggle with information communicated by speech alone – partly because of difficulty processing language in this form, partly because of my poor working memory (once what’s said has been said, it’s gone!).”

Plus, the information overload tends to continue long after the period of official industrial action has finished – particularly if the dispute does not reach a satisfactory resolution.

“I’m going to hold my hand up here and confess that I’ve set up a filter to mark as read and archive all emails sent by UCU nationally.”


Autistic workers:

  • Consider setting up a separate email account specifically for receiving union-related correspondence. This will reduce overload in your work or personal inboxes, and also allow you to avoid checking your work emails during the strike action.
  • You might also want to set up you own folder (electronic or physical) for filing together all the key documents or communications you might need to refer to during the action.



  • Limit long paragraphs of text in all Bullet pointed lists are easier to process for many readers, not just those who are neurodivergent – including time-pressured academics!
  • If there is a lot to communicate, provide the bare minimum in an email message, with clear links to further detail located (securely) elsewhere.
  • Lots of members – including autistics but also those new to picketing – might benefit from a plain English ‘Picketing 101’-type guide, that includes key practicalities on what to expect, some hints and tips on how to respond to passers-by, what happens before, during and after etc.
  • Provide visual as well as text-based information about pickets and other activities taking place during the period of action. The following will be useful:
    • a map of the campus, clearly indicating official picket sites and the locations of key events and activities.
    • photographs of buildings where pickets will be located, as well as venues for ‘teach-outs’ and other events. Don’t assume that members are familiar with every building on campus.
    • route maps for any planned marches
  • It’s also worth providing the same information to Student Unions, to better aid them in inclusively engaging students with supporting the action.
  • Make sure any information communicated by email to members is also published elsewhere, and clearly timestamped and collated. If there are concerns that information being made public might undermine your plans, set up an intranet or Google site with restricted access, or a shared online file-sharing system (eg. Dropbox or Google Drive) where this information can be made available only to members.
  • For local branches: provide clear digests of any information communicated from UCU nationally, as some members may have set up inbox filters to reduce overwhelm. Rather than repeating the information in full, it may be helpful to summarise in bullet points, with clear signposting to the original information source.

5. Information clarity

Autistic people tend to think literally. So jargon, figures of speech and incomplete information can be hard to understand.


Autistic workers:

  • If union communication is not clear, please ask your rep to explain it, or ask for it to be made more clear.



  • Avoid or explain acronyms eg. USS (Universities Superannuation Scheme – our pension scheme). If you explain an acronym when you first use it, you can then use just the acronym for the rest of the text or speech.
  • Consider making a glossary of key acronyms and terms available online – this may also be helpful to newer strikers, students, and other allies.
  • Avoid figures of speech eg. Instead of saying that management have “driven a coach and horses through our agreements”, say that management are “breaking the procedures they agreed with the union”.
  • Give complete information. eg. when the picket finishes as well as when it starts!
  • Try to ensure that union communications are clearly written, with accurate grammar, spelling and punctuation.

6. Sensory overload

Autistic people are often unusually sensitive to noise and other sensory inputs.

“Shouting human voices are one of my worst anxiety triggers. Personally, I really struggle with marches and rallies. I basically don’t take part in them – the shouting, the noise, the crowds, the aggressive tones of voice (even while there’s camaraderie between those present). All of these are likely to bring on a meltdown or panic attack, or contribute to a migraine later on in the day.”

Many autistics are also unusually sensitive to extreme temperatures – either hot or cold. We may also need to move around more than some of our fellow picketers – whether to keep warm, self-regulate or express ourselves.

“Picketing can be really fun. I had a great time the last time I was involved in a picket line dancing in the rain with a load of colleagues. I’m not saying we’re all joyless sad sacks who don’t want to be involved; but much of it is difficult.”

But bear in mind: we may not be able to get as visibly involved as many of our abled peers. We will be far more tired out by the whole process, and will need far more time to rest. Plus, many post-picket social activities emphasise large gatherings in noisy environments – it’s great to get together and keep spirits raised between picketing, but remember that some colleagues may not feel comfortable getting involved in this way.


Autistic workers:

  • Don’t feel pressured to picket if you really aren’t comfortable. There are other ways you can get involved in the struggle. Find out about other activities your branch might be running. If nothing appeals, set up something yourself.
  • If you can take part in face-to-face picketing, do take breaks if you need to. Know your limits, and don’t spread yourself too thinly by agreeing to too much. Schedule some quiet downtime later in the day to recover if you need to.



