University staff strike amid wage cut row over marking boycott

Workers will stage demonstrations in Edinburgh and Glasgow on Friday with ten days of walkouts planned in September.

University staff are on strike after a union claimed their employer said wages will be cut by half in response to a boycott.

Staff at Edinburgh University taking part in the University and College Union’s (UCU) marking and assessment boycott will have their wages deducted by 50%, though management could deduct 100% of earnings, the union said.

Workers on strike on Friday will stage demonstrations in Edinburgh’s Bristo Square, George Square in Glasgow, and outside the university’s Nucleus building.

The UCU also announced there will be more strikes throughout the new academic year, with ten days of walkouts to take place in September.

In April, the UCU renewed its industrial action mandate, allowing strikes to be called for another six months.

The marking and assessment boycott began on April 20, as the UCU hit out at what it described as “a real-terms pay cut, working conditions including increasing casualisation, pay gaps and unmanageable workloads”.

Edinburgh UCU branch spokeswoman Sophia Woodman said: “Edinburgh University has just under £2.5bn worth of reserves.

“This university and the sector can afford to pay staff enough to support themselves through this cost of living crisis.

“The last thing staff want to do is take industrial action, but over ten years of pay being held down and worsening conditions has left us with no option.

“Edinburgh principal Peter Mathieson should stop trying to circumvent lawful industrial action short of strike and join the increasing number of vice-chancellors calling for new, meaningful talks to resolve the dispute.

“Our branch is ready and willing to issue a joint statement with our employer calling for the reopening of negotiations.”

A University of Edinburgh spokesperson said the institution was “frustrated” by the strike action.

They added: “Participation in the marking and assessment boycott is considered partial performance of contract, particularly at this time of year, and varying deductions are being made by institutions across the UK impacted by this action.

“Though we reserve the right to withhold up to 100% of pay in these circumstances, we recognise that staff are continuing to undertake some duties and as a result those participating in the boycott are receiving 50% of their usual pay.

“Disappointingly, our efforts to seek a local resolution with UCU leadership have been rejected. Last month, we appealed directly to colleagues participating in this action and offered to return any withheld pay and cancel planned salary deductions if they agree to mark and assess all boycotted work by the end of July, prioritising students due to complete their programme this year.

“Pay and pensions are nationally negotiated, which is the system preferred by UCU. We are not able to make decisions in isolation without national compromise, though we endeavour to influence these negotiations where we can. We will continue to engage in conversations with UCU Edinburgh on other employment matters which are within our local control and where we can make improvements in the ways we support our staff at the University of Edinburgh.”

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