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University marking boycott begins despite 'lock out' threats

20 May 2022

UCU urged vice-chancellors to revoke pension cuts and meet staff demands for improvements to pay and working conditions as it confirmed that more than 20 universities will proceed to a marking boycott on Monday despite threats of 100% pay deductions from some rogue bosses.

The boycott means university staff will stop marking work, returning marks and setting or sitting exams and coursework. The graduations of well over 100,00 students are set to be disrupted.

UCU also warned rogue bosses against docking pay and using external contractors to bus in unqualified workers to mark work during the boycott.

It has been reported that Queen Mary, University of London is considering using external contractors to mark work during the boycott. And many universities are also threatening to dock staff pay and some, such as the University of Dundee and the University of Sheffield say they may withhold 100% of pay. UCU said this is tantamount to a lock out, in which employers take measures to prevent staff from working, would poison relationships with staff and could cause further disruption.

Last month, 85.9% of university staff who voted in the pay and working conditions dispute backed taking industrial action, including a marking and assessment boycott, alongside almost nine in ten (88.1%) of university staff who voted in the pension dispute. 

The boycott comes after university staff have taken up to 18 days of strike action in the two disputes so far this academic year. Despite this, university employers have forced through University Superannuation Scheme pension cuts which will see 35% slashed from a typical member's guaranteed retirement income. UCU is demanding that employers revoke their cuts.

Employers have also refused to meet UCU's demands in the pay and working conditions dispute.  The union is demanding an end to race, gender and disability pay injustice; a framework to eliminate zero-hours and other insecure contracts; and meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads; as well as a £2.5k pay rise for all university employees.

New inflation figures mean UCU estimates staff pay is now down by more than a quarter in real terms since 2009. Over 70k academics are employed on insecure contracts. The gender pay gap in UK universities sits at 16%, whilst the disability pay gap is 9% and the race pay gap is up to 17%.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Our members choose to work in universities because they love working with and supporting students, and no staff member is taking this action lightly. But cuts to pensions, low pay, insecure contracts and exhausting workloads have pushed staff to breaking point. The marking boycott is a last resort for staff who feel like they have no other choice. The fault lies solely with university bosses who are choosing to let students suffer by refusing to deal with the issues that blight higher education. We urge vice-chancellors to use the sector's huge financial reserves to resolve the dispute and avoid any further disruption.

'Any vice chancellor who is considering locking out staff participating in a lawful boycott needs to think again, this will only further poison relations between staff and management and could lead to further disruption. Likewise, any university threatening to bus in external workers to mark work they know nothing about needs to stop now or risk doing lasting damage to the value of its degrees.'

The universities being hit with the marking boycott are listed here.

Last updated: 25 May 2022