Post from an email sent to all members 12 June 2023 by branch president Chloe Wallace
This post contains important information and updates about strike action and the marking and assessment boycott. We are in the process of preparing for strike action starting this Thursday (June 15th). The message below, which is an important update, emphasises the importance of regular meetings to discuss progress. Committee has called a general meeting for 3pm on Thursday – the first day of our strike- to allow us to come together, share updates and discuss what is going on. Further meetings will be called as necessary. The Zoom link for Thursday is in the email sent 12 June 2023.
Update on strike action
What is going on:
UCU members whose roles include marking and assessment are participating in a marking and assessment boycott (MAB) in order to get the employers’ association UCEA to come back to the negotiating table with a better offer on pay, and pay-related conditions (anti-casualisation, workloads, pay inequalities) than the one collectively rejected by UCU members across the UK, in April.
Instead of negotiating with UCU, employers including University of Leeds have decided to escalate this action with wildly disproportionate and punitive deductions across the whole sector.
Our vice chancellor has gone the extra mile on this. The University of Leeds is among the employers pushing the hardest line and is pursuing their threat of disproportionate, punitive 100% deductions for participating in the marking and assessment boycott (MAB).
In order to do this legally, the university has to reject partial performance of our employment contract, meaning that any work we do after the date they specify will be voluntary. They clearly expect us to continue to work – as evidenced by the level of activity that is going on – and thus to work without pay. This may go on for 3 or 4 months. Senior management are already taking the steps required to deduct pay from some colleagues from the end of May, and more will come.
The vice chancellor has further raised the stakes for both staff and students by refusing to meet with our branch officers to negotiate a way forward. She has reiterated her intent to continue with 100% deductions. The branch has actively requested an additional meeting of the Joint Committee of the University and UCU to discuss the situation. The university has failed to arrange one which is a breach of our recognition agreement. This is an unacceptable abdication of responsibility.
The vice chancellor does have the power to act to address the root causes of our dispute over pay and pay-related conditions. Rather than remaining silent, she should play a constructive role in publicly encouraging UCEA to return to the negotiating table. We know this is possible: other VCs are pursuing this route.
Our strike at the University of Leeds has been called in response to the unacceptable, totally disproportionate and punitive threat of 100% salary deduction for participating in the Marking and Assessment Boycott. The VC must urgently agree to meet our branch negotiators.
Ultimately, the decision of when and on what grounds to call off the action will be taken by the members. Please be prepared to attend any meetings at short notice to discuss this: we recommend that, if you do not already receive UCU emails to a non-university email address, you change your contact details via My UCU now so that you can keep up with what is going on.
Why was the Marking and Assessment Boycott called?
A Marking and Assessment Boycott is a powerful form of industrial action which our national pensions negotiators credit with having shifted employers’ positions last year on USS and putting us on track to reinstating our pension benefits. So it’s not surprising that employers, with the encouragement of the University and College Employee Association (UCEA), are trying to scare us into backing down as we use the MAB to fight for better pay and conditions.
We know our action is effective locally. Many modules, including a lot at Level 3, are currently being significantly affected across departments in all faculties. We know it is effective nationally, as many universities are scrambling to deal with the impact, or are showing up at the negotiating table with their local UCU branches.
Our sibling union Unison has also called strike action from 15th -18th and 22nd-28th June to fight alongside us on pay and pay related conditions. Together, we can mutually amplify our voices and refuse to accept the current state of affairs.
Who is affected by the current action?
Unlike our earlier strikes, this university decision to dock pay for Marking and Assessment Boycott participation doesn’t affect every UCU member in our branch. There are many members who don’t participate in marking or assessment as part of their role. As a result of the punitive 100% deduction threats for MAB, our strike action calls on all members to stand together and not be divided by the university’s shameful strategy. We can all show our support for the fight for better pay and conditions. We will not let our fellow members be picked off one by one through these punishing pay deductions by university management, because these measures were undoubtedly designed to deter and divide us.
How is University management dealing with the Marking and Assessment Boycott?
The university claims to care about students getting their grades and graduating while at the same time removing and undermining quality assurance. They would rather devalue degrees in this way than meet with the union or take a leading role in encouraging UCEA back to the negotiating table to discuss the legitimate and existential issues raised by the union in this dispute.
Senior management teams at universities including Cambridge, Sussex, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have written joint statements with their UCU branches calling on UCEA to rethink its position on national negotiations on pay, anti-casualisation, workloads and equal pay. Meanwhile the University of Leeds is playing fast and loose with the quality of student’s degrees in an attempt to undermine the boycott. Codes of Practice on Assessment are being updated to remove double marking and allow non experts and inexperienced markers to mark. This particularly impacts dissertations and final year projects, which form a substantial part of a Leeds degree. Many students are likely to process at graduation this summer with only an ‘explanatory letter’.
We know our action is already having a strong impact on the university, and that a better university is possible.
Boycotters, hold firm. Everybody – join the strike, and push back hard
This page was last updated on 12 June 2023