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Soas united in protest against cuts to casual workers

A WALK-OUT at London University college Soas today saw hundreds of students join staff protesting against cuts threatening the jobs of academic workers on casual and fixed-term contracts.

The protest was led by chanting demonstrators, violinists, and drummers on the steps of the Bloomsbury campus. 

Unite the Resistance said that there was an “insurrectionary mood” at the lunchtime protest, where students demanded that any cuts made at the university college should be to management salaries.

Soas international development studies lecturer Dr Feyzi Ismail told the crowd that protesters were “fighting for the soul” of Soas.

About 100 students occupied the atrium of Soas in solidarity with “fractional” staff — a reference to people whose jobs are threatened by cuts to the institution’s fractional budgets.

The Soas branch of the University College Union (UCU) said the dispute was of “national importance.”

Soas UCU said: “We know this will disproportionately impact female and BAME [black and ethnic minority] workers, who are over-represented in casualised roles.”

The protest came after a UCU report on Monday warned that casual university workers were being treated like “second-class academics.”

It said that staff on insecure contracts were also “rendered invisible,” vulnerable to “exploitative practices” and “denied academic freedom.”

More than two-thirds of researchers and almost half of teaching-only staff are on fixed-term contracts, according to Higher Education Statistics Agency data. 

There are also more than 6,500 academic staff on zero-hours contracts and 68,845 academic staff who hold “atypical” contracts.

Soas management also announced last week that research leave would be suspended in 2020-21 to reduce spending on salaries — but Soas UCU said that “no specific financial rationale nor costings have been provided.”

In an email to staff on Tuesday to urge them to join the protest, Soas UCU president Tom Armstrong said the union had not been consulted about the change that would “negatively impact morale and generate unmanageable workloads for overstretched staff.”

He slammed the changes as a “short-sighted approach” that would result in a “remarkable act of institutional self-sabotage.”

Mr Armstrong added that it was “symptomatic of the ongoing mismanagement of Soas, where front-line staff are made to pay for the poor leadership of management.”

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