  • If possible, find a safe room (perhaps in the branch HQ?) that can be designated as a quiet space – this will be helpful not just for autistic strikers, but those with anxiety, and anyone else needing a break from the hubbub. Make sure this is clearly signposted and marked on relevant maps and in any picketing briefing documents.
  • Make the picket itself comfortable. Chairs, shelter and refreshments all help. Braziers in winter and gazebos in summer can help with extreme temperatures.
  • Considering offering some associated activities and events that don’t involve loud verbal communication and social interaction. Some branches organise banner/placard-making workshops. You can be even more creative! Poetry slams, activist crafting workshops, interactive art installations, zine-making, compiling anthologies of writing, blogging/writing/art challenges with daily relevant word prompts … There are plenty of activities and events that can be inclusive and quieter, whilst still fostering camaraderie and solidarity and increasing the impact and visibility of the wider action.
  • Please recognise that for some autistics on strike, physically being on campus during the period of action really is too distressing.
  • Do also recognise, however, that we’re all different. Don’t make assumptions about what we can or can’t do, or how we might be willing to get involved. Do invite us along – sometimes we’re happy to take part; other times we may not be. But we’re the ones who know our limits.
  • Marches can be great, if well-planned. Please try to ensure they are as accessible as possible. Also, chanting slogans is more positive, and less distressing, than blowing whistles.
  • Consider providing printed lyrics for chants or songs that people might want to use, and publishing these online.
  • Arrange a quieter place for autistics, and others who may need it, to meet up a few minutes before joining the main starting location for the march.

7. Action short of strikes

Although it is called ‘action short of strikes’, actions such as refusal to carry out certain tasks can be more difficult to carry out than striking. As well as many of the difficulties (and solutions!) outlined above, there are the added pressures of understanding exactly what the union is asking of you, and of refusing managers’ instructions to their faces.


Autistic workers:

  • Remember that you are legally entitled to take part in official industrial action.
  • Ask your union rep to talk through the action with you. Practise what to say and do.



  • Explain any action short of strikes in detail. As well as written details, you may like to provide a visual, step-by-step guide, like a ‘social story’.
  • Provide a ‘script’ for the worker to say to management when carrying out the action.
  • Outline all possible scenarios and the appropriate responses.
  • Perhaps produce a question-and-action briefing about the action.


8. Industrial action: a difficult decision

Some autistic workers may not feel able to strike or take other action. Because of all of the difficulties mentioned above, some autistics may feel that taking strike action is something they really can’t cope with doing. We hope that the advice given above will make it easier for autistic workers to take part in strikes. It is important for both autistic workers and the union to consider the issues carefully.


Autistic workers:

  • There has been a democratic decision to strike, in which you and your workmates had a vote. It is important to respect the outcome of that vote.
  • The strike is about an important issue. We understand that there are difficulties with striking, such as those outlined above, but if we don’t beat back the employers’ attacks, then we will face far greater difficulties at work: lower pay, more insecure contracts, etc.
  • While some autistic people rely on a strict routine, the fact is that the strike will disrupt your routine whether you take part in it or not. You can make a routine for yourself for the duration of the strike, just as you have a different routine during weekends or holidays than on working days..
  • Many autistics experience intense empathy, and concern for their students or their own dependants may seem to outweigh the demands of the strike. However, many students support our strikes, because they know that their education is better when their educators are treated properly. And we and our families will be better off in the long term by taking effective action.
  • The strike may well win real benefits for all workers. Ask yourself whether it is really fair for people to receive those benefits when they have refused to make the sacrifices that others have made to win them.



  • Seek to persuade and convince workers to join the action. Browbeating is unlikely to work.
  • Answer questions and concerns sympathetically and clearly. Remember that an autistic worker might be concerned about something which has never been raised by other workers, but is nonetheless very important to them.
  • Remember that autistic workers may have extra barriers and issues, such as those described above, and make sure you address these.
  • Do not assume that autistic workers are familiar with the jargon of industrial action, or understand the slogans and demands in the same way that others do. Explain the issues in straightforward terms.
  • Support autistic workers with the difficulties they may have in striking: the branch could allocate a ‘buddy’ to provide reassurance and advice.


Finally, a message to all UCU activists:

The upshot of all this is: be kind to your neurodivergent colleagues and comrades. You may not be able to imagine what their experiences are; you may not understand their perspective.

Try to understand that this time may be very difficult for them. Try to develop a ‘theory of mind’ about how they may be feeling – try to empathise with those whose neurotype differs from your own.

Be kind, but not overbearing. Welcome your autistic comrades to the picket lines, but respect that they might need extra space at times. And recognise that being visible and physically present is not the only way to take action.

