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May 2023 - Industrial Action Information

Here's some information about the previous industrial action undertaken by UCU at SOAS.

InformationHub

Here's some information about the previous industrial action undertaken by UCU at SOAS.

Why are the UCU undertaking industrial action?

UCU members at SOAS are undertaking industrial action over pay and working conditions and the USS pension dispute, although the currently action is suspended nationally in relation to the USS Pension Dispute. The pay and working conditions dispute relates to pay not rising in line with inflation which has resulted in a real world pay cut which has continued over a number of years.

Alongside this there has been an increase in workload as student numbers and expectations increase. UCU are asking for an increase in pay of at least inflation +2% or 12% whichever is higher. Visit the SOAS UCU Twitter here.

 

What is happening and when?

In addition to the Marking and Assessment Boycott, SOAS UCU members are undertaking strike action over the following few weeks. This is in relation to the pay and working conditions disputes and follows SOAS managements decision to withhold 100% of pay of staff participating in the Marking and Assessment Boycott. The upcoming strike dates are 24th, 25th, 26th, 30th, 31st May, 1st, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th June. In April, the University and Colleges Union (UCU), who represent many academics and support staff at universities across the UK (United Kingdom) announced plans for nationwide Action Short of Strike, also known as ASOS.

ASOS includes a Marking and Assessment Boycott, sometimes referred to as MAB. This started on the 20th April and will be continuous until the end of the mandate (six months after the ballot calling industrial action closed) or earlier if the disputes are settled, or UCU decides to call off the action.

 

What does the Marking and Assessment boycott and ASOS mean?

Action Short of Strike is where staff take action different to a strike, this currently includes: working to contract l not covering for absent colleagues removing uploaded materials related to, and/or not sharing materials related to, lectures or classes that will be or have been cancelled as a result of strike action not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action not undertaking any voluntary activities marking and assessment boycott.

 

The Marking and Assessment Boycott

The Marking and Assessment Boycott was withdrawn on the 6th September 2023. Prior to this the UCU had stated the following “UCU members in higher education institutions which are part of the pay and working conditions dispute to cease undertaking all summative marking and associated assessment activities/duties. The boycott also covers assessment-related work such as exam invigilation and the processing of marks.”

You can expect it to:

Cover all levels undergraduate, postgraduate taught and postgraduate research.

Including PhD final Vivas and MPhil to PhD progression Impact all methods of study including full-time, part-time and distance learning Impact all forms of assessment including traditional essay marking, laboratory and other practical assessments.

Include setting examinations and assessment questions, invigilating exams, marking and moderating paper/assessments, providing informal guidance/feedback to students relating to their likely marks of summative assessment, processing marks, record marks and communicating them to staff/students, attend or participate in exam boards.

Impact plagiarism hearings and appeals.

 

What is the SU's stance on the strikes and Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB)?

Students voted to support the Marking and Assesment Boycott in the 2023 Summer Preferenda. This included: Carrying out a successful MAB will require solidarity and coordination across the university community. The student union can play an important role here - informing students about the reasons for it, reassuring students about the consequences and being unwavering in their support for the MAB. The Student Union should defend students from any retaliation from management.

Fundamentally, university workers must know that we back them 100%. We should organise more forums to discuss strategies in conjunction with UCU members in the dispute, social events to build community, protests to pressure management, spread the word amongst any students who are less informed and encourage student/staff dialogue. This should be consistent throughout the year. We should also take inspiration from the growing number of workers taking strike action in different sections, particularly other education unions - we should invite representatives to campus events to share experience and build common strategies. The Student Union should specifically hold events informing International Students about the MAB, raising awareness and discussing their concerns such as fees and visa requirements.

The Student Union should play a role in coordinating a response to ensure that there is a central place for information and that there is place for different groups, departments and Student Reps to come together. SOAS SU’s members have previously voted to support UCU members undertaking industrial action, this has included: Giving full and public support on industrial action undertaken by UCU and UNISON. Requesting that the SOAS Director and Chief Operating Officer lobby UUK and UCEA to end the pensions and pay and working conditions disputes respectively. Keeping students informed and how they can take action to influence these negotiations to a fair resolution for UCU members. Lobbying the university to ensure that any pay deducted is placed in a hardship fund for students. Supporting students during the strikes, providing welfare and advice for those who need it.

Respecting the picket line. Developing, in coordination with SOAS UCU, UNISON and others, forms of solidarity action. Gaining assurances from SOAS Senior Management Team that no student will be adversely impacted by the strike when it comes to graduation and continuation in their studies.

 

Who decides staff member's pay?

Pay negotiations take place through national pay bargaining process agreed between representatives from the trade unions (including UCU, Unison and two others) and UCEA (University and Colleges Employers Association), rather than at a local department or institution level.

SOAS is a member of UCEA, and UCEA conduct pay negotiations on behalf of their member institutions. So, the decisions on pay come through UCEA, but their members are not passive bystanders to what UCEA do: UCEA “is the voice of HE employers on pay and reward” (from ‘our work’ on the UCEA website). Updates on the pay negotiations including the official letter from UCEA are online here; the UCU updates on negotiations are here. Updates from UCEA are here.

However, around the UK institutions at a local level have increased staff pay through other methods. At Glasgow University they moved all staff up by one spinal point on the payscale. That meant a permanent pay increase while still being part of national pay bargaining structure. London Weighting is a portion of pay to mitigate against the high cost of living in London, and that is not part of national bargaining – it is decided locally by each individual institution. So increasing London Weighting is a SOAS-management decision.

