by Tim Lezard Lecturers at 69 universities across the UK are today beginning a marking boycott that will affect more than 1.2million students. The UCU has written to the universities, warning them of even greater sanctions if they dock full pay from th …

markingby Tim Lezard

Lecturers at 69 universities across the UK are today beginning a marking boycott that will affect more than 1.2million students.

The UCU has written to the universities, warning them of even greater sanctions if they dock full pay from the staff involved.

UCU members will stop marking work, returning marks and setting or sitting exams and coursework from today in a row over proposed changes to staff pensions. The union said assessment constituted a minority of work for most academic and professional staff and it would be unjust to fine members 100% of their wages for taking part in the boycott as some hardline institutions propose to do.

The letter, sent by UCU’s head of bargaining, Michael MacNeil, warns institutions that if they take a confrontational approach to pay docking they will “only serve to exacerbate and prolong what is already a bitter dispute” and “cause long-lasting and deep-seated harm to industrial relations at your institution.”

UCU said that as well as a backlash from angry staff it would isolate the worst culprits as pariahs within the global academic community through a full academic boycott – the union’s ultimate sanction that has been used just once before in the union’s history. The last time the union undertook an assessment and marking boycott was in 2006.

So far only the University of York has said it will be levying 100% pay deductions from day one of the dispute. UCU said there are clear splits on the employers’ side with Imperial College proposing to deduct just 25% from staff engaged in the boycott and many other institutions taking care to reserve their right to deduct rather than setting out that intention.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: ‘Docking 100% of pay from staff who are continuing to perform the vast majority of their duties is completely unethical and risks causing greater damage to students’ education. Punitive pay docking could lead to lectures and seminars being cancelled as members refuse to work for free. Any institution docking full pay and claiming it has students’ interests at heart is lying.

 

‘The union is clear that not only will we fully support any members facing punitive pay docking, but we will take steps to isolate the worst offenders as pariahs within the global academic community.

 

‘Universities should be sending a clear message to their Universities UK negotiators that they want them to recognise the strength of views among staff and negotiate seriously before real damage is done both to students and to industrial relations.’

 

In its message to staff Imperial joined the likes of Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick universities in speaking out against UUK’s proposals. Imperial said it was in favour of keeping a defined benefit scheme, which it believes would enhance recruitment and retention packages.

 

Other institutions have criticised UUK’s unnecessarily pessimistic assumptions and how damaging the changes would be in terms of keeping the pension scheme competitive. A group of statisticians said assumptions used by UUK contained “misinformation and a mistake” and were not adequately justified. The employers had previously removed a whole section from a briefing after being accused of massaging figures.

 

The union’s letter also asks universities for an update on their position regarding negotiations in the light of the divisions in recent weeks and sets out an alternative proposals to those offered by UUK.

 


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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