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STAFF at 20 universities began a marking boycott today against deteriorating pay, pensions and working conditions, despite bosses threatening to hire scab workers and dock the pay of those taking part.
The turnout represents fewer than half of the 41 University and College Union (UCU) branches nationwide which backed action short of a strike last month.
News of the boycott led management at some institutions to pressurise staff into abandoning plans to refuse to grade exams and dissertations, essential for students hoping to graduate this summer.
Queen Mary University of London is thought to be planning to hire external workers from an Australian higher education consultancy to mark papers.
Shocked employees at the universities of Leeds, Dundee, Brighton and Sheffield have been told that 100 per cent of their pay would be docked if they participate, even if they continue with other duties.
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.”
She said that any 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 union’s executive allowed some branches to pull out of the boycott after members backed new deals with bosses.
Last week, Durham University withdrew its participation after the local branch negotiated a payout of up to £1,000 for all staff amid the skyrocketing cost of living.
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