By Saana Taussi
Workers organised in the University and College Union (UCU) are taking part in a marking boycott as part of their ongoing dispute with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) over pay and conditions.
UCU members are demanding a pay rise in line with inflation and have rejected offers that have fallen short. They are opposing zero hour and temporary contracts, which have become normalised in universities and create precarious conditions for workers.
The marking boycott is a clear escalation in the dispute by UCU members, who have been engaged in industrial action since 2018. 145 UK higher education institutions will be affected by the boycott which could affect half a million graduations according to the UCU, as final exams and assessments will not be marked until employers meet the worker’s demands.
This is putting huge pressure on the university bosses. There are reports that, in many universities including Queens staff’s wages are disgracefully being deducted for engaging in the boycott. This blatant attack on the union is an attempt to drive workers further into hardship, using their livelihoods as a bargaining chip. These attacks must be resisted through continued action, as well as protests aimed at putting pressure on the management of universities.
Many students are understandably frustrated by the situation, with the possibility of not getting to graduate on time creating uncertainty about their futures. University workers, however, are at breaking point. 36.9% of staff are on insecure contracts, 33% of staff have to work a second job and 15% of staff have reported using food banks in the recent period to get by.
It is the unwillingness of UCEA to comply with worker’s demands that leaves students in this position. The UCU reported that in recent years UK universities have generated more money than ever, while staff expenditure has hit rock bottom. Universities have the ability to pay workers their deserved wages, and guarantee secure employment. The reason they do not is because universities function as businesses driven by profit, rather than as public institutions of education.
Students and workers need to stand in solidarity with one another, supporting the boycott and the UCU’s demands for fair pay and secure employment. We also must fight against the marketisation of education, for a fully funded, public and democratically controlled education system run in the interests of workers and students.