PRESS RELEASE: Eight days of strikes at Sheffield Hallam and University of Sheffield on from Monday

Date: Thursday 21 November 2019 for immediate release. Members of the University and College Union at 60 UK universities will walk out from Monday (25 November) to Wednesday 4 December. Disputes are over pay and working conditions, and rising pension costs.

The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University will be hit with eight days of strike action from Monday (25 November) after no agreement could be reached between university representatives and the University and College Union (UCU) over pensions, pay and working conditions.

Striking staff will be on picket lines at all entrances to the University of Sheffield from 8am, including Firth Court, the Hicks Building and Jessop West. At Sheffield Hallam, staff will be on picket lines in the city centre including the Owen Building and entrances on Charles Street, as well as outside Collegiate Hall at the Collegiate Campus on Ecclesall Road.

On Thursday (28 November) striking staff will make their way to a 12pm rally in Barkers Pool where speakers will include UCU general secretary Jo Grady.

Earlier this week, UCU accused universities of playing games after their representatives refused to even discuss pay. The union said things were no better at talks yesterday (Wednesday) over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), where their representatives failed to make a serious offer.

UCU said it feared that universities had learnt nothing from last year’s dispute, when university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action.

Last month, UCU members backed strike action in ballots over both pensions, and pay and working conditions. The results mean that UCU members at 60 UK universities* are walking out on Monday.

The disputes centre on changes to USS pensions and universities’ failure to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads. At the University of Sheffield, members were polled over striking in defence of USS pensions and about pay and conditions. Four in five members (79%) backed strikes over pay and conditions and 84% backed strikes over pensions.

UCU members at Sheffield Hallam are in a different pension scheme and were balloted for strikes over increasing workloads. Three-quarters (76%) of members polled backed strikes. Staff at Sheffield Hallam are also taking action on a local dispute about changes to how work is allocated, which has seen some members’ workloads increase by as much as 15%.

UCU members at both institutions will take eight days’ action from 25 November and begin “action short of a strike”. This involves things like working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.

UCU regional official Julie Kelley said: ‘Strike action is a last resort, but universities’ refusal to deal with these key issues have left us with no alternative. It is staggering and insulting that universities have not done more to work with us to try and find a way to resolve these disputes.

‘We hope students will continue to put pressure on university vice-chancellors to get their representatives back round the negotiating table for serious talks with the union.’

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner has called on both sides to get round the table for talks and the National Union of Students says students stand shoulder to shoulder with staff in the disputes.

Universities affected by strike action from Monday 25 November

Both disputes (43):

1.       Aston University
2.       Bangor University
3.       Cardiff University
4.       University of Durham
5.       Heriot-Watt University
6.       Loughborough University
7.       Newcastle University
8.       The Open University
9.       The University of Aberdeen
10.   The University of Bath
11.   The University of Dundee
12.   The University of Leeds
13.   The University of Manchester
14.   The University of Sheffield
15.   University of Nottingham
16.   The University of Stirling
17.   University College London
18.   The University of Birmingham
19.   The University of Bradford
20.   The University of Bristol
21.   The University of Cambridge
22.   The University of Edinburgh
23.   The University of Exeter
24.   The University of Essex
25.   The University of Glasgow
26.   The University of Lancaster
27.   The University of Leicester
28.   City University
29.   Goldsmiths College
30.   Queen Mary University of London
31.   Royal Holloway
32.   The University of Reading
33.   The University of Southampton
34.   The University of St Andrews
35.   Courtauld Institute of Art
36.   The University of Strathclyde
37.   The University of Wales
38.   The University of Warwick
39.   The University of York
40.   The University of Liverpool
41.   The University of Sussex
42.   The University of Ulster
43.   Queen’s University Belfast


Pay and conditions dispute only (14):

1.       Bishop Grosseteste University

2.       Bournemouth University
3.       Edge Hill University
4.       Glasgow Caledonian University
5.       Glasgow School of Art
6.       Liverpool Hope University
7.       Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts
8.       Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
9.       St Mary’s University College, Belfast
10.   Roehampton University
11.   The University of Oxford
12.   Sheffield Hallam University
13.   The University of Brighton
14.   The University of Kent

USS pensions dispute only (3):

1.       Scottish Association of Marine Science

2.       The University of East Anglia

3.       Institute for Development Studies


University of Sheffield UCU – Jess Meacham m: 07912 301 615; e: jess.meacham@sheffield.ac.uk

Sheffield Hallam UCU – Jane Fearon m: 07597 577917; e: j.fearon@shu.ac.uk; and Deborah Adshead m: 07786 082 428; e: d.adshead@shu.ac.uk

National UCU – Dan Ashley t: 020 7756 2600; m: 07789 518 992; e: dashley@ucu.org.uk