Help & support

Help & support

Aberdeen UCU Reps and Caseworkers are volunteers that have specialist training to help and support members on individual and collective matters at work. We define our support in two ways: advice and representation

  • Advice - providing, explaining and signposting to resources relating to your work issue.
  • Representation - for more complex cases where you get a dedicated caseworker that works with you throughout the case, attends meetings with you and represents your position.

All UCU members are entitled to advice from the moment they join and we will assess and feedback on all casework requests including a referral to UCU Legal, if required.

Volunteer as a caseworker

What do we check when assessing and prioritising casework requests?

  • You must be up to date with your membership subscription at the correct rate - you can check and update your membership through My UCU.
  • Your work issue must have occurred after joining UCU.
  • For new joiners where the work issue arose prior to joining UCU we will factor in:
    • If a case is of collective nature (ie. it involves multiple UCU members) and/or if it has significant legal and/or collective implications.
    • If a case warrants a referral to UCU Legal (note that the majority of cases do not require legal services and are resolved locally).
      • If you joined UCU as a new member at the earliest opportunity a work issue arose and the issue is an accepted referral to the UCU legal scheme, you may be asked to pay a year's subscription in order to receive legal services. Advice will not be provided about matters which occurred when you were not a member.

When should I ask for support?

At the earliest opportunity. If there is a legal implication to your case there are strict time limits (usually 3 months' minus a day) relative to the date of the 'event' so it's important to raise casework requests as soon as possible to give you timely advice and to help us prioritise your request with our volunteer caseworkers.

What kind of issues do you typically support members with?

Every case is different - sometimes it's a gentle reminder to management to follow policy correctly, sometimes it can be supporting members through more complex cases including legal support. Examples of issues include:

  • Redundancy avoidance
  • Stress, bullying and harassment
  • Grievances
  • Disciplinary
  • Contract (fixed term, zero hours etc)
  • Workload
  • Sickness absence
  • Discrimination 
  • Student complaints


Employed Postgraduates

Do you work as a tutor, teaching assistant, researcher, demonstrator, invigilator or do any other paid work for the university? Know your rights!  Any postgrad who teaches is entitled to Full Membership of UCU FREE for up to four years.  No strings attached - just a brilliant offer and our way of supporting our most vulnerable group of workers.  As a full member you have access to all of the benefits of membership including personal case support.

National UCU support

Teaching Assistants represented by the UCU have won better pay, more reasonable estimates of the hours they work, regular wage rises experience, reductions to the number of students in tutorials, and more stable employment contracts.

UCU is the main union representing hourly-paid teaching staff - including at the University of Aberdeen.

Nationally, UCU negotiates annual pay increases which are applied to all staff, including those on hourly-paid contracts. We also negotiate local terms and conditions of employment.

Local AUCU support

Locally AUCU supported a campaign by postgraduates employed as Teaching Assistants in the School of Social Science. This resulted in a major pay rise because the School was forced to recognise all the marking, administration, preparation and course evaluation work that Teaching Assistants undertake. Now, a Teaching Assistant teaching 3 tutorial groups will be paid for 88 hours of work instead of the previous level of 62 hours.

Teaching Assistants in that School now also receive a pay rise for each year of experience and the School will pay for TAs to become an Associate of the Higher Education Academy (a teaching accreditation). The School also agreed to reduce the number of students in each tutorial, which will benefit everyone.

Young Members

UCU now has 10,000 folk signed up to the ‘Young Members Network’.

Young members have their own section of the UCU website called ‘All In it Together’ This page is designed to be an easily accessible 'one stop shop' for young members who want to get more active in the union and also to provide members at the start of their careers with useful professional support and career development resources.

Resources for young members

Hourly Paid Staff

UCU's hourly paid survival guide uses the experience and advice of our hourly-paid members to provide a practical resource for staff on these kinds of contracts.
It outlines the rights of hourly paid staff and what they can expect from their institutions

  • offers practical advice on how to survive difficult employment conditions
  • suggests ways in which to seek improvements
  • explains what UCU is trying to achieve
  • offers a range of support options.

The guide provides a great opportunity to recruit new members and organise so that hourly paid members are better-represented in their union and increase UCU's ability to achieve much-needed improvements for hourly paid staff in your branch.


UCU offers specific training for postgraduate and early careers members. Example from last year in Scotland are:

Course 1: There's no need to shout!

This 1 day practical interactive workshop is aimed at members who are involved in teaching. It looks at how to boost vocal capability and clarity in your learning environment. Advice is also given on how to use the voice in a positive, calm and assertive manner to help manage student behaviour.

Course 2: Assertiveness

This course is aimed at members who want to develop their understanding of what constitutes effective communication and behaviour. The course seeks to help individuals create a tool kit of assertiveness techniques and skills that can be drawn on in challenging situations.

Course 3: Managing student behaviour from the start!

This 1 day course is aimed at UCU members starting off in their careers in tertiary education. The course is specifically for those who are involved in teaching and face challenging student behaviour.

If you would be interested in any training, please contact | 01224 272377

Teaching Fellows

AUCU commissioned a survey of Teaching Fellows at the University of Aberdeen because of the number of casework issues being raised with the branch by this group of staff.

The results of the survey are available here.

Fixed Term & Casualised

Open-ended contracts

As a result of a tribunal won by a member (supported by UCU) against University of Aberdeen all staff at the University who are employed for longer than 9 months are now employed on 'open-ended contracts'.

Key points

  • The open-ended contract does not specify a termination date for employment at the University. If you are engaged on a project that has a specific timeline then consultation will begin before the end of your expected project completion date to assess future employment opportunities beyond that project
  • You will receive notice that your post is at risk of redundancy at least 5 months before the activities that you are engaged on are due to conclude. During these 5 months you, your line manager and University's HR department will investigate opportunities for you to continue your employment at the institution
  • If your post is at risk of redundancy you will be placed on the University's Redeployment Register and be able to apply for any new posts that are due to be advertised at the University two weeks in advance of other internal and external candidates
  • As part of the redeployment process you will have at least two meetings with your line manager where you will have the opportunity to discuss your circumstances. The University provides career development advice and support, both internally via HR and the Careers Service and externally with third party consultants
  • If you are offered a position which is considered to be suitable alternative employment you will need appropriate justification for declining it. The University has a statutory obligation to mitigate redundancy and you may jeopardise your redundancy payment if you unreasonably reject redeployed positions. You are strongly advised to participate in the process by attending meetings with your line manager and HR
  • All individuals facing redundancy have the right of appeal under the University's appeals procedure
  • Any member of staff could be at risk of redundancy if the work for which they are initially engaged ceases or diminishes or if institutional funding diminishes

Is your post or your funding coming close to an end?

If so, you can apply for other posts, and be interviewed, in advance of the general job advert going out.

This is a significant advantage negotiated by UCU and has helped many people retain employment here.

But the time window for those applications is extremely short, so you should try to keep checking the list of redeployment vacancies on the website.

Sometimes there are suitable posts organised through different Schools.

Several people have recently lost out on these redeployment opportunities because the deadline passed before they noticed the suitable post.

If you are a UCU member and would like support with this issue you should contact | 01224 272377 so that you can be provided with help through personal casework assistance.

A full copy of the Employment Tribunal Report can be read here.

Group Issues

AUCU offers support to specific membership groupings with concerns. Examples include:

  • Fixed Term Staff: As a result of confusion over the form of contracts offered to colleagues on external, limited funding and the associated redundancy avoidance of process, AUCU organised open meetings for all affected staff across the University to clarify the nature of these contracts and hear members' concerns about the process.
  • Teaching Assistants: AUCU recently supported a campaign by postgraduates employed as Teaching Assistants in the School of Social Science. The campaign resulted in a pay rise for these staff because the School was forced to recognise all the marking, administration, preparation and course evaluation work that Teaching Assistants undertook.


Organisational Negotiation

At an organisational level AUCU has negotiated numerous policies and procedures with the University including:

  • Promotions procedure
  • Avoidance of redundancy
  • Staff contracts
  • Discipline
  • Grievance
  • Health and Safety
  • Environmental issues

Protected Conversations

  1. I have just had a protected conversation, what do I do?

    Come and seek help from us and we will support you – email and we will arrange to get casework support in place ASAP.  Please note, this service is ONLY AVAILABLE TO MEMBERS.

    Next, have a read of the ACAS guidance on protected conversations – this is a useful resource and covers everything you need to know.  For a simple guide to protected conversations, have a look at this legal blog – written in clear English, it is also very useful.
  2. Is this even legal for the University to have these conversations?

    Yes, it is.  We understand that Heads of School and senior line managers have been given specific training on holding Protected Conversations.
  3. Where can I find information about protected conversations?

    The Acas guidance is very helpful and we recommend you have a read of it.  In addition, there is a useful and clearly written legal blog which explains key points on protected conversations.
  4. Can I refuse to take part in a “protected conversation”?

    You can refuse to take part, and you can leave the meeting at any time if you feel that you are being put under pressure or bullied in any way.
  5. When a manager / HoS initiates a protected conversation, is it the case that they are obliged to give the staff member a chance to have another member of staff in the meeting to support them?

    It is just “good practice” and they are not legally obliged to allow you to have a colleague or TU rep with you for support. Paragraph 13 of the Acas guidance covers this.
  6. What if I’m away at a conference abroad and my Head of School insists of having this conversation by phone?

