• What is Action Short of Strike (ASOS)?
  • How does ASOS work?
  • Does ASOS count as a breach of my contract?
  • What are ‘additional duties’?
  • What if I can’t complete my weekly duties in the hours specified in my contract?
  • What if my contract doesn’t specify a set number of hours?
  • How long will ASOS go on for?
  • Do I have to notify my employers I’ll be taking ASOS?
  • Will my employers dock my pay for taking ASOS?
  • How can I let people know I am taking ASOS?


  1. What is Action Short of Strike (ASOS)?

ASOS – Action Short of Strike – is a form of action which stops short of the concerted withholding of labour that constitutes a strike, but nevertheless affects certain aspects of the work we do. Working in universities involves an enormous range of unspecified and discretionary duties, which go far beyond the terms of our contracts — whether it’s attending optional meetings, covering for absent colleagues, or just working far longer than the hours we’re paid to perform. ASOS involves refusing to perform just those sorts of voluntary duties. There is an overwhelming mandate for ASOS here in Cambridge. Of the CUCU members who voted back in October, 88.9% supported action short of strike on the Pay and Equality ballot, while for the USS ballot that figure was 90.8%. 


  1. How does ASOS work?

UCU is asking its members to work to contract. That means doing no more or less than is set down in the terms of your contract. Working to contract involves:

  • Working no more than the hours stipulated in your contract, where those hours are expressly stated;
  • Working no more than 48 hours per week — as specified by the Working Time Regulations — where your contract doesn’t explicitly determine your hours;
  • Performing no additional voluntary duties, such as overtime, covering for absent colleagues — anything that you aren’t contractually obliged to do;
  • Setting and marking only the work that is required by your contracts;
  • Not attending meetings where your presence is voluntary;
  • Not rescheduling any lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action, or sharing any materials that would have been covered in those lectures or classes.
  • Not answering emails out of hours.

Essentially, where you have a choice about whether to undertake some work or not, you should choose not to do it.


  1. Does ASOS count as a breach of my contract?

ASOS that is simply working to contract is not normally considered breach of contract. Our ASOS also includes not rescheduling lectures and teaching, not covering for colleagues, and other actions which could be construed as breach of contract, just as strike action is breach of contract. The University have confirmed to us that they are not deducting the pay of members taking ASOS during the current disputes. We will notify members immediately of any changes in the situation.


  1. What are ‘additional duties’?

How you understand this phrase will vary enormously according to what you do and where you work. Essentially, you should ask whether you are being asked to go above and beyond in the course of your job. That may involve a range of activities, including sitting on committees on a voluntary basis, taking on extra administrative responsibilities, standing in for a colleague who is absent, and so on. Deciding what counts as an additional duty, and thus whether you’re obliged to fulfil it, is often difficult. If in doubt, please get in touch with us to ask, at


  1. What if I can’t complete my weekly duties in the hours specified in my contract?

We all know that workloads in universities are unrealistically — and dangerously — high; this situation is central to our current Pay and Equality dispute. Taking ASOS may therefore mean you can’t complete your duties within the hours you’re paid to work. If you can’t finish the duties you’ve been allotted in the time available, stop working, and pick up where you left off in the following week. If your manager asks why your duties were not completed, you should tell them that they could not be finished within the limits of your contractual hours. ASOS isn’t a question of not doing those duties, it’s about when you do them. If you cannot complete all the work you have been asked to do, you should request that your manager draws up a list of priorities, preferably in writing, the tasks you are expected to prioritise. If you are a manager, you may need to do this for other staff. If you have difficulties with this, you should speak to your own manager about what priorities should be set.


  1. Working to contract and stress due to excessive workloads

If you are experiencing stress due to excessive workloads or other demands, you should raise this with your line manager. The University’s Managing Stress and Promoting Wellbeing at Work policy does not explicitly cover excessive workloads, but by reporting we can make a start with registering this issue with HR and the Safety Office. 


  1. What if my contract doesn’t specify a set number of hours?

‘Working to contract’ is tricky for people whose contracts are unclear in the hours and duties they demand, let alone for people who don’t have contracts at all. Many contracts include a clause which requires you to work ‘any reasonable hours’ to perform your duties, or something along those lines. UCU’s legal advice is that university employees are covered by the Working Time Regulations, which give people the right to work no more than an average of 48 hours in any seven-day period. Unless you have specifically waived that right in your contract, you can stop working once you have completed 48 hours of work in any week. 


  1. How long will ASOS go on for?

We’ll be taking action short of strike for as long as the two disputes, on Pay and Equality and on USS, continue to run. Both disputes will be kept under constant review, and UCU will keep members updated about any progress and further steps.


  1. Do I have to notify my employers I’ll be taking ASOS?

No. If they ask, you should tell them that you are taking action short of strike; but you do not have to tell them in advance that you’ll be taking it, or how long you’ll be taking it for. A number of departments have requested that staff fill in a Participation Form, which asks for precisely this information. Our advice is not to fill in that form. Instead, you can find an alternative UCU Participation Form on our website, based on the University’s template, but without its unnecessary questions. If asked, fill in and submit this UCU form instead.


  1. Will my employers dock my pay for taking ASOS?

During last year’s USS strikes, the University confirmed that it would not be deducting pay for any staff taking action short of strike. We have written to the University to seek confirmation that the same policy will be in place this time round, and will let members know as soon as they respond. We see no reason it should not be.


  1. How can I let people know I am taking ASOS?

You might want to include something like the following as part of your email signature, or as an auto-reply when you’re out of the office:


Please note I am ‘working to contract’ as part of the UCU industrial action to defend our pensions and fight for fair pay and equality. This may mean it takes longer for me to respond to emails. You can find out more about the dispute at: