As you may know, the University and College Union (UCU) has voted to hold a nation wide strike that will potentially affect teaching and examinations here at the Royal College of Art (RCA) this week on Wednesday the 25th of May 2016 and on Thursday the 26th of May 2016. We would like to take this opportunity to provide you with some information that might help you to determine whether you want to support their actions; what the so-called picket line is in case you are unfamiliar; and the position of the RCA Students’ Union (RCA SU) on the issue.
The three basic points of this post are:
Those members of RCA academic staff who are also members of UCU will go on strike this week on Wednesday the 25th of May 2016 and on Thursday the 26th of May 2016, because of a disagreement about pay. This will mean that there will be a potential disruption to teaching and examinations.
During the strike, there will be picket lines outside the entrances to the RCA, where striking members of UCU will be asking students and staff to not cross the line – meaning to enter into the building. Please remember that you have a right to enter the College and that there are legally binding principles of lawful picketing that are defined by its Code of Practice. You also have the right to support the strike, if you so choose.
RCA SU has not voted to officially support the dispute and echoes the call from the National Union of Students (NUS) that urges all interested parties to return to the negotiating table, to ensure a fair, sustainable offer can be agreed.
To give more detail, firstly we would like to highlight why there is a strike and what actions have been taken by both sides to avoid it. In Britain, the amount that higher education staff, including those employed at the RCA, is paid is agreed nationally between the higher education trade unions (which includes the two RCA-recognised unions UCU and Unite the Union) and the Universities and College Employers Association (UCEA). UCU submitted an initial proposal on the 8th of February 2016, which included a 5% increase to pay, minimum pay for external examiners and a demand for institutions to close the gender pay gap by 2020. The UCEA was unable to meet those expectations, and offered instead a 1,1% increase to wages, the potential of further joint negotiation on the gender pay gap, and no agreement on external examiner pay rates or minimum rates of pay for each occupational group. Their response was announced in two phases between the 23rd of March 2016 and the 28th of April 2016. In the meantime, UCU announced that it would hold a ballot to determine whether to go on strike. Out of the estimated 116,000 UCU members, 21,141 took part in the ballot and 77.3% of these voted for the UCU to take industrial action i.e. to organise a strike. In summary, the UCU’s arguments were met with disagreement from the UCEA.
Secondly, it is important for us to highlight what will happen during the strike and what your rights are as a student. RCA members of UCU and their sympathisers will hold a picket line(s) outside entrances to the RCA, where they will be expressing reasons for lawfully going on strike. It is important to be aware that those occupying the picket line do not have the right to prevent you from crossing it or to intimidate you. The Code of Practice: Picketing referenced below clearly defines legal obligations of the picketers. You can choose to support the strike, either by not attending the College on those days or by joining these strikers on the picket line.
And last but not least, we would like to clarify the RCA SU’s position on the issue. Although student representatives raised a request to distribute more information about the strike at the last SU Assembly on the 9th of May 2016, our members have neither proposed nor passed any motion either in support of or against the strike. As such, our only wish is that any potential disruption caused to the RCA students could have been avoided.
We hope that it is now clearer to you as to why the UCU called the strike and the UCEA’s position, what the picket line is, and that you are fully informed as to your right to either support it, or to cross it without feeling or being threatened.
Lou, Mila and Ritz
Sabbatical Officers, RCA Students’ Union
 “We (NUS) will be calling on both UCU, the other HE trade unions, and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) – who negotiate on behalf of universities – to return to the negotiating table, to ensure a fair, sustainable offer can be agreed.” – Megan Dunn – NUS President : email to UK Students’ Unions dated 9 May 2016
 The Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association is the employers’ association for universities and colleges of higher education in the United Kingdom, includig RCA. http://www.ucea.ac.uk/en/membership/ucea-member-heis/q–r.cfm
 Electoral Reform Services: Independent Scrutineers’ Report of Voting https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/7423/HE-pay-ballot-2016-scrutineer-report/pdf/ersreport_henationalballot_may16.pdf
 UCU states that “Insecure employment is a massive problem with 75,000 university staff on ‘casualised’ contracts (over 21,000 staff are on zero hours contracts); Gender inequality is a serious problem with male university staff earning on average 12.6% more than female counterparts; Since 2009 the value of our pay has declined in real terms by 14.5%; and Vice-chancellors (Rectors) are paid 6.4 times more than the average member of staff.“ – UCU Please support a fair deal – information leaflet for students https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/8152/Please-support-a-fair-deal—information-leaflet-for-students/pdf/ucuheaction2016_studentleaflet.pdf
 UCEA have stated that the real value of the final pay offer is well ahead of inflation and provides increases of 1.6% or more to 45,000 staff employed on the lower pay points and claims that “…employer negotiating team is clear that it is making the very best offer that will be available in this year’s negotiations.” – UCEA – Employers’ final offer – 19 May 2016 http://www.ucea.ac.uk/download.cfm/docid/AE097E96-92CB-4E9C-9E6A79ED894BB43B
 “A picket line is where workers and union reps (‘picketers’ or ‘pickets’) stand outside a workplace to tell other people why they are striking. Pickets may also ask people not to do some of their usual work (and/or) go into work. Pickets must not prevent people from going to work or doing their usual work if they want to do so.” – Taking part in industrial action and strikes https://www.gov.uk/industrial-action-strikes/going-on-strike-and-picketing
It states that “It’s a criminal offence for pickets to use threatening or abusive behavior to people walking past or crossing the picket line; block people or vehicles trying to get into the workplace which is on strike (called ‘causing an obstruction’ by police); carry weapons; damage property; cause or threaten to cause a ‘breach of the peace’; try to block roads near the picket line (called ‘causing an obstruction to the public highway’); (and) try to stop the police who are outside the workplace from doing their job.” – Taking part in industrial action and strikes https://www.gov.uk/industrial-action-strikes/going-on-strike-and-picketing