    We can’t see any explicit reference to telephone meetings being ruled out in either of the above sources. Paragraph 13 of the Acas guide states that the parties may find face-to-face meetings helpful. Our feeling is that, if the member of staff is normally based on a University campus in Aberdeen, then it would be unreasonable to expect them to make a decision before they have returned and been able to make any consultation that they wish to make (see paragraphs 4(c), 12 & 18(e)(i) in the Acas guidance).
  7. What if I am still on probation?  Do I have any additional protection?

    We are awaiting guidance on this
  8. What if I am on maternity leave?

    We are awaiting guidance on this
  9. What if I am off sick when my HoS wants to meet me?

    If you are signed off sick you should not be coming into work.  Ask your HoS to defer the meeting till you are well and have returned to work. 
  10. If I refuse to sign off on an offer made in course of a protected conversation what will happen?

    If there is no extant dispute between employer and employee, and the employer has stated (bearing in mind that this will need to be proven) that the employee will be made redundant if the offer is not accepted, then that would appear to be undue pressure (paragraph 18(e)(ii)). Where that intention (will be made redundant) has not been stated clearly, however, the situation is not clear-cut. Your HoS might be able to argue, on the basis of paragraph 19 in the Acas guide, that they are simply laying out, in neutral terms, what might happen if you don’t take the package.

    The Acas guidance states unequivocally that “The employee must have received advice from a relevant independent Adviser” (paragraph 4(c)). Our reading is that no agreement can be binding if this is not permitted. If the employee was not able to take a colleague (who does not have to be a union member) to the meeting, then it might be worthwhile asking the HR rep who was present to draw up a note of the meeting and to send it to both parties for their approval. UK law covers these matters - the relevant legislation is “section 111A of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA)”.

    Our understanding of the Acas guide suggests that any agreement could possibly be invalidated if it was improperly arrived at (eg if you were put under unde pressure to accept the offer), but we suspect that doing so would be very difficult.
  11. I understand that any settlement will be kept confidential.  I have agreed to the settlement package but I don’t feel comfortable lying to my colleagues about why I am leaving so is there a form of words I can use that lets people know why I am leaving without being dishonest, but also not breaching the confidentiality element of the settlement?

    Extract from Law at Work, 2018 (Labour Research Dept), p471

     “Settlement agreements often include promises to keep the terms confidential, especially the settlement sum, only disclosing it to immediate family.  A claimant who breaks this kind of term risks losing the whole settlement sum (Fahim Imam-Sadeque v Bluebay Asset Management Services Ltd [2012] EWHC 3511 QB)”

    It’s pretty clear – it is best not to discuss your exit from employment if that’s agreed via settlement, with anyone other than a spouse or your immediate family.  If you are leaving employment having signed such an agreement, you could explain it to colleagues by saying that it was a personal decision to move on… perhaps to take up new career challenges or completely change direction career-wise.

  12. Can I refer to a Settlement Agreement being offered to me if I reject the offer

    If you have a potential claim for any type of discrimination due to a “protected characteristic” – such as age, disability, maternity, pregnancy, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation – or claims for automatic unfair dismissal such as whistleblowing or for raising health and safety issues then these “off the record” conversations and documents can be brought to the attention of an Employment Tribunal.

    For example, if you are offered a Settlement Agreement because you informed the employer that you were pregnant, or because you are an older employee who has reached a certain age and the employer is trying to encourage you to retire, then all of your discussions would be admissible at Tribunal, however much the employer insisted they were “off the record” or “without prejudice”. In addition, if there has been “improper conduct” by the employer, then they cannot keep these offers and negotiations secret.

    Improper conduct covers a number of situations, including putting undue pressure on you. Examples of this are all forms of bullying, harassment and intimidation, all forms of victimisation, and not giving a reasonable period of time for you to consider whether to accept the offer of a Settlement Agreement – Acas recommends 10 calendar days.
  13. If I agree to a settlement offer, should I have it checked by a lawyer? How much will this cost?

    Yes, any settlement agreement should be checked by a lawyer.  UCU has a firm of lawyers that we recommend but you can use your own lawyer if you prefer.  It is normal practice for the University to agree to meet the cost of getting this check done so it shouldn’t cost you anything.

Frequently Asked Questions

What sort of things can the union help me with?

Remember - you have to be a member before we can offer help, advice or support!

Dealing with problems in the workplace

Illness, stress and injury

Discrimination, bullying and harassment

Support for fixed term and hourly paid workers

Intellectual property rights

Disciplinaries, dismissal and redundancies

Employment tribunals

  • The UCU's Legal Support Review Panel may determine to provide legal representation by way of a solicitor or barrister.

I don't want anyone to know that I am having problems. Can you keep it "low profile"?

Yes, of course. All of our personal case workers are trained in handling difficult situations with sensitivity and discretion. If you prefer, we can arrange to call you on a personal phone rather than on your work number, and can organise meetings away from the workplace. If at all possible, we'll allocate a caseworker from outwith your own discipline too