 

What can I do to show support to the UCU members undertaking ASOS/MAB?

Email the Director using UCU’s template Email your MP to put pressure on the university using UCU’s tempate Make a donation to the UCU fighting fund Share your support on social media and get involved with student groups who are supporting such as SOAS Solidarity

 

Will the SU and Campus remain open during the strikes, and should I come onto campus?

Yes, campus and the SU will remain open, and you should still come onto campus and attend/organise events. At this time, there is no strike action taking place and the campus is not being picketed.

 

What is the University doing to staff participating in ASOS/MAB?

SOAS have stated that they will withhold 100% of the pay of any employee undertaking a marking and assessment boycott continuously starting from the 20th April as this is considered a breach of contract. They have stated that any work undertaken by staff participating in the boycott will be done voluntarily and without entitlement to pay. SOAS will not currently be taking action against staff undertaking the following forms of ASOS Working to contractual duties and not undertaking any voluntary activities. Not covering for absent colleagues. Not rescheduling classes and lectures cancelled due to strike action. Removing uploaded materials related to, and/or not sharing materials related to, lectures or classes that will be or have been cancelled as a result of strike action.

Employers are able to make deductions from employee's pay when they participate in industrial action, if this action involves refusal to undertake contractual duties, in this case the marking and assessment boycott, as it breaches employees' contract of employment. This is considered partial performance and employers have a right to refuse to accept this and deduct up to 100% of pay in response. Partial performance is deemed continuous until the dispute ends which means that pay can be deducted for the duration, even on days where no marking would be taking place.

The universities that are currently deducting 100% of pay are SOAS, Westminster, Brighton, Leeds Trinity, Middlesex, Oxford Brooks, Portsmouth, Sheffield Hallam, St George’s (UOL), Suffolk, and others.

 

How will this impact me and what is the University doing to mitigate impact on students?

We currently do not know the scale of the marking and assessment boycott. Staff members do not need to tell the university if they are undertaking ASOS/MAB before they do so. Due to the university withholding 100% of pay to those participating in the MAB we anticipate that there may be further disruption, however the scale of this is not currently known.

The university’s Emergency Regulations for Taught Degrees have been put in place. This is to mitigate the impact of disruption to students, if part of these regulations are applied to you, you will be informed.

 

WIll there be further strike action?

There could be. There is currently a mandate to undertake strike action and this could be called by UCU. If this happens UCU members will cease all forms of labour.

 

Will my exams and assessments go ahead and should I attend?

You should have been issued with your exam timetable and informed of any assessment deadlines. You should assume these will go ahead unless your department tells you otherwise. You must attend your exams/assessments and adhere to your hand in dates

 

What are my rights, and where can I go for advice?

The Office for Students have issued the following guidance: All students have a contractual relationship with their university/college, which means they are protected by consumer protection law. This means that universities and colleges must continue to offer the service they have promised to students, even during periods of industrial action. Universities and colleges must also continue to comply with the OfS’s conditions of registration during any period of disruption, meaning they must maintain the quality and standards of their courses.

The steps different universities and colleges take to reduce the impact of strikes or other industrial action will vary depending on the type of disruption, which courses or learning resources are impacted and other factors. You might expect your university/college’s response to include the following: Your university/college should be proactive in resolving issues related to missed teaching. If teaching time is lost, it may be appropriate for catch-up teaching to be offered at a later time, missed course content to be delivered in a different way, or for partial refunds to be offered to affected students. Your university/college should take steps to ensure that you are not disadvantaged in assessment by any disruption.

It might be appropriate for coursework deadlines to be extended or moved, or for certain topics to not be examined if they have not been delivered in time. Your university/college should explain clearly to you any changes made to how your course is delivered and how they will affect you. They should keep you informed of the impact of ongoing disruption and give you reasonable notice of any new arrangements. Universities and colleges should consider the needs of all students in responding to industrial action, particularly those who may be more affected than others, or may have difficulties accessing replacement learning. If you have any questions or concerns about how ASOS/MAB will impact you please contact the SOAS SU Advice Caseworker at SM141@soas.ac.uk

 

What has happened since the strikes in Jan - March 2023?

USS Pension dispute has seen progress which has caused UCU to suspend ASOS in relation to this dispute, although the mandate to undertake industrial action in relation to the dispute remains in place and industrial action could restart should this change. UCU reballotted members in March 2023 as the previous mandate was set to expire.

UCU secured an additional mandate to undertake ASOS and strike action in relation to the USS Pension Dispute and the Pay and Working Conditions Dispute for a further 6 months. MAB as a part of ASOS, previously ASOS has not included a Marking and Assessment Boycott. The Marking and Assessment Boycott was included as an option for ASOS during the reballot and the UCU Higher Education Committee decided to call a MAB starting from Thursday 20th April.

 

Students can email su@soas.ac.uk with general comments and feedback. If you want to raise a welfare issue or concern please email the SU Advice Caseworker at SM141@soas.ac.uk. If you have any concerns that have not been answered here, please add it to our form.

 

Strikes and picket lines might sound scary or intense, but they're actually great community building moments.

 

Check out these photos from the term 1 strikes to get a better idea of what you can expect if you come down to the picket line on strike days.